WILMINGTON — State law requires North Carolina utility companies to generate 7.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2018. The standard can’t be met without wind, an energy source some scientists call counterproductive.
Electricity generated from the wind is inefficient, extremely expensive, and bad for the environment, argued scientists and economists at a forum sponsored by the John Locke Foundation Dec. 5, at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
John Droz, a fellow at the American Tradition Institute, is a physicist, economist, and self-described environmentalist. He spent most of his professional life working in management at General Electric.
Droz said he initially supported wind energy. But after some research, he concluded that wind is neither economically viable nor environmentally responsible.
For the first hundred years after electricity was invented, Droz said, there were six guiding principles that helped determine which sources we would use in the United States. Traditionally, energy sources were expected to: provide large amounts of electricity; provide reliable and predictable electricity; provide electricity supplies that can be increased or decreased to satisfy demand; meet the demand for either a base load (operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week) or a peak load; have a compact facility; and provide electricity economically.
“These criteria became the basis for what developed into the most successful grid system on the planet, which has a large amount to do with our country’s economic success,” Droz said.
Today, the power sources that meet those standards are coal, nuclear, natural gas, and hydro, he said. Sources that failed to meet the standards, like oil, which became too expensive, were pushed out of the electricity business.
“That’s how the market works when left on its own,” Droz said.
But recently a nonmarket-driven principle has been added to the list. The state and federal governments have decided that sources of electricity also must make a positive environmental impact, reducing carbon emissions and fighting global warming.
This principle is mandated by the state government — through a law known as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) or Senate Bill 3 — and subsidized by both the state and federal governments.
Before S.B. 3 mandated renewable energy in 2007, a program called NC Green Power allowed North Carolinians to decide if they want to help put renewable energy on the grid voluntarily.
“The problem was the public was not supporting NC Green Power,” said Daren Bakst, director of legal and regulatory studies for the John Locke Foundation. “There was no support whatsoever. It was embarrassing how bad it was.”
Bakst said there is no way utilities will be able to meet the 7.5 percent renewable energy mandate without including wind energy in their portfolio.
There are only two places in the state wind power can work, he said: in the mountains and on the coast. Because the state’s Ridge Law prohibits tall structures from being constructed in the mountains, “there’s going to be intense pressure to allow wind power plants on the coast” over the next couple of years, Bakst said.
Talks are under way about building a wind power project in Beaufort County. “One of the justifications for allowing the project is the fact that S.B. 3 exists,” Bakst said.
“If you didn’t have the mandate, there wouldn’t be any proposed wind power plants,” he said. “Even with all the subsidies wind power gets, we wouldn’t be discussing it, because the subsidies by themselves weren’t enough. The state actually had to mandate it.”
Droz said the mandate will cost North Carolinians millions of dollars in higher energy bills and won’t help the environment in the least.
Wind doesn’t meet any of the six traditional market-driven criteria for what makes a good energy source, he said.
“Because of the wide fluctuations of wind, it typically produces less than 30 percent of its nameplate capacity,” Droz said. “This problem is made worse by the fact that there is no practical or economical way to store the electricity produced.”
It’s not reliable or predictable and cannot be counted on to provide power on demand, he said.
Wind power plants aren’t compact either, he added. They cover more than 1,000 times the surface area of a conventional facility.
Most importantly to Droz, wind power is not economical. The cost of running a wind power plant is higher than any other type of plant.
“The more wind power an energy company uses, the higher the consumer’s electric bill,” he said. “Denmark, which uses more wind power than any country in the world, has the highest cost of electricity of any country in the world. Their residential electricity rate is more than three times as much as ours.”
Finally, wind does not make a consequential reduction in carbon emissions, said Droz. “No scientific study has ever proven that wind power saves a meaningful amount of CO2. A National Academy of Sciences study says U.S. CO2 savings by 2020 will be at about 1.8 percent.”
“More than 90 percent of all CO2 saved in the last 35 years is due to nuclear power, very little due to renewables,” he said.
David Schnare, director of the Environmental Law Center at the American Tradition Institute, suggested wind turbines actually create more pollution than other energy sources.
Because wind is inconsistent and its energy cannot be stored, wind power plants must be backed up by another type of power plant.
“In Colorado, [sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide] — which create smog — were significantly higher than they would have been had they not cycled the coal plants to compensate for wind generation,” Schnare said. “Cycling a coal plant causes more pollution than letting it run constantly.”
Droz said a law mandating wind power “makes about as much sense as an edict mandating that a certain percentage of our trucks and automobiles must be operated by horse power in a few years.” It’s a step backward that will decrease our standard of living.
Big oil companies like BP have become wind-power investors because they can use their investment in wind power to offset corporate tax liabilities, he said. “The company that pioneered wind power to avoid paying taxes was Enron.”
Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.