Opinion: Carolina Beat

Puncturing Wind Power Myths

In response to wind power advocates’ efforts in recent years, the John Locke Foundation held December workshops in Wilmington and Morehead City to provide a different perspective.

Beyond the rhetoric, members of the public need to know that when they flick on the switch, their lights will turn on. They need reliability. They also want low costs. As a basic necessity, energy needs to be affordable.

The problem, unfortunately, is wind power doesn’t meet either criteria. It has inherent, unavoidable problems. The wind doesn’t blow all the time. Even when the wind does blow, its speed is often too slow or too fast. This means wind power must be backed up by conventional electricity sources, such as natural gas.

No amount of subsidies will solve these inherent flaws. Wind power proponents are correct when they claim that all energy sources receive subsidies. However, wind power’s subsidies are astronomical. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind power receives 88 times more in federal subsidies per megawatt hour than coal and natural gas. This doesn’t include state subsidies.

Proponents often claim that this is appropriate since wind power is a new energy source. In fact, the opposite is true. Wind power has been around since 5000 B.C. The use of wind power for electricity dates to the late 19th century.

Even with subsidies, wind power still isn’t competitive. This is why the North Carolina legislature in 2007 passed a mandate that utilities generate at least 7.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. To come close to meeting this requirement, wind power likely will be required along the coast. This mandate is equivalent to a broad-based energy tax imposed on all electricity customers. The law even expressly allows for utilities to charge much more for renewable energy.

According to EIA, onshore wind is about 50 percent more expensive than natural gas. Offshore wind is about 370 percent more expensive than natural gas. These numbers are low because, among other things, the cost of backup electricity generation isn’t taken into account.

The public — not utility companies — must pay these extra costs. If wind power proponents are so confident in wind power, they should have no problem removing the energy tax. Of course, they recognize the facts. Even with subsidies, they must force the public to buy wind power. Otherwise, there would be no demand for wind power plants.

This energy tax, as with other massive taxes, drives up costs for families and all businesses. Those most hurt by higher energy prices are the poor. A larger percentage of their income goes toward energy costs.

Some myths are worth addressing. First, wind power won’t reduce dependence on foreign oil because we generally don’t use oil for electricity generation. Only about 1 percent of petroleum consumption is for electricity.

Second, wind power won’t have a significant impact on carbon dioxide emissions. According to a National Academy of Sciences study, assuming a generous scenario, using wind power could lead to a 1.8 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This difference is miniscule.

Third, wind power won’t create more net employment. Certainly, a new wind power plant creates jobs. However, when considering extra costs imposed on families and businesses, the net effect on jobs is negative.

Common sense says if the state drastically increases energy prices, it hurts the economy and jobs. Recent research from Scotland shows that for every wind job created, 3.7 jobs were lost. In Spain, for every wind job created, 2.1 jobs were lost.

There are many other considerations for local communities, including the negative impact on wildlife, property values, tourism, health, and land use. Everyone in the state is being forced to pay an energy tax to subsidize corporations making money from wind power. This isn’t about the environment. It is simply about greed.

Our state’s unemployment tops 10 percent. Many North Carolinians struggle to make ends meet. We need to find ways to grow the economy and create jobs. The legislature should repeal the costly energy tax. Wind power should succeed or fail on its own merits.

Daren Bakst is director of legal and regulatory studies for the John Locke Foundation.