Monday, September 6, 2010

Let’s Have Renewable Energy. For No Good Reason.

So I’m sitting at a renewable energy conference the other day, learning about all the wonderful things regarding wind energy. I’m learning that a stretch of the Great Plains sweeping north of Amarillo, Texas, is a veritable Saudi Arabia of energy if it’s generated by wind, that in 2008 the wind energy industry added 35,000 jobs, that technology is advancing and wind generating towers are becoming more efficient.

Interesting. And then I hear something that leaves me cold.

A wind tower manufacturing company’s CEO tells the conference that wind generation “needs a level playing field.” Coal and gas electric generation are cheaper, he says, and tightening up clean air regulations “will help us.”

Will help us? What do you mean by “us?”

It will help his business, bless him. And it will help the wind generation industry.

But it will not help us.

That’s because the so-called level playing field he wants is a higher cost of electricity.

Essentially, what he is calling for are tighter emissions standards on coal-fired power plants. That will put many of them out of business (which is exactly what Candidate Obama called for two years ago). And that will raise your electric rates.

Coal is the most efficient form of generation. Kill the coal plants and your electric bill goes up.

Coal, of course, is painted as dirty energy. And mining and transporting it can be messy.
But despite an increased population, a roaring economy for a quarter century, and ever more demand for electricity, coal generation has gotten cleaner, according to the Heartland Institute. And in coming years its emissions record will be even better.

But some advocate more use of renewable energy. That’s power generation from wind, solar, or biomass. In fact, there is serious talk of developing a national renewable energy standard (RES) that would require 20 percent – 20 percent! -- of all electricity to be from renewable sources.

That would require some suspension of the laws of physics. Or an awful lot of money.

A Heritage Foundation analysis of a U. S. Energy Information Administration projection of electricity costs to 2016 (in current dollars) shows that the cost to generate one megawatt hour of electricity with a coal-fired plant would be $78.10 (Don’t glaze over on me now, this is important). Land-based wind generation would be $149.30; offshore wind power would be $191.10.

Basically wind generation is about twice the cost of coal generation.

And, as I understand the Heritage analysis, these high costs of wind generation do not include backup generating capacity. After all, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow; or sometimes it blows too much and wind turbines have to be shut down, so there have to be backup generators. Also, Heritage seems to be saying that not included in these costs are transmission expenses. While the Great Plains may be a windy Saudi Arabia, they are isolated and transmission lines will have to take the juice to the population centers. My local electric cooperative’s government affairs guy says we’ll need 15-thousand miles of new high-voltage transmission lines to capture all that Windy Saudi electricity and that will be at $5 million per mile. Do the math: it totals $75 billion. So in addition to doubling electric generation rates, there’ll be capital costs passed on to your electric bill (at 100 million U. S. households, that’s another $750).

So why wind power or other RES? Good question.

For the environment? Sorry, the environment in the United States is excellent, especially compared to the bad old days prior to about forty years ago. To stop global warming? No sale: the alleged science regarding climate change is corrupt and the data are too biased to justify destroying our economy and burdening our lives based on faulty analyses. Because coal plants cause asthma and heart disease? Please. I learned the pseudoscience of cost-benefit projections in grad school and knew it was suspect then. How can you isolate your variables to prove your point?

Um, just because?

Now you’re getting closer to the truth. Because there is no good reason for RES.

Except for companies like GE and others who stand to make a ton of money if public policy pushes us toward RES.

You pay more for electricity. They laugh all the way to the bank.

Otherwise, there is no legitimate economic or environmental reason for RES.

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