Monday, 16 Dec 2013 07:31 AM
By Larry Bell
With federal wind energy production tax credits about to expire this month unless Congress extends them as they did last year, let’s urge our representatives to take a hard look at the European experience before doing so.
Continuing that generous 2.3 cents-per-kilowatt-hour taxpayer handout will add to other costly wind and solar subsidy consequences for our nation’s power supply and economy.
Consider Germany for example, a country where approximately 7.8 percent of their electricity comes from wind, 4.5 percent from solar, 7 percent from biomass, and 4 percent from hydro. The government now plans to increase the proportion from renewables to 35 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.
Since hydro and biomass won’t grow, most of that expansion must come from wind and solar.
Germany has already invested more than $250 billion in “renewable energy,” and a phase-out of nuclear plants in a knee-jerk reaction to Japan’s Fukushima disaster compounds the self-inflicted economic injuries.
Ironically, since shutting down some of their own nuclear plants, they now have to import nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic. As a result, German households must fork out for the second highest power costs in Europe — often as much as 30 percent above the levels seen in other European countries.
Only the Danes pay more, and residential electricity costs in both countries are roughly 300 percent higher than in the U.S.
While wind provided 19 percent of Denmark’s electricity generation in 2009, it only met an average 9.7 percent of the demand over a previous five-year period, and a mere 5 percent during 2006. And since Denmark can’t use all the electricity it produces at night, it exports about half of its extra supply to Norway and Sweden where hydroelectric power can be switched on and off to balance their grids.
Even with those export sales, government wind subsidies cause Danish customers to pay the highest electricity rates in Europe.
In 2011, U.K. wind turbines produced energy at about 21 percent of installed capacity (not demand capacity) during good conditions.
Under freezing winter conditions, the output can be miniscule because very cold weather and high winds require turbines to be shut down to avoid damage.
As in Germany, unreliability in meeting power demands has necessitated importation of nuclear power from France. Also similar to Germany, The government is closing some of its older coal-fired plants . . . any one of which can produce nearly twice more electricity than all of Britain’s 3,000 wind turbines combined.
If the European romance with increasing reliance upon renewables isn’t being strained enough by painful electricity costs, power blackouts are adding to buyer’s remorse. As millions of consumers turn lights and appliances on and off, power generators and grid operators must match supply to demand to ensure that current is moving across wires at proper frequency to avoid outages.
This is much less of a problem when there are reliable backup sources such as hydropower, coal, and nuclear plants to meet base load demands.
Unfortunately, most of Europe lacks the former, and to its detriment, is intentionally cutting back both of the latter. As the balance of supply shifts increasingly to intermittent wind and solar, so does the demand-response inequity problem.
Thanks to natural gas, coal, and nuclear, the U.S. has excess power-generating capacity, and, unlike Europe, generally adequate transmission and distribution systems. More than 42 percent of U.S. electrical power comes from coal, 25 percent from natural gas, and 19 percent from nuclear.
After American taxpayers have shelled out $9.2 billion to wind projects and $2.7 billion to solar projects since 2009, only about 3.4 percent of our electricity comes from wind, and about 0.11 percent from solar.
Despite our huge natural resource advantages, current government policies are clearly hell-bent to replicate European debacles.
As older nuclear plants are decommissioned and new EPA regulations shutter coal-fired plants, President Obama has launched a sweeping new national campaign to spend tens of billions of dollars more in new subsidies for solar, wind and bio-energy projects to prevent a non-existent fossil-fueled climate crisis.
Meanwhile, as California leads other states in a lemming rush to bring more and more wind and solar power onto grids that weren’t planned to accommodate it, where will this all lead? Let’s observe and learn from Europe’s ruinous follies while we still have the power to do so.
Larry Bell is a professor and endowed professor at the University of Houston, where he directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture and heads the graduate program in space architecture. He is author of “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax,” and his professional aerospace work has been featured on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel-Canada.