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Wind In My Props

January 3, 2013

John Fund is almost always reasonable, though usually very single-minded, in his opinions, but I’m still a bit surprised at the tone in this post at NRO this morning.  He’s got his dander up agaisnt the renewing of the wind energy tax credit.

The project is a godsend for many utilities seeking to lower their tax liabilities. “Just simply, 30% of the value of a project is derived from the tax credit,” Florian Zerhusen, chief executive of WKN USA, told the Denver Business Journal. The subsidy is one of the least defensible of all alternative-energy programs, given the environmental damage wind turbines cause to birds and the fact that wind energy can’t be stored and is therefore an unreliable energy ource.

Honestly, some of that argument sounds like the confused ones that the left side pulls out when one of their green energy projects actually gets the green light, and then they have to protest it.  Yes, wind turbines kill birds.  So do power transmission lines if the bird lands too close to the insulator.  So do highways if the bird swoops in front of a truck.  And really, no energy can be stored.  The fun of the power transmission grid is that power that’s generated has to be used.  The only “battery” I can really think of in the power system is the water in a lake behind a dam.  Once you burn coal, you can’t store that energy.  Once you release the control rod, you can’t store the energy of the nuclear reaction.  You get the point.

Understand, I still believe that we could benefit from dumping the tax loopholes for all the energy projects out there, and instead do R&D funding in targeted grant fashion to drive new energy costs down.  The energy industry should be able to figure out how to build a turbine on its own as opposed to grabbing your and my money to do it.  As Fund notes in a prior article, wind energy gets a disproportionate share of tax benefits, and those go mostly to large companies already producing power.

So let’s argue on the facts of why an energy industry already backed by so much money needs more money to stay afloat.  If it can’t after all the arguments are done, then we have a reason to stop the funding.  But the emotional appeals don’t work for me, especially when they ring so hollow.  Leave that to the side that can’t produce any energy in a consistent fashion.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen D. permalink
    January 7, 2013 12:22 pm

    Before the US goes too far down the path of taking more fossil fuel power generation off-line in favor of solar or wind energy, they should take a look at Germany’s experience.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9559656/Germanys-wind-power-chaos-should-be-a-warning-to-the-UK.html

  2. January 4, 2013 3:34 pm

    You’re both right to an extent that we can decide when to burn coal, or fire up a generator, and there are some potential battery technologies that look promising for at least small-class storage. There are also wind corridors that show promise.

    But we’re all on the same page that production breaks have to stop. I’m still okay with R&D spending, and stopping the subsidizing of production would give us plenty of money to do R&D and still save elsewhere.

  3. January 4, 2013 2:34 pm

    We do need to stop the tax subsidies for alternative energy as well as subsidies to fossil fuel companies. If there’s a profit to be made developing these alternative energy sources, companies will do the necessary research themselves.

    Solar energy can be stored for later use, albeit temporarily, but it is the only energy source that can make that claim.

  4. January 4, 2013 11:46 am

    “And really, no energy can be stored.”

    Well, you mentioned one example immediately after, and proposals for flywheels would (in difficult-to-realize theory) address the issue. But I suspect that he was making the point about wind energy’s time-limited availability. You can throttle up coal or gas if needed on a hot evening, but when the sun is down so is your solar supply … and wind is even less consistent.

    Space solar power would solve this completely. I suspect that it will be the Earth’s primary source of electricity long before this century is out, but it remains to be seen whether US companies can take advantage of this. We invented the concept in the 1970s, but have lost the initiative.

    But I completely agree with you: the “birds and noise” attacks on wind turbines are not compelling to fiscal conservatives. They should be to the Left, but that implies a consistency of thought that isn’t there, and assumes that the stated goals are the real goals.

    The subsidies are atrocious when applied to ongoing business. Research grants make sense; picking winners (or losers, as here) in the market is no place for a government.

    Most so-called “subsidies” for fossil fuels are actually tax incentives to keep these tremendous tax revenue sources hanging around a particular state … or country. The net effect is hugely revenue-positive for government.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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