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Department of Energy Likes Wind Power

Gary Braasch

Photo:Gary Braasch

This is a recent entry into the Wind Energy chapter of the Energy Plank of the Renewable Deal:

In 2008, the Department of Energy published a new 226-page report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply. The report states that, in 2006, the U.S. produced 12 gigawatts of electricity from wind. To reach 20 percent of the 2030 projected electricity demand – which DOE estimates will be 39 percent higher than in 2006 – would require generation of 300 gigawatts of power from wind. The DOE report gives the potential for wind-generated electricity in the U.S. as 8,000 gigawatts, assuming all high potential wind sites are utilized with contemporary wind turbines nationwide. The DOE report estimates that it will cost approximately $197 billion in capital costs to build the wind turbines and transmission network to create a 20 percent wind reality. The $197 billion in capital costs is largely offset by $155 billion in savings from decreased fuel expenditures needed to generate the additional 288 gigawatts of electricity from fuel-fired generating plants instead of wind turbines. The report concludes that achieving the 20 percent wind scenario by 2030 through this expenditure would add 50 cents per month to the electricity bill of each U.S. household.

The DOE’s cost-benefit analysis does not ascribe any value to the reduction in greenhouse gases and other pollutants resulting from generating an additional 288 gigawatts of power from wind rather than fossil-fuel-burning power plants. The study also does not examine the relative impact of wind generation versus fossil-fuel-fired power plant power generation on job creation and other economic benefits for rural communities. A number of studies reviewed in this plank have found that wind turbine facilities create more high-paying jobs, deliver more wealth effect across rural community economies, and have more distributed property tax benefits than large centralized coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants. Wind turbines do not confront paying a carbon tax, which the coal power industry analysts now assume will be imposed on carbon dioxide generators in the near future; e.g., Lester R. Brown’s Earth Policy Institute calls for phasing in a $300 per ton carbon emissions tax at $30 per year over ten years, beginning immediately. Foregone carbon tax easily makes up the remaining $42 billion between the cost of building 288 gigawatts of wind turbine power supply and the cost to the consumer of paying for fossil fuel to fire fossil-fuel-fired power plants to generate that 288 gigawatts. If a carbon tax is instituted by 2030, in all likelihood it would be cheaper to the U.S. electricity consumer to invest $197 billion building 288 gigawatts of additional wind turbines rather than spending more than $197 billion on fuel and carbon tax generating those 288 gigawatts with coal.

Gary Braasch

Gary Braasch

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