Wiggy: No fan of wind farms

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

A new wind farm is complete in Columbia County and it will soon be killing more birds than a Sarah Palin Thanksgiving photo op. Or, for you heavy metal fans, more mosquito-eating bats than Ozzy Osbourne ever killed.

It’s the largest wind farm in Wisconsin, 90 turbines spread over 17,000 acres of farmland. It is expected to generate 162 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 45,000 homes.

WE Energies was expected to spend $363.7 million on the project, although it appears to have come under the target set by the Public Service Commission. Of course, the over $300 million in cost will soon be passed on to electricity rate payers as soon as 2013.

To be fair, WE Energies did not build the wind farm because it hates birds, bats or ratepayers. Nor did it build the wind farm because the company wanted to build a giant ice ball thrower.

And it certainly did not build the windmills because wind energy is cheaper than the alternatives. Because it is not.

The wind farm was built as part of a plan to increase WE Energies “renewable energy” portfolio. The company is mandated by the state of Wisconsin to increase its use of renewable energy sources from less than three percent of the electricity generated by WE Energies to 8.27% by 2015.

The mandated renewable share of total generation must be at least 6 percentage points above the average renewable share for WE Energies from 2001 to 2003. It’s part of a statewide renewable energy mandate of 10% by 2015.

Wind power is the most popular choice for filling the renewable energy mandates as it is closer to coal-generated electricity than other forms of renewable energy. However, wind is still unreliable in capacity because wind, while free fuel, is unreliable in providing a steady quantity, especially at peak demand times. As a previous report by the MacIver Institute has shown, Wisconsin is not even a good candidate for windmill siting, increasing the unreliability of wind power for our state.

Ironically, according to one environmentalist group, Clean Wisconsin, the windmill farm may not even further the goal of the renewable energy mandate, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because WE Energies will still be reliant upon the coal-burning power plants for primary electrical generation.

Because wind is not a reliable source of energy here.

Renewable energy does not come cheap. If renewable energy were cost competitive, power companies and energy consumers would not need a mandate to prefer renewable energy sources over coal, oil and natural gas.

As the U.S. Energy Information Agency indicates in its 2011 Annual Energy Outlook projections, coal is already dropping as a share of the nation’s energy mix. However, it is naturally occurring due to the lower costs of natural gas generated electricity, including lower infrastructure costs.

The growth in renewable energy as a percentage of the nation’s energy portfolio (to 14% by 2035) is because of state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements and federal tax credits.

It could be even worse. During the last session of the legislature, Wisconsin narrowly avoided imposing a new renewable energy mandate of 25% by 2025. Bipartisan opposition to the mandate, largely due to the weak economy, prevented its passage.

But as we have seen, the desire of the government to support a so-called green economy continues despite the costs to the public. Perhaps we can expect Department of Energy bureaucrats to tour the new windmill farm in new Chevrolet Volts.

Somebody has to buy them.

After all, President Barack Obama’s administration set a goal of one million electrified vehicles (including advanced hybrids) on the road by 2015. So far the Chevy Volt is going to fall short of the company’s goal of 10,000 vehicles sold by the end of this year, and USA Today reports interest in electric vehicles is declining.

After $3 billion in subsidies, Americans are showing that the only silent vehicle that doesn’t consume gas in which they have an interest is Santa’s sleigh at Christmastime. Good thing he managed to avoid the new windmill farm… this year.