Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wind power is a complete disaster

Michael J. Trebilcock, Financial Post

Published: Thursday, April 09, 2009

There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world’s most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power’s unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark’s largest energy utilities) tells us that “wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram,” and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character. On the negative side of the environmental ledger are adverse impacts of industrial wind turbines on birdlife and other forms of wildlife, farm animals, wetlands and viewsheds.

Industrial wind power is not a viable economic alternative to other energy conservation options. Again, the Danish experience is instructive. Its electricity generation costs are the highest in Europe (15¢/kwh compared to Ontario’s current rate of about 6¢). Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries says, “windmills are a mistake and economically make no sense.” Aase Madsen , the Chair of Energy Policy in the Danish Parliament, calls it “a terribly expensive disaster.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in 2008, on a dollar per MWh basis, the U.S. government subsidizes wind at $23.34 — compared to reliable energy sources: natural gas at 25¢; coal at 44¢; hydro at 67¢; and nuclear at $1.59, leading to what some U.S. commentators call “a huge corporate welfare feeding frenzy.” The Wall Street Journal advises that “wind generation is the prime example of what can go wrong when the government decides to pick winners.”

The Economist magazine notes in a recent editorial, “Wasting Money on Climate Change,” that each tonne of emissions avoided due to subsidies to renewable energy such as wind power would cost somewhere between $69 and $137, whereas under a cap-and-trade scheme the price would be less than $15.

Either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system creates incentives for consumers and producers on a myriad of margins to reduce energy use and emissions that, as these numbers show, completely overwhelm subsidies to renewables in terms of cost effectiveness.

The Ontario Power Authority advises that wind producers will be paid 13.5¢/kwh (more than twice what consumers are currently paying), even without accounting for the additional costs of interconnection, transmission and back-up generation. As the European experience confirms, this will inevitably lead to a dramatic increase in electricity costs with consequent detrimental effects on business and employment. >From this perspective, the government’s promise of 55,000 new jobs is a cruel delusion.

A recent detailed analysis (focusing mainly on Spain) finds that for every job created by state-funded support of renewables, particularly wind energy, 2.2 jobs are lost. Each wind industry job created cost almost $2-million in subsidies. Why will the Ontario experience be different?

In debates over climate change, and in particular subsidies to renewable energy, there are two kinds of green. First there are some environmental greens who view the problem as so urgent that all measures that may have some impact on greenhouse gas emissions, whatever their cost or their impact on the economy and employment, should be undertaken immediately.

Then there are the fiscal greens, who, being cool to carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems that make polluters pay, favour massive public subsidies to themselves for renewable energy projects, whatever their relative impact on greenhouse gas emissions. These two groups are motivated by different kinds of green. The only point of convergence between them is their support for massive subsidies to renewable energy (such as wind turbines).

This unholy alliance of these two kinds of greens (doomsdayers and rent seekers) makes for very effective, if opportunistic, politics (as reflected in the Ontario government’s Green Energy Act), just as it makes for lousy public policy: Politicians attempt to pick winners at our expense in a fast-moving technological landscape, instead of creating a socially efficient set of incentives to which we can all respond.

Michael J. Trebilcock is Professor of Law and Economics,
University of Toronto. These comments were excerpted from a submission last night
(April 8th) to the Ontario government’s legislative committee On Bill 150.


From the Canada Council for the Arts biography when Michael Trebilcock was awarded the 1998 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize in the Social Sciences and Humanities:

Michael J. Trebilcock was born in New Zealand. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Canterbury and a Master of Laws from the University of Adelaide. Professor Trebilcock began his career in New Zealand, then emigrated to Canada and continued to build a long, productive and distinguished career, eventually becoming known as the "father of law and economics in Canada."

Among his numerous contributions, Professor Trebilcock founded and is currently director of the University of Toronto Law School's Programme in Law and Economics, which is recognized internationally as one of the finest in the world. His creative and innovative use of economic analysis in the study of law and legal institutions is at the forefront of research on the international scene. He has published 20 books and written numerous academic articles, chapters and reports, including seminal works on tax policy, corporate law, consumer protection policy, contract theory, accident law, international trade law and policy, competition policy and law, institutions and development.

Professor Trebilcock is a preeminent scholarly contributor at the leading edge of law reform in Canada. He has produced landmark studies for numerous commissions and task forces including the Ontario Law Reform Commission, the Economic Council of Canada, the Macdonald Royal Commission and the Federal-Provincial Task Force on Malpractice Liability.

Professor Trebilcock has received many awards and distinctions including appointment as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1987. In 1990 he was awarded the prestigious Joint Canadian Law Teachers Association and Law Reform Commission of Canada Award for outstanding contributions to legal research and law reform. The same year, he was appointed University Professor, the University of Toronto's highest honour, and in 1996 he received the University's Alumni Association's Faculty Award, its highest award for excellence in research, teaching and community service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few things come to mind.

As Lisa Betts points out above, electric consumption continues to rise. It seems more logical to understand the rise in carbon dioxide as a result from an
increase inthe burning of carbon based fuels.

Denmark uses Norwegan hydro power to backup wind generation.

Coal fired generators operate only 70% of the time. Backup is necessary for coal. Because this backup already exists and is in use, no extra coal need be burned if wind displaces coal at any time or any place. No generation plant operates 100% of the time: backup is needed for all fuels.

In Spain, no jobs have been lost. The Calzada paper is merely a what if effort for a Libertarian think tank. His claim is that if money was transfered from wind projects to private industry ( what's that Mr. Madeoff?) more jobs would be created. Because it isn't, jobs have been lost.No. Sorry. Logical fallacy. Such sillyness ignors the Spanish unemployment rate, which has dropped from 16% in 2000 to 7.6% in 2008.

The British nuclear industry has admitted before the Advertising Standards Board that wind farms reduce the overall carbon footprint.

Wind energy is not subsidised in Nova Scotia , but sells for about 8.5 cents. Because wind firms make money, the generation cost is somewhat less. NSPC makes 3 cents for handling each killawatt. Wind generation cost in Nova Scotia compares favourably to overall g
eneration cost in Ontario.

A tanker full of flyash went by on the 104 yesterday. Burn more coal.

John McManus