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Thomas Miller

Thomas Miller


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Wind May Win The Renewable Race – But At What Price?

Wind May Win The Renewable Race – But At What Price?

You only need to drive the long, lonely stretches of highway in west Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado or even parts of California to know that wind farms have become prolific across America. In fact, there are over 48,000 wind turbines spinning their blades in at least 39 states including Alaska, Hawaii and even in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released an Executive Summary on wind last week, including some interesting, but possibly ambitious, projections. According to the DOE, wind has become the fastest-growing source of alternative energy since 2000. In 2008, the report claims, wind provided just 1.5% of the nation’s total electricity needs. That jumped to 4.5-percent by 2013, a number mostly validated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The DOE predicts wind power will jump to 10-percent by the end of the decade, then 20-percent by 2030 and possibly as high as 35-percent by 2050. The American Wind Energy Association agrees that a 20-percent market penetration is possible in fifteen years. On a global perspective, ExxonMobil, in their 2014 Energy Outlook to 2040 is not quite as optimistic, forecasting that fossil fuels will still provide approximately 70-percent of the world’s energy demand in twenty-five years, with wind and solar combined only generating approximately 4-percent of global demand.

Related: Nicaragua On Course To Become Renewable Powerhouse

Both reports agree that the next primary growth sector in renewables will be offshore wind, a technology more popular in Europe than the U.S. Although more expensive, costs are off-set by higher power generation per turbine.

The DOE report estimates a 1-percent increase in electricity costs through the build-out of 2030, but counteracts that with a projected longer-term cost savings of 2-percent over the next two decades to 2050.

However, the most recent renewable debacle in Germany should provide fair warning of what may lie ahead for any overly aggressive renewable push before it is ready, something the Obama Administration has been advocating heavily, perhaps as a more mainstream legacy than the highly controversial healthcare reforms of 2010.

Related: A New Season Brings Big Changes In Energy

While Germany pushed aggressively for more renewables, up to nearly 22-percent of total power generation in 2012 (17-percent of which was wind), they reduced their nuclear generation a disproportionate amount, and the grid wasn’t ready for the shift. Prices for electricity soared for both residents and businesses, with as much as 47-percent of the increase due to subsidy surcharges. Blackouts prevailed until they could offset the reduced capacity by firing up more coal and lignite to compensate.

In the U.S., it is estimated that wind and solar received approximately $50 billion taxpayer subsidies to date, and many companies receiving government funding went bankrupt, including names like battery maker A123, Abound Solar, Solyndra and Nevada Geothermal Power. As the saying goes, “Pioneers get shot.”

Related: The U.S. Will Spend $5 Billion On Energy Research In 2015 – Where Is It Going?

Not to mention the Achilles heel of wind power that nobody in the environmentalist camp wants to discuss, and the government has turned a blind eye toward, is the number of birds killed each year by wind turbines. In a 2013 article, the Smithsonian combined 58 mortality estimates to project their own guess at how many birds die each year for the sake of wind power. Their range of between 148,000 and 328,000 is one of the most conservative estimates available.

So while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has been lobbying to add 250 additional animals to the Endangered Species Act, bald eagles and other federally protected migratory birds can be found dead beneath the massive blades of wind turbines across America, seemingly without concern.


The momentum seems to be blowing behind more wind power, and all sources of energy will be needed for the future. However, even if wind reaches 35-percent of supply in the U.S. over the next thirty-five years, that still leaves substantial demand for fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. Hopefully America takes notes from what happened in Germany and doesn’t become overly ambitious too soon. Meanwhile, if the Smithsonian is right, 900 birds a day will continue to fall unnoticed, and that number will only climb with each new turbine installed. Indeed, there is no source of energy without consequence.

By Thomas Miller for Oilprice.com

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  • zipsprite on March 18 2015 said:
    And of course, we all know that fossil fuels have zero environmental impact, get no government support of any kind and also that global warming is a giant hoax.
  • Jim on March 18 2015 said:
    I found roughly the same numbers (140,000 to 328,00) for bird deaths due to wind power, and the same source listed bird deaths due to fossil fuel power between 8.4 and 8.9 Million per year.


    I had heard that the largest threat to birds was transmission towers at night, where the lights attract birds that circle until they eventually hit guy wires. That and tall buildings. (I don't have a source other than memory.)
  • Lee James on March 18 2015 said:
    So, the Achilles heel of wind power is kill. Would you mind if I borrow from the fossil fuel playbook? "Technology" will resolve bird strikes.

    Lets see which energy source crosses the "clean and safe" finish line first. For fossil fuel, I'm looking for Clean Coal, clean water around fracking, clean air by eliminating pipeline leaks and flared gas, fewer wars fought over oil, and fewer despots funded by oil sales.

    As you can see from my comment, my patience with fossil fuels and fossil fuel apologists is a bit limited these days. Look at world news. Ramp up our transition away from fossil fuels.

    Burn remaining fossil fuel as if it really is valuable to us!
  • Ondrej Curilla on March 19 2015 said:
    - oil company marketing executive - touched by dead birds... Really emotional... but pretty misleading as well:
    study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh.

    Not speaking about other fossil fuels environmental impacts...
  • Charles Gardner on March 19 2015 said:
    Thomas: You begin with a balanced discussion, and then slide into two tired old arguments against wind energy: (1) high government subsidies and (2) the number of bird kills. What troubles me is that you must know that tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry are even higher and -- if you know your history -- that the Federal government gave proportionally much higher financial incentives to get the oil and gas industries going a Century ago. And you must know that domestic cats, power lines, windows, hunters and pesticides kill tens of millions of birds each year compared to the 150,000-320,000 you cite for wind farms. Enjoy your check from the Koch brothers.
  • Kie on March 19 2015 said:
    Wind turbines could end up killing 1 million birds per year, Meanwhile:
    Windows may kill up to 988 million birds a year in the United States

    Something sensible:
    American Bird Conservancy's Policy Statement on Wind Energy
  • Lissa Magel on March 19 2015 said:
    "Blackouts prevailed (in Germany) until they could offset the reduced capacity by firing up more coal and lignite to compensate"? Kindly find ANY reference to actual blackouts in Germany due to integration of renewables. The German grid is extremely reliable - significantly more so than the grid in the US or Canada. According to IEEE Spectrum (http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/the-smarter-grid/germanys-superstable-solarsoaked-grid) the average German consumer experienced grid outages 15.32 min in 2013 compared to 93 minutes for the best US and Canadian utilities.
  • David Hrivnak on March 19 2015 said:
    Where is your source for massive blackouts in Germany? The data I have seen shows they are significantly more reliable than the US grid. http://energytransition.de/2014/08/german-grid-more-stable-in-2013/
  • Jim on March 19 2015 said:
    What needs to happen contra Germany is that renewables subsidies should go to areas where those technologies are most efficient: solar in the southwest and wind in the midwest of the country. The posters here likely don't realize that all those quotes about subsidies of fossil fuels generally mean worldwide subsidies, largely in Venezuela and the Middle East. The US does not subsidize fossil fuels to nearly the extent as most of the rest of the world. Germany shut off nuclear and imports brown coal from Poland now, dirtying both nests!

    We need to transition smarter than that, including gas-fired back-up for intermittent solar and wind. Why not combine solar panels on wind turbines to capture complementary hours of the days? Why not push solar incentives to businesses and government buildings to capture the square footage of schools, factories and big-box roofs? The cost-savings are not in home utility bills, where SolarCity is surviving on subsidies. The savings lie on the roofs of Wal-Marts and Amazon distribution centers. That's where the subsidies should be targeted, where the US will reap the greatest efficiencies.
  • Bill on March 19 2015 said:
    Is author poorly informed or looking to mislead readers? I can understand if you can't be bothered to research environmentalist efforts to reduce bird deaths due to wind energy, but there have been advancements in technology and understanding that are reducing them. Good to note offshore has less impact here. But, you could try to put the numbers in context and share the number of bird deaths from fossil fuels. It's much higher. As are the subsidies. It's fine to take some lessons from Germany in the challenges they faced with their ambitious energy plan, but your bias is really showing if the only one you can think of is negative.
  • jaycee on March 19 2015 said:
    And don't forget the massive environmental degradation in China so that rare earth minerals can be extracted to produce these high efficiency generators. There are lakes of poison inChina that are formed by the production of rare earth minerals.

    And yes, bird kill is a very important issue. Our elementary school curriculum has been change to include the importance of birds to control pests. Around our local elementary school you can see kids posters on walls making statements like "Birds are Good." (No brainwashing up here in Canada.) Early preparation for future "social battles" for sure. But less birds will definately mean more pesticides and less food supply. As for bald eagles, come to Canada to see more than you can count. I stopped counting at 35 one morning down on my local beach. And by the way, there is no wind power electrical generating anywhere in our part of the world.
  • Jeffrey DC on March 20 2015 said:
    What a load of biased nonsense.

    Germany's grid problems are fewer than ours. Fewer hours without power than US. Germany's few problems were exacerbated by their lack of natural gas, overly generous subsidies, and shutting down their nuclear plants. No comparison to US.

    Bird kills are higher for oil and gas industry. Household cats are number one killer.

    Wind and natural gas are complementary and will dominate electric generation in the years ahead. That may not be good enough for Koch-funded nonsense artists like the author, but its a fact. If we embrace renewables and natural gas for our electric generation fleet, our states' economies will be better off, along with our environment and our health.
  • grant harris on March 20 2015 said:
    Thomas....Bird deaths, German blackouts....seriously? Hint for future contributions from your side - at a bare bare minimum please do a 5 minute Google search on any ideas you have. It will shed light on a few things....

    The next step would be to actually talk to experts - either people on the ground or organisations that have researched the area you are writing about(for example, as you are talking about birds in the US and windpower - do you want to read the American Bird Conservancy's Policy Statement on Wind Energy to get their experience? Did that even cross your mind?)

    There are so many valid arguments both for and against all types of renewables - as there are for fossil fuels, nuclear etc that it takes articles like this to move us back say 15 years in the debate.

    I really feel a lot dumber after reading this. Quite frustrating really.

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