There’s a price for subsidizing wind energy with taxpayer dollars

Much has been written about the merits or demerits of wind energy as a viable source of electricity generation for meeting the growing needs of electricity consumption in the United States.

No matter which side of the debate one comes down on, one issue is crystal clear. Trillions of taxpayer dollars are being poured into the wind energy corporations’ coffers to enhance the return on investment strategies with a guaranteed commitment by federal, state and local governments for a 10-year period.

According to a recent report by the National Renewable Technology Laboratory (DOE), wind energy could account for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030. To reach this target, wind turbines would have to produce 300,000 MW of power or 1,000,000 MW installed capacity. The 500,000 plus wind turbines would cost the taxpayers between $5-7 trillion.

So what is the public actually getting for their taxpayer dollars invested in wind energy projects to meet the future demand for electricity?

According to the World Energy Outlook, demand for electricity is projected to grow at the rate of 2 percent per year through 2030. Consider that for the trillions of taxpayer dollars spent, only 30-33 percent of those dollars are productive.

Let’s put this into another context. If you paid $50,000 for an automobile, and were only able to drive it 30-33 percent of the time, would that be a productive use of your $50,000? I think most of us would answer no! Furthermore, in Texas, hundreds of miles of new transmission lines will have to be constructed from West and West Central Texas to the four major metropolitan centers at a cost of billions of dollars from the ratepayers for electricity. Smaller transmission lines that carry wind power longer distances will further reduce the amount of electricity to the metropolitan areas of the state. By contrast, nuclear power plants can be located closer to the major markets, thus reducing this inefficiency and high cost of transmission lines.

Do we seriously believe that our electric bills will not increase significantly because of this?

The DOE report also states that the 20 percent of electricity from wind power would be the same as that now produced by nuclear power plants. Currently, there are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States that generate over 97,000 MW. Nuclear plants operate at 90 percent capacity compared to 30-33 percent for wind farms (ERCOT).

For a comparable amount of electricity output, a nuclear power plant requires approximately 50 acres of land vs. 80,000 acres of land for wind farms — 1,600 times the land usage for wind generated power! For the same or less taxpayer money, why not put those taxpayer dollars into more nuclear power plants and protect our natural environment from the thousands of square miles of industrial wind turbines dotting the landscape?

Another argument often cited by the pro-wind advocates is the United States will be less dependent upon foreign oil. Let’s clear up this issue right now: No more than 2 percent of the generation of electricity comes from oil.

Can we actually imagine our being held hostage to foreign oil producers over this 2 percent — ridiculous! If we truly were interested in putting our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to work, we should focus more closely on the research and development of automobiles that can get 100 miles per gallon of gasoline or come up with a revolutionary-type of engine that is not oil-dependent.

Would not the trillions of taxpayer dollars be better spent in finding significantly more fuel efficient automobiles to help offset the rising gasoline prices for consumers and at the same time, reduce CO2 emissions?

All of us are concerned about the planet and how we as stewards must protect the planet for future generations. If, as some scientists have asserted, that global warming is real and that we must act now to reverse the trend in global warming, how do we then justify the thousands of installed wind turbines and thousands more potentially to come?

According to Thomas Tanton, President, T & Associates, Environmental Fellow, Pacific Research Institute, a wind turbine would have to produce at 100 percent of its capacity nonstop for up to seven years just to offset the CO2 emissions caused by the installation of the concrete base upon which it is erected. This would suggest that it may take as many as 20 plus years to break even on the CO2 emissions.

If taxpayer dollars are to be spent wisely for energy policy, then we must examine how those taxpayer dollars can be leveraged to maximize their use. Susan Combs, Texas comptroller, states “federal, state, and local subsidies can have unintended consequences, especially when lawmakers favor ‘winners’ by providing greater subsidies for one fuel source over another. Such assistance must be applied carefully. Political policies that attempt to pick winners in the race for new energy technologies are an inefficient way to achieve policy goals and run the risk of wasting taxpayer money; they also direct private investment away from more promising use.”

— Dr. Patricia A. Lapoint is professor of management at McMurry University and president of P&L Consultants.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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