Long Story Short - What are the cost and benefits of wind-powered electricity?
Blowin’ In the Wind: Pros and Cons of Wind Energy
(Note: companies that could be impacted by the content of this article are listed at the base of the story (desktop version). This article uses third-party references to provide a bullish, bearish and balanced point of view; sources listed in the "Balanced" section)
In 2019, it is predicted wind power will surpass hydropower as the U.S. grid’s largest source of renewable electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. In 2017, wind accounted for some 6.33% of all electric generation in the U.S., but with a forecast that wind could eventually generate 20% of all electricity, it would appear the market has significant upside potential. Partly driven by the expiration of the production tax credit in 2020, the industry has seen significant capacity additions recently. In 2019, it is projected that installed capacity will increase to 107 gigawatts, up from 96 gigawatts at the end of 2018, with an additional seven gigawatts coming in 2020. From 2018 to 2021, wind power will have played a significant role in total capacity additions, accounting for 20% of the additions.
Free, and Inexhaustible, Energy. Wind is a result of solar energy, as heating of land results in movement of air. As such, the energy source is free and does not have to be extracted from below ground, like oil, natural gas, or coal. Given the stable cost of the energy source, wind energy can actually help buffer the price fluctuations in other traditional fuel sources. In addition, unlike its energy cousins, wind is inexhaustible. It will be around as long as there is sun and land.
Improving, and increasingly competitive, costs. While the average cost of wind energy is a combination of factors, including turbine size, project size, and location, costs have been falling. After topping out at $0.07 per kWh for power purchase agreements in 2009, the national average price of wind PPAs has dropped to around $0.02 per kWh, according to the Department of Energy
Non-Polluting. The actual production of electricity from wind does not generate any emissions or other pollutants, in stark contrast to other forms of energy such as oil, coal, and natural gas. In the U.S., the greatest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is the power sector, at about 38%.
Conserves Water. Turbines produce no particulate emissions that contribute to mercury contamination in streams and lakes. Additionally, to produce the same amount of electricity as wind, nuclear power takes about 600 times more water, and coal takes about 500 times more water.
Job Creation. Creation of wind energy generates both short-term, i.e. construction, and long-term, i.e. maintenance, jobs. It has been estimated wind energy creates 30% more jobs than a coal plant and 66% more than a nuclear power plant.
Revitalize Rural Economies. Wind power can have a significant positive impact on rural economies. Each 100 MW of wind development in southwest Minnesota has generated about $1 million per year in property tax revenue and about $250,000 per year in direct lease payments to landowners.
It’s Intermittent and Inefficient. Today’s wind farms produce at just 30%-40% of “nameplate” capacity, mostly due to the fact that wind is unpredictable and does not blow at a steady 8-25 mph 7/24/365. Without ongoing improvements in turbine efficiency, this issue will only worsen as turbines are placed in less optimal locations.
Storage and Transportation are Key. People tend to not live in areas where the wind blows at ideal conditions for wind turbines. The most favorable areas for wind farms are a strip of land that stretches from the Dakotas to Texas, as well as along the west coast of the U.S. This makes the ability to store power generated and the ability to transmit the power over long distances critical into expansion of wind power.
It Demands Massive Amounts of Acreage. Due to the inherent inefficiency of the turbines and the need to space them far enough apart so that the turbines don’t interfere with each turbine’s “wind capture” area, the amount of acreage needed becomes immense. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, in his keynote address at the 2018 America First Energy Conference, noted that to power the Houston metro area by wind power would require almost 900 square miles of wind turbines.
It’s Dangerous, To Humans and Wildlife. There have been many articles and studies published about the dangers of wind power, not only to humans but to wildlife. Wind turbines generate a steady noise in the 50 to 60 decibel range. Some people have reported issues with low frequency infrasound from the wind turbines. People living in close proximity have reported symptoms ranging from annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, and headache, to anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction.
The German Experience. Many critics of wind energy, and renewables fuels in general, point to the German experience. Renewables account for some 35% of power production in the nation, but Germans pay some of the highest power prices in Europe, not least due to the costs arising from the launch of renewable energy sources.
Art is in the Eye of the Beholder. While some may view the turbines as modern sleek white pieces of art, many others feel the turbines are eyesores and negatively impact the areas in which they are placed.
Cost-Benefit Analysis. While there are both pros and cons to wind power, the use of a free, renewable, non-polluting resource would appear to be a net benefit to our nation. Wind continues to grow as a percentage of overall electricity generation and with continued improvements in storage, transportation, and efficiency would appear to become a significant contributor to the nation’s electric power generation.
Wind to Surpass Hydro as No. 1 US Renewable Power Source in 2019, Julian Spector, January 15, 2019
Wind Power in the United States, Wikipedia
Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
Economics and Incentives for Wind, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
The rise of wind power: what to expect in 2019, Michelle Froese, January 11, 2019
Pros & Cons of Wind Energy, Lisa Daniels, January 16, 2015
Costly wind power menaces man and nature, Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris, May 22, 2019
Germany’s energy consumption and power mix in charts, Kerstine Appunn, Clean Energy Wire, April 3, 2019
2019 renewable energy industry outlook, Marlene Motyka, April 1, 2019