Guest opinion: Blowing away hot air on wind powerby Paul Driessen on Aug. 06, 2008, under Opinion
T. Boone Pickens is being lionized for his efforts to legislate a transformation to “eco-friendly” wind energy.
We need to “overcome our addiction to foreign oil,” he insists, by harnessing wind to replace natural gas in electricity generation and using that gas to power more cars and buses.
If Congress would simply “mandate the formation” of wind and solar corridors,” provide eminent domain authority for transmission lines, and renew the subsidies for this energy, America can make the switch in a decade.
Pickens’ $58 million media pitch makes good ad copy, but his policy prescriptions would bring new energy, economic, legal and environmental problems – and a price tag of more than $1.2 trillion.
Wind contributes more every year to our energy mix, but still provides only 1 percent of our electricity – compared with 49 percent for coal, 22 percent for natural gas, 19 percent for nuclear and 7 percent for hydroelectric.
We can and should harness the wind, but 22 percent of our electricity by 2020 is far-fetched.
Wind power is expensive (even with subsidies), intermittent and unreliable. Many modern turbines are 400 feet tall and carry 130-foot, 7-ton, bird-slicing blades.
They operate at only 20 percent to 30 percent of rated efficiency – compared with 85 percent for coal, gas and nuclear plants – and provide little power during summer daytime hours, when air-conditioning demand is highest, but winds are at low ebb.
Using wind to replace all gas-fired power plants would require more than 300,000, 1.5-megawatt turbines, covering Midwestern “wind belt” agricultural and wildlife acreage equivalent to South Carolina.
Building and installing these turbines requires five to 10 times more steel and concrete than is needed to build nuclear plants to generate the same electricity more reliably, says UC-Berkeley engineer Per Peterson. Add in steel and cement needed to build transmission lines from distant wind farms to urban consumers and the costs multiply.
Wind thus means more quarries, mines, cement plants and steel mills to supply those materials. But greens oppose such facilities. So the Pickens proposal could mean letting existing power plants rust and importing steel and cement, instead of oil.
Since adequate wind is available only three to eight hours a day, we also would need more gas-fired generating plants that mostly run at idle, kicking in whenever the wind dies down. That means still more money, cement, steel and gas – and still higher electricity prices.
A successful oilman, speculator and corporate raider, Pickens’ large natural gas holdings position him to make billions from selling gas for backup electricity generation – especially if drilling bans remain in effect, keeping gas prices in the stratosphere.
Launching the enterprise with the backing of federal mandates and subsidies minimizes his financial risk and attracts semi-free-market investors, by putting the risks for his scheme on the backs of taxpayers and right-of-way owners.
Pickens says we can’t drill our way out of dependence on foreign oil. But that’s true only if we keep our best prospects off limits to drilling. Open the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve and the outer continental shelf and the situation changes dramatically.
We have enough oil, natural gas, oil shale, coal and uranium to provide power for centuries. We have a growing consensus that we need to drill, onshore and off.
Unfortunately, greens and Democrats refuse to support these options – no matter how soaring energy prices batter poor families, workers, Meals on Wheels, small businesses, and automobile, airline, tourism, chemical and manufacturing industries.
A single 1,000-MW nuclear power plant would reliably generate more electricity than 2,800 1.5-MW intermittent wind turbines on 175,000 acres. Permitting more nukes would meet increasing electricity demand for our growing population and millions of plug-in hybrid cars.
Coal offers centuries of affordable, reliable fuel for electricity and synthetic gas and oil, with steadily diminishing emissions.
Between 1970 and 2006, coal-fired electricity generation nearly tripled – while nitrogen oxide emissions remained at 1970 levels, sulfur dioxide pollution fell nearly 40 percent below 1970 emissions, and fine particulates declined to 90 percent below 1970 levels.
That leaves Climate Armageddon as the primary rationale for wind power.
Al Gore, James Hansen and various legislators claim fossil fuels are destroying the planet. But 32,000 scientists have signed the consensus-busting Oregon Petition, saying they see “no convincing scientific evidence” that humans are causing catastrophic climate change.
Other experts note that we have far higher priorities, the economic costs of climate bills like Warner-Lieberman would be staggering, and the global CO2 and climate benefits of U.S. economic suicide would be imperceptible.
China is building two new coal-fired power plants every month, to power electricity-hungry homes and businesses. India, too, is charging ahead with hydrocarbon-based energy. Both are rightly more concerned about saving people from poverty than from speculative climate chaos.
It’s increasingly obvious why Gore, Hansen and Sen. Harry Reid have become more shrill by the day. People are catching on that their hot air is no basis for economy-killing cap-and-trade rules or ecology-killing forests of wind turbines.
We need to safeguard access to the opportunities created by abundant, reliable, affordable energy – from all sources – as a fundamental right of people the world over.
Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality (www.core-online.org) and other public policy organizations, and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com).