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September 27, 2013 at 6:35 AM

Wind Power: Let’s find out how good (or bad) it is

Windmills (John Miller/AP Photo, 2012)

Windmills
(John Miller/AP Photo, 2012)

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor of The Wenatchee World, raises the question of whether the wind energy Washington consumers are required to buy is worth the cost. Actually, he seconds the question that has been raised by others, in a petition to State Auditor Troy Kelley. I’ll third it, then.

I didn’t vote for Initiative 937, which legally mandated Washington utilities to buy 9 percent of their power from “renewables” by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020. I put “renewables” in quotation marks because the initiative writers used a political definition that left out renewable hydro power. The result, as Tracy Warner writes, is that sometimes utilities have to buy wind power at a high price simply because it’s available, and sell at a much lower price the clean hydro power they already had. It’s as if you popped a bag of popcorn yourself and had to throw it away and buy the movie theater’s popcorn (and didn’t get to see the movie).

Posted below Warner’s editorial is a statement that wind energy is “more affordable than ever” and that it has lowered people’s electric rates. That it is more affordable than it was before may be true, just as solar power is; but it doesn’t mean it’s cheap, or cheaper than the alternatives. And if it lowers electric rates it would have to be cheaper than the alternatives. I note that The Economist reported June 8  that wind power in the United States “is uncompetitive with other forms of energy” (meaning hydro, nuclear, oil and gas) and is sustained by the federal 2.2-cent per kilowatt hour protection tax credit.

The Economist could be wrong. I’ll bet it isn’t, but let’s find out. Let’s have State Auditor Kelley do a report on wind power. How much is it saving (or costing) consumers? And if it is saving them anything, how much of that is actual performance and how much is federal tax credits?

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