NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wind Power Won't Cool Down The Planet

August 24, 2010

The wind industry has achieved remarkable growth largely due to the claim that it will provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.  There's just one problem: It's not true.  A slew of recent studies show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions -- or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, recently published his fourth book, "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future." 

Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don't go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called "cycling").  But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don't, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase.  Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power, says Bryce. 

In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas.  (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity "has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide" emissions: 

  • Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado's coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling.
  • In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated the potential savings from a nationwide 25 percent renewable electricity standard, a goal included in the Waxman-Markey energy bill that narrowly passed the House last year: 

  • The best-case scenario is about 306 million tons less CO2 by 2030.
  • Given that the agency expects annual U.S. carbon emissions to be about 6.2 billion tons in 2030, that expected reduction will only equal about 4.9 percent of emissions nationwide.
  • That's not much when you consider that the Obama administration wants to cut CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2050. 

Source: Robert Bryce, "Wind Power Won't Cool Down the Planet; Often enough it leads to higher carbon emissions," Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2010. 

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