NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wind Turbines Are Beautiful...But a Tad Expensive

September 20, 2010

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA), if one includes all the capital, operating and fuel costs, electricity from wind still costs about 50 percent more than conventional coal and 100 percent more than natural gas, says Ronald Bailey, science correspondent with Reason Magazine.

Proponents point out that the costs of turbines are coming down, but the costs for the considerable infrastructure needed to manage wind are still daunting.

  • The wind, even at favorable sites, doesn't always blow, so the facility produces power at about 38 percent of its actual capacity, or roughly about 51 megawatt hours of electricity on average.
  • The equipment is reliable -- their operational life is 20 years, but John Bacon, onsite manager if the 90-turbine Judith's Gap wind farm in Montana, expects that they will actually continue to work for more than 40 years.
  • But reliable equipment isn't enough to bring prices down to competitive levels, says Bailey.

The Department of Energy projects that wind power production capacity will more than double by 2014, fueled by federal tax subsidies, economic recovery stimulus spending and state renewable energy mandates.  This means that thousands more gleaming stately spinning towers will soon rise above the amber waves of grain in the heartland of America.  Beautiful, says Bailey, but costly.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "Wind Turbines Are Beautiful...but a tad expensive," Reason Magazine, September 14, 2010.

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