NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

An Ill-Wind Energy Blows

October 6, 2015

Wind capacity factors can vary greatly across regions because the output from wind turbines are dependent on the wind resources in the area. Capacity factors for wind units on the U.S. West Coast for the first five months of this year were consistently below their previous five-year average because wind speeds dropped in California, Oregon and Washington.

Because the amount of electrical energy produced by a wind turbine varies nonlinearly with wind speed, small changes in wind speed can result in much larger changes in output:

  • In January, wind speeds were approximately 20 percent to 45 percent lower than normal for portions of the West Coast.
  • Capacity factors for wind plants in California, Oregon, and Washington were about 50 percent lower than the January average of the previous five years.

At the end of 2009, California, Oregon and Washington had 6.3 gigawatts of wind capacity. By the end of 2014, they had increased that capacity by an additional 5.3 gigawatts and more than double their wind generation due to state Renewable Portfolio Standards and to lucrative subsidies at the Federal and State levels.

The cost to the taxpayer and consumer is much more than the cost of generating power from existing power plants. Due to the variability of wind speeds, back-up power is needed to provide generation to meet demand when the wind does not blow or slows. So, consumers are paying again to have that back-up power available when needed. Wind is not a free good, despite environmentalists wanting us to believe that it is so.

Source: "Wind Capacity Factors Drop on West Coast Due to Poor Wind Speeds," Institute for Energy Studies, September 28, 2015.

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