NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Will Windmills Stand on Their Own Economic Feet?

August 16, 2001

Energy generated by the wind has been the dream and goal of environmentalists for decades. And it is true that there is a rush to build "wind farms" -- particularly in the northwestern U.S.

But one problem is that they cannot compete economically with electricity generated by traditional power plants using natural gas and coal. So companies that seek to build them rely on subsidies from Washington.

The second problem has more to do with Mother Nature: when the wind stops blowing, the wind turbines stop turning -- even as the subsidies continue to flow.

And a third problem is the need to construct transmission lines to carry power from isolated wind farms to residential and commercial consumers.

  • In 1999, the federal government set a goal of having wind power contribute 5 percent of the nation's electrical power output by 2020.
  • Right now, it accounts for barely 0.1 percent.
  • The 1,500 megawatts of wind-power capacity expected to go on line this year will be sufficient to power more than 300,000 homes, experts estimate.
  • More than 85 utilities in 29 states have given consumers the option of paying extra for "green power" -- but so far only about 350,000 households have signed up nationwide.

Source: Patrick McMahon, "'Green Power' Gets Second Wind," USA Today, August 16, 2001.

 

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