Mighty Wind

Immense wind turbines. Obama is for subsidies; Romney is against them. Exelon is against them, too. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently terminated Exelon’s membership because Exelon opposed extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC).

Extension of the PTC, first enacted in 1992, beyond 31 December has been the wind industry’s priority this year. It pays $22/MWh inflation-adjusted for a project’s first decade in operation. This subsidy costs the federal government at least $1.2bn each year. …

Exelon’s contention is that the PTC served its purpose in allowing the US to develop a wind industry, which now can stand on its own. Washington’s support of an intermittent resource at the expense of nuclear and other forms of firm generation ceases to make public policy sense, it argues.

Although Exelon is a major wind energy provider, they also own ten nuclear plants. Exelon claims that, “construction of new merchant nuclear power plants in competitive markets uneconomical now and for the foreseeable future.” But as with wind projects, government subsidies would shift risk from private firms to the government. You could make an argument that wind turbines rely on subsidies even more than steady breezes, and that nukes rely on subsidies even more than on fissionable fuel rods.

Those large turbines do generate clean electricity, and I vastly prefer wind to nuclear, but they are still a direct hazard to birds and bats:

Wind Turbines: Saving the Planet but Butchering Bats

“When people were first starting to talk about the issue, it was ‘bats running into the turbine blades.’ We always said, ‘No, bats don’t run into things.’ Bats can detect and avoid all kinds of structures,” and are even better are detecting stuff that’s moving. No, they’re exploding.

Baerwald and her colleagues discovered that bats’ “large, pliable lungs” blow up from change in air pressure created by moving blades. Up the 90 percent of the dead bats they examined showed the internal bleeding consistent with their argument. Birds, by the way, have different kinds of lungs so their deaths are from the more predictable blunt-force trauma.

What is less obvious is that wind energy firms clearcut huge swaths of forest around their turbines and access roads. That turns deep forest into shallow forest, and drives out deep forest wildlife.

I see a future for smaller wind turbines at each house. I also see a future for using wind to provide direct mechanical energy instead of converting it to electricity. But neither of those approaches involve a regular flow of cash to utility companies.

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