In Rebuttal: The promise of wind power

Wind energy is steadily replacing fossil fuels and improving the environment

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Former climate-change denier and fossil-fuel promoter Bjorn Lomborg, in his Sept. 1 Forum piece "Green Energy Fantasies: The Fastest Route to a New Age of Renewables Is to Invest in R&D Instead of Subsidies," uses obsolete data and sleight of hand to attack the environmental contributions of wind energy.

Due to massive cost reductions, wind energy already is making important contributions toward solving our environmental problems. Wind power accounted for more than 35 percent of newly installed electric capacity in the United States over the last five years, and renewables combined represented 55 percent of new capacity in 2012.

Wind now reliably provides more than 20 percent of the electricity in Iowa and South Dakota and more than 12 percent in nine states, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The amount of wind power installed in the United States today reduces CO2 emissions by almost 100 million tons per year -- equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road.

While there is obviously more to be done, U.S. wind energy capacity has nearly quadrupled over the last five years. As the lowest-cost zero-emission energy source, wind energy must play a critical role in any effort to solve our environmental problems.

This rapid deployment of wind energy has occurred because costs have fallen precipitously -- more than 50 percent in the last four years, according to financial services firm Lazard. The Department of Energy similarly points out that "with [its] combination of lower prices and improved performance, wind is becoming a strong competitor."

Deployment and the resulting economies of scale, not R&D, have been the leading drivers of these cost reductions. Stable policies have enabled the development of a domestic wind-turbine manufacturing sector that now builds over 70 percent of wind turbine value in the United States.

In a virtuous circle, policies that successfully encourage private-sector deployment of wind energy have greatly reduced wind energy costs, enabling further deployment, which further brings down costs, and so on. Calls for policy makers to switch from the meager policy incentives to deploy wind energy and instead invest in R&D would mean taking our foot off the gas pedal just as we are near the clean-energy future we so urgently need.

Mr. Lomborg repeatedly attempts to confuse readers by lumping modern renewables like wind and solar in with age-old energy sources like burning firewood for heat. That allows him to point to underdeveloped regions that still burn a lot of wood and make misleading arguments such as "the most renewables-intensive places in the world are also the poorest."

Finally, Mr. Lomborg conveniently overlooks the far larger subsidies given to other energy sources, which are particularly large when one looks historically and globally.

According to the Congressional Research Service, "For more than half a century, federal energy tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing domestic oil and gas reserves and production." A report by DBL Investors also found that, in "inflation-adjusted dollars, nuclear spending averaged $3.3 billion over the first 15 years of subsidy life and [oil and gas] subsidies averaged $1.8 billion, while renewables averaged less than $0.4 billion." Even by the Nuclear Energy Institute's own count, fossil and nuclear subsidies are many times larger than the total amount given to all renewables over the last 60 years.

Globally, the International Energy Agency estimated that, in 2011 alone, fossil fuel direct subsidies were worth $523 billion, compared to $88 billion for all renewables. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund reported that global subsidies for fossil fuels are a staggering $1.9 trillion a year, including about $500 billion in direct subsidies and more than $1 trillion due to lack of policies that account for the costs of pollution.

Bottom line: Like all energy industries, the wind industry needs stable policies to continue to grow and further reduce its costs, which would keep us on the path to a affordable, clean energy future.

opinion_commentary

Michael Goggin is a senior electricity industry analyst for the American Wind Energy Association (mgoggin@awea.org).


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