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Fecal cliff budget deal: Modified rapture on wind


Grist again:

Traditionally, PTC [Production Stimulus Credit] money is available to a wind project only once it is up and running, putting electricity on the wires. That’s why so many wind projects raced to finish in 2012, when it looked like the PTC would expire. The Finance Committee bill changed the PTC so that the money would be available to any wind project that breaks ground in the calendar year. That allows projects to be built (and financed) over longer periods of time without worrying about losing the tax incentive. I’ve heard informal estimates that one year of this kind of PTC is worth two or three years of the conventional PTC.

Of course, if you deal in hydrocarbons, you get to suck on the public teat forever, and none of this "calendar year" stuff.

In the state of Maine, I have to say I'm equivocal on wind. In principle, yes, renewable energy is A Good Thing. However, after the landfill battles, I'm gradually coming to hold the view that NIMBY is not, in fact, a term of opprobium but a badge of honor: One more value that the elites have managed to invert. On the landfill, the abutters were the first to experience the stench, the spills, the lies about the volume of trash, and especially the nature of the out-of-state corporation running the landfill. The abutters were incentivized to become subject matter experts in the law and the externalities of the monstrosity in their back yards (as opposed to the weasel lawyers from Portland, who are incentivized only to be experts only in back scratching, lies, and obfuscation, or the operators themselves, who are experts only in gaming the system to extract as much money as possible from the state).

So on the one hand, we've got corporate Big Wind trying to take over mountaintops all over the state, and (gossip from the coffee shop via the NIMBIES) put up wind turbines that are timed to deteriorate when the tax advantages end, at which point the corporations will sell them to the municipalities for a dollar and leave the state, laughing all the way to the bank (an old story for Maine_). On the other hand, we've got the coast, where we could have lots and lots of locally owned and operated, but smaller, wind farms that would make the whole coastal area, which is very poor, sustainable, and keep the money in Maine, instead of sending it out of state like the landfill does.

NOTE And I know we've got a wind expert on site. All I can say is that's my picture of the State of Maine, and I'd welcome amelioration. We get the real bottom feeders up here because there is so little margin to be had on anything.

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okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

You are 100% correct that in many ways fossil fuel-everything is basically forever and basically unbilled societal costs. From the global climate change, the acid rain, the mercury poisoning, the tanker spills, the well blowouts, the pipeline spills and pipeline explosions, the subsidies, the commodity vultures (Koch brothers, Saudis, etc.), the speculators, the wars, the groundwater pollution (including from fracking), the air pollution, etc..

I'm not going to say wind power is perfect, cost-free, or devoid of greedheads. Some people are definitely getting screwed, especially people who farm without these subsidized properties. If you are getting an extra $500-1000/month per turbine, and have, for example, ten turbines on your section, you are getting a guaranteed income of $60-100K/year for your 640 acres. So about $100-150/year/acre, with zero cost aside from taxes. For corn, assuming anywhere from average 123 bushels and $5-8/bushel, you get $500 to $1500/acre, that's before your farming costs in seed, fuel, fertilizer, equipment, etc.. A huge subsidy. What that does is skew the playing field towards those with turbines on their property. Also, it is true that turbines (like all equipment) have a service life over which they are depreciated. They generally have a 20-year service live. On the positive side, the wind resource prediction, grid hookup and planning, meterology, preconstruction engineering, right of way leasing, foundation, substation, electrical cables and roads are a major part of the cost of a wind project. Current cost for a turbine is around $1M per megawatt and dropping. Turbine costs are about a third or less of the total cost of a wind farm project. When a turbine fails, it is actually pretty easy to replace them. The biggest hidden cost is when the turbine is decommissioned, it usually isn't economically feasible to remove the foundation, so that is buried (actually a stipulation in the land agreement).

Regarding where big business comes into play on this, big business is inevitable, but it is very difficult to game wind energy. There are no production costs, they are a piece of capital equipment with no variability on the commodity cost (which is always zero). Once the thing is financed, it is basically pure profit aside from negligible maintenance costs. Compare that to fossil fuels of all kinds.

It's true they are a visual detractor to many, like all man-made things like power lines, roads, deforestation, etc., it is NOT true that modern, large megawatt, slow-spinning turbines are a major source of noise pollution or bird kills. The old, small, fast spinning turbines definitely WERE a hazard to birds and bats. In terms of upsides, downsides, wind is about as good as it gets. Sadly, it will probably never be possible to get 100% of our energy from renewables....

This photo is from the Mars Hill wind farm in Northern Maine.