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Why free windpower will triple your power bill

It’s fashionable to promote green energy as the next big thing.  Wind power has captured the imagination of people because they can see big windmills turning and imagine free electricity.

Actually, the electricity will cost you at least twice as much as what you’re paying now, probably more.  Here’s why.

Modern wind turbines are astonishingly big structures, similar in construction to an aircraft and about as complex.  They cost a lot of money to build, and the maintenance costs are substantial.  If you add up the initial cost of the windmill plus the expected maintenance cost and divide that by the projected energy production, you’ll probably get a figure between 20 and 30 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) if the windmill is sited in a premium spot.  The less the wind blows, the more the price per kwh.  Depending on where you live, you’re probably paying between 10 and 15 cents per kwh now.  The initial sticker price for wind power will be twice that.

Now for the bad news.  Windmills don’t turn when the wind fails, and it turns out that that’s way over half the time.  Weather systems are big, sometimes covering well over half the country.  If lots of windmills stopped all at the same time, it’d be another northeast blackout all over again.

To guard against widespread power shortages, your utility will have to maintain and operate what’s called “base loaded” plants.  These are the big coal-fired or nuclear plants that drive the power grid now, typically around a million horsepower each.  To run these plants, you must retain all the people, fuel, maintenance, and infrastructure you have now. The utility and customer save virtually nothing by shifting production to windmills, meaning that the windmill, rather than a savings, is an added cost.

This explains why wind power needs huge federal subsidies to prop it up economically.  The idea of power that involves a zero fuel cost sounds attractive.  But compare the same concept in your car.  Suppose you had a wind-powered car that never needed gas, but it cost $100,000 and could get you to work less than half the time.  For the rest of your transportation needs, you’d still have to maintain a regular car with all its tax, licensing, maintenance, and fuel expenses.  Your wind-powered car might be an interesting novelty for the neighborhood kids.  It might even serve as a back-up in a pinch… if the wind is blowing.  But it wouldn’t save you any money.  In fact, you’d end up paying a lot more money just to have it around.

2 Comments

  1. Dad

    sent to Obama and Mike Ross

    Posted on 03-Mar-09 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Dad

    plus now I have sent it to Sens Pryor and Lincoln

    Posted on 03-Mar-09 at 21:13 pm | Permalink

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