Natural gas is cheaper with few emissions — why is the state pushing wind?
By Kevon Martis
Climate change activist James Hansen has said, "Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the
The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and its allies have chosen one unifying theme for these events: coal-fired electrical generation kills people and renewable energy (wind) is the cure.
To that end, the MEC commissioned a report called: "Public Health Impacts of Old Coal-Fired Power Plants in
Such large numbers certainly deserve scrutiny. For the sake of argument let us assume that fine particulate emissions truly do have such an outsized financial and human impact. If so, what is the cheapest and most effective means to protect our citizens?
The MEC has consistently promoted renewable energy as the best cure for these coal emissions. But is this just faith in James Hansen’s "Tooth Fairy"?
By the end of 2013, roughly $2.5 billion will have been spent in
This means $2.5 billion of wind turbines and transmission lines will at best save only $75 million per year in coal emissions related health costs, or nine lives annually.
What the MEC wishes for us to ignore is that there is a far more efficient way to combat those emissions: natural gas-fired combined cycle gas turbine plants (gas plants), which emit almost no particulates or mercury.
Modern gas plants are among the lowest cost ways to generate electricity. CMS Energy is currently constructing a new 750MW gas plant at a cost of $1 million per megawatt. By way of comparison, CMS Lakewinds wind farm near Ludington cost $2.5 million per megawatt, or two-and-a-half times the price of gas plants.
Not only are gas plants cheap to build, they produce our cheapest electricity. The federal Energy Information Administration projects that by 2017 the cost of energy from gas plants will be only two-thirds the cost of wind energy.
This is a serious blow to MEC's renewable energy "Easter Bunny."
By the end of 2013, and despite having spent $2.5 billion,
Doing so would, according to MEC’s own data, slash
But under MEC's renewable energy plan, 81 of those 90 lives would be sacrificed. And the nine people saved would cost a staggering $277 million per life. That is 10 times the price per life.
Further, had we constructed 5,000MW of gas plants instead of wind turbines, we would close all nine coal plants and thereby lock in annual health care savings of $1.5 billion dollars per year while simultaneously extending the lives of 180 people each year in Michigan. Just those health care cost savings alone would pay for the construction costs of those new gas plants in only 3.3 years.
While our cost-benefit analysis is simplified to be sure, we are still forced to face some sobering conclusions.
Because wind generation cannot replace coal plants but gas plants can, we are currently wasting $1.42 billion per year in health care costs that could have been eliminated without renewable energy mandates.
By following the MEC’s lead and mandating wind energy instead of encouraging the construction of natural gas plants, we continue to needlessly kill nearly 180 people per year.
In truth, no one knows the true health care costs of coal emissions. But we know that whatever that true cost is, wind energy is the most expensive and least effective means of eliminating those costs and certainly should not be mandated by state policy.
It is high time the MEC and its affiliates like the Michigan Land Use Institute, League of Conservation Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club abandon childlike faith in fairy tales and start endorsing a science-based "no regrets" energy policy for grownups.
Kevon Martis is the senior policy analyst for the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition Inc., a bipartisan grassroots renewable energy watchdog group based in Blissfield. The IICC is not sponsored by any industry or advocacy group.