Wasting Money on Windmills

A recent article in Slate by Robert Bryce describes how Texas has more wind generator capacity than any other state — around 9,700 megawatts. But last August, when state electricity demand set a one-day record of 63,494 megawatts, all those windmills contributed just 500 megawatts, or about 5 percent of their rated capacity.

Apparently, the hottest days in Texas have something in common with those in Michigan —they’re usually not very windy. What’s more, the entity that operates the state’s electricity grid determined that on a year-round basis, all those spinning turbine blades are expected to contribute just 8.7 percent of their rated capacity.

Nevertheless, Texas families are now paying $4 more for electricity every month for a network of power lines connecting those distant rural wind turbines to where most people live.

The Texas experience is a stark preview of what Michigan can expect as a renewable electricity mandate imposed by the Legislature in 2008 begins to kick-in (see who voted yes and who voted no in the Senate and House). Unless repealed, it requires 10 percent of the state’s electricity to come from “renewable” sources by 2015, and it allows utilities to stick families and businesses with higher bills to pay for this hugely more expensive power. The mandate is what’s behind all the talk and plans to line Great Lakes shorelines with huge wind turbines and towers. And as in Texas, these will impose even more costs to string power lines from the lakeshores to population centers.

If not poured into wind generators expected to produce less than 10 percent of their rated capacity, all those millions of dollars could be used instead to meet other critical needs.

Bryce summarizes:

Understanding wind's unreliability is critically important now, at a time when America's basic infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of new investment. In June, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that said that "communities will need hundreds of billions of dollars in coming years to construct and upgrade wastewater infrastructure." Add in the need for new spending on roads, dams, bridges, pipelines, and mass transit systems, and it quickly becomes clear that politicians' infatuation with wind energy is diverting money away from projects that are more deserving and far more important to the general public.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.