News Story

Energy Policy Director: Wind Energy isn't Cheap and Alone Can't Meet Our Needs

'We left wind a couple hundred years ago'

According to Steve Transeth, senior policy director for the Michigan Jobs & Energy Coalition, the general public has some “major” misconceptions about wind energy – particularly about its costs and adequacy.

“It sounds good,” Transeth said at a meeting held by the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC) on Jan. 20. “We think it’s cheap, it’s green, it’s the answer to all the things we’re trying to achieve. It really is none of those things."

“I think in 20 years we’ll look back and think, ’What kind of experiment was that?’” Transeth continued. “We left wind a couple of hundred years ago. Why did we think we would solve all our energy problems with this technology?”

Following the coalition's energy summit, Transeth corrected himself and said he had misspoken when he'd suggested that wind energy was not “green.”

“Wind generation is classified as a renewable energy source and is one of the cleanest options available in terms of eliminating CO2 emissions,” Transeth said. “Opponents to wind would argue that the analysis should not stop there – and claim that wind generation creates other harmful environmental issues such as noise and vibrations, and endangers fowl and bat populations.”

Transeth’s presence as one of the featured speakers at the IICC event served to show that wind energy might not be all that its proponents claim. The summit was held in a downstairs room at Kellogg Center in East Lansing while the American Wind Energy Association, the trade organization for wind energy, was hosting its own conference.

In addition to his post with the jobs coalition, Transeth serves as executive coordinator for the MISO Northeast Transmission Customer Coalition and is senior energy adviser for the Coalition for Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan. He also is a former member of the Michigan Public Service Commission.

He has served on various committees of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), including its committees on energy resources and the environment; critical infrastructure; and gas. He has more than 25 years of experience dealing with energy and utility issues, and is principal partner of the Lansing law firm, Transeth & Associates.

Transeth said his comments pertaining to wind energy at the IICC event should be taken in the context of what he regards as the two major misconceptions about wind energy.

“The first is the general perception that wind energy is cheap,” he said. “There are many ways to calculate costs and – depending on the factors used – wind generation is at best competitive with other options or – at worst – an expensive alternative. While wind technology has and will continue to improve and the cost of wind energy has come down, wind energy is not free.”

“The second misconception is that wind generation is sufficient alone to meet our future energy needs," Transeth continued. “Current wind technology dictates that it will continue to be a supplementary energy source, but it is incapable of replacing the base-load generation needed in the years to come. Wind energy will continue to play a role in providing clean energy to Michigan customers but there are limits to that role, and the pure physics of wind generation – its inherently variable nature – will dictate its scope. Due to the intermittent nature of wind generation, it requires supplemental sources of power (usually natural gas) to mitigate its variability, and this can pose economic and operational burdens on the electricity system.”

Returning to the overview of Michigan’s current energy situation, which Transeth also highlighted at the summit, he said, “Critical base-load coal-fired power plants across Michigan will be closed in the next few years due to old age and environmental regulations.” He added, "In order to replace this lost base-load generation, we will need a diverse resource portfolio which recognizes the need for energy to be affordable, reliable and clean.”

“It is not a matter of whether wind energy is a help or hindrance compared to other options, but how successful we will be at blending wind generation with other options which are better designed to meet our future base-load requirements,” Transeth added.

The jobs coalition has a diverse membership, including Michigan businesses, energy providers, electric cooperatives, labor organizations, renewable energy and energy efficiency advocates, and residential and industrial customers. Its principal members include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Detroit Regional Chamber, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

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.