Op-Ed by Randy T. Simmons and Jordan Lofthouse for The Salt Lake Tribune
During George W. Bush’s administration, the Department of Energy set a wildly unrealistic goal to have 20 percent of the nation’s electricity come from wind by 2030. Now, the Obama Administration wishes to fulfill that goal by passing permanent subsidies for wind power.
Wind power has gained a reputation as the future of energy generation, but few wind power advocates seem willing to answer the pertinent question, “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?” Honestly answering that question means we must acknowledge how undeniably unreliable wind power is. The next logical step should be to stop dumping tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into such a fickle energy source.
In 2014, wind energy only supplied 1.6 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. But, with the growing list of tax incentives, subsidies, federal goals and mandates for wind, we must consider all the implications of boosting wind’s market share.
The first problem with wind is inconsistency. Wind’s inability to supply electricity on a consistent basis renders it dependent on more reliable sources of energy for backup, such as nuclear, coal and natural gas. Wind energy can supplement these conventional sources, but it’s not capable of supplying the base load of power that the country needs.
The inconsistency of wind power also forces us to “cycle” coal, natural gas and hydropower generators in the background so that we can kick them into high gear when the wind stops blowing. Cycling presents its own set of economic and environmental problems, but this is the only way grid operators can drastically increase electricity output whenever demand increases unexpectedly.
The second problem with wind is its low productivity. The amount of energy a wind farm actually produces on average pales in comparison to the energy that it could at full capacity. Wind power only produces its full capacity 20 to 40 percent of the time, as opposed to 70 to 90 percent for coal-fired power, or 60 to 100 percent for nuclear power.