Gone with the Wind

COPENHAGEN – Efforts to stem global warming have nurtured a strong urge worldwide to deploy renewable energy. As a result, the use of wind turbines has increased ten-fold over the past decade, with wind power often touted as the most cost-effective green opportunity. According to Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s commissioner for climate action, “People should believe that [wind power] is very, very cheap.”

In fact, this is a highly problematic claim. While wind energy is cheaper than other, more ineffective renewables, such as solar, tidal, and ethanol, it is nowhere near competitive. If it were, we wouldn’t have to keep spending significant sums to subsidize it.

In the United Kingdom, for example, wind remains significantly more costly than other energy sources. Using the UK Electricity Generation Costs 2010 update and measuring in cost per produced kilowatt-hour, wind is still 20-200% more expensive than the cheapest fossil-fuel options. And even this is a significant underestimate.

As the UK and other developed countries have rushed to build more wind turbines, they have naturally started with the windiest places, leaving poorer sites for later. At the same time, people increasingly protest against the wind farms in their backyards. Local opposition has tripled over the past three years, and local approval rates for new wind farms have sunk to an all-time low.