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Why Wind Won’t Work

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There’s an old joke about an Irishman who, upon seeing a barroom brawl spill out into the street, politely taps one of the participants on the shoulder and asks “is this a private fight, or may anyone join?” I’m Irish by blood, so when I saw wind power advocate Jimmy Glotfelty attack noted energy expert Robert Bryce at National Review’s The Corner, I had to throw my own two cents in (Bryce ably defends himself here).

Reading Glotfelty’s diatribe, you could be forgiven for thinking that wind power is on the cusp of a major market breakthrough, and could one day become economical. It isn’t and it won’t.

Wind accounted for less than 3 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2011. The number of wind farms may be growing, but because wind power can only be produced intermittently, actual generation of wind energy is only a small fraction of overall installed wind capacity. In 2011, the operator of Texas’s electrical grid estimated that only 8.7 percent of installed wind capacity could be counted on during times of peak summer demand.   

Whatever recent inroads wind has made are due rather less to its merits as an energy source than to staggering government subsidies. While coal, natural gas, and petroleum liquids received $0.64 of federal subsidies per megawatt hour in 2010, wind power received a whopping $56.29 per megawatt hour.

Wind power simply cannot be scaled up to replace traditional energy sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. Which was, of course, Robert Bryce’s point. Wind subsidies might make a few people rich, but they won’t make wind a free market success story.