Wind power benefits don’t add up
We have all heard much about the concerns relating to industrial wind turbines on our ridgelines. Our governor wants us to install industrial wind turbines as fast as we can in order to reduce our carbon footprint and thereby slow the rate of climate change.
Is the governor correct? Remove the “install industrial wind turbines” and substitute “do something prudent” and I agree. Is installing industrial wind turbines prudent? We hear that there is no way to produce electricity without some form of sacrifice and we all need to do our part. We all need to do our part, but electricity is not the problem. Electricity accounts for 4 percent of Vermont’s carbon dioxide production. Transportation accounts for 47 percent, and home and building heating for 31.5 percent. A prudent governor might more appropriately direct his and our energies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions toward those two areas. Carbon dioxide, not electricity, is the villain that needs to be attacked, and most of it comes from transportation and heating.
Industrial wind turbines can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but they are a very cost-ineffective way to do so. There are more effective and cheaper ways to lower carbon dioxide emissions. The Lowell Mountain 63-megawatt project is expected to produce an average 20 megawatts of electricity. That will amount to 175,200 megawatt-hours per year. In the Lowell Mountain certificate of public good application, GMP stated it would cost about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour to produce the electricity. This past summer GMP could have purchased electricity from the grid for between 5 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.
On Thanksgiving Day the price was 3.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Because of the abundance of natural gas and because of the current excess generation capacity that exists in New England, both VELCO and ISO-NE predict electricity costs to be stable for decades to come. That is well beyond the life expectance of any wind turbine. At an average grid price of 5.5 cents, the cost of the Lowell Mountain electricity is twice the market price.
The Lowell Mountain 175,200 megawatt-hours per year will cost us $9,636,000 per year above market price. ISO-NE states that for every megawatt of electricity purchased from the grid 0.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced. The 175,200 megawatts that the Lowell Mountain project will produce will save 70,080 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The $9,636,000 excess cost divided by the 70,080 tons gives us a cost of $137.50 per ton of carbon dioxide reduced. This is a very cost-ineffective way to reduce carbon dioxide. Most experts believe that carbon dioxide reduction efforts can be performed in the $25-35-per-ton range. We should be able to achieve four to five tons of carbon dioxide reduction for $137.50.
VELCO states the average Vermont demand for electricity is 800 megawatts. The Lowell Mountain 20 megawatts is 2.5 percent of our need. Since electricity is 4 percent of our carbon dioxide production, Lowell Mountain will reduce our overall carbon dioxide production by 0.10 percent — nearly nothing — and cost us an excess of $9,636,000 per year. If carbon dioxide is the villain, there are more cost-effective ways to reduce it. We could use that money to insulate homes, install energy-efficient light bulbs, and encourage more fuel-efficient vehicles.
It can be said that the Lowell Mountain electricity will not cost 11 cents per kilowatt because of production tax credits of about 2.2 cents per kilowatt. That may be true, but we will just be paying for that 2.2 cents through our federal income tax. Everyone across the country will be contributing to that sum to help us pay for it, but then we will be paying to all the other PTC projects across the country. In the end we will pay that 2.2 cents subsidy to GMP.
It might also be said that renewable energy credits could reduce the cost by some 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt. That might be true. This type of sale would then allow whoever purchases the REC to continue to produce excess carbon dioxide. This would negate any of the tiny positive carbon dioxide effects the turbines would have. This would leave us with all the environmental sacrifices, all the increased cost, and no carbon dioxide benefits. What’s good about that? Why are we seemingly rushing to industrial wind turbines? We need to sit back, take in a deep breath, put on our thinking caps and bring some sense to the carbon dioxide problem. We need a complete and immediate moratorium on industrial wind turbines.
Where is that roughly $10 million-per-year consumer cost going? Where will the $10 million per year for the other similar existing and proposed industrial wind projects go? It will end up in the pockets of Wall Street entrepreneurs. I would sooner see that money end up in the pockets of local contractors and lumber yards as they go about insulating Grandma’s house. We would get four to five times the bang for our buck reducing carbon dioxide and the dollars would stay in Vermont instead of blowing down to Wall Street.
James N. Rademacher is a resident of Pittsford.