And the Wind Cries "Subsidy"


Robert Bryce at Slate huffs and puffs and blows wind power down, using the hot Texas summer and its supposed 9,700 megawatt wind power potential as a teaching moment:

On Aug. 4, at about 5 p.m., electricity demand in Texas hit a record: 63,594 megawatts. But according to the state's grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's wind turbines provided only about 500 megawatts of power when demand was peaking and the value of electricity was at its highest.

Put another way, only about 5 percent of the state's installed wind capacity was available when Texans needed it most….

Why does Texas get so little juice from the wind when it really needs it? Well, one of the reasons Texas gets so hot in the summer is that the wind isn't blowing. Pressure gradients—differences in air pressure between two locations in the atmosphere—are largely responsible for the speed of the wind near the Earth's surface. The greater the differences in pressure, the harder the wind blows. During times of extreme heat these pressure gradients often are minimal. The result: wind turbines that don't turn…..

Imagine a company proposed to construct a bridge in Minneapolis, or some other major city, that would cost, say, $250 million. The road would be designed to carry thousands of cars per day. But there's a catch: During rush hour, the thoroughfare would effectively be closed, with only 5 percent, or maybe 10 percent, of its capacity available to motorists. Were this scenario to actually occur, the public outrage would be quick and ferocious….

Despite the fact that the wind-energy sector, through the$0.022 per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit, gets subsidies of about $6.40 per million Btu of energy produced—an amount that, according to the Energy Information Administration, is about 200 times the subsidy received by the oil and gas sector—wind-energy lobbyists are calling for yet more mandates.

And until our battery storage capabilities get way better fast, wind's fecklessness will continue to be true, no matter how much special tax treatment it gets or how many power companies are ordered to use it.

Back in February 2008, I interviewed Bryce for Reason Online about the myth of energy independence.