While growing up in Maine our family operated on a tight and balanced budget, buying carefully and within our means, which were modest.
As an independent investigator of noise emissions, the focus here has been precisely on that- wind turbine noise emissions. What are the levels, what is the sound character, how annoying is the sound, what criteria or maximum permissible limits make sense, among other considerations.
However as an electric ratepayer and taxpayer, a keen eye is always looking for the best and lowest cost options for electric power. It feels good, financially speaking. As a society (and as ratepayers and taxpayers) it seems fair and true to say that we expect stable, reliable power at the lowest possible price. With this basic approach to finances, it does seem puzzling now, this “rush” to wind power in some quarters. It is clear that an unreliable, intermittent power source that costs significantly more that existing electric energy sources would simply not be prioritized, especially when reliable and much lower-cost renewable energy is available. Speaking as a ratepayer, not an acoustical consultant, elevated rates (due to any technology) when there are lower rate options would certainly be questioned in this household when the monthly bill comes in.
When asked in community forums whether “pro-wind” or “anti-wind”, this puzzlement arises.
Is the question related to noise emissions and asking for a kind of general, summary judgment, when that is inappropriate? Is it related to noise and property rights- the noise unheeding of property line boundaries? Are they asking if the lack of engineering noise controls make the wind turbine technology unsuitable everywhere in Maine or are there places it can be sited with sufficient distance?
Is the question related to the almost childlike wonder some people appear to experience when seeing these large blades rotating in the air, like the joy experienced from the little spinning toy windmills purchased at the dime store many years ago? That is, are they asking “pro-joy” or “anti-joy”?
Is the question related to the significant financial costs for wind being required now by law (with threat of penalty if not purchased) and costs passed onto the ratepayer and taxpayer- do these taxpayer-borne financings feel good to the pocketbook? Is it related to the price increases of each kilowatthour- do those feel good to the pocketbook? If they don’t feel good, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?
Is the question related to “jobs” when two countries, Spain and Denmark, determined independently that something like two jobs are lost for each job created in wind power generation? Does that make sense for Maine? If losing jobs doesn’t feel right, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?
Is the question related to Maine’s quality of place, the rural and winderness quiet that people seek out in Maine for vacation, recreation, rejuvenation, and even as a place to live- when wind turbines have been fast-tracked for multi-gigawatt deployment across the length and breadth of our mountains and shores? If that doesn’t feel right or doesn’t match one’s vision of Maine, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?
Meanwhile, other folks focusing on the financials have come up with some summary facts which are included below. They further add to the puzzlement. If these facts are accurate, then how can the intelligent folks running for governor have any question at all as to what we should be doing with our valuable tax money, resources, and what people used to call, Vacationland?
The focus on noise emissions and potential impacts on public health continues. In this household, the vote this November will be directly related to the best available understanding of the candidates’ thinking on the issues- who will work to ensure that, the lowest-cost, reliable electricity for Maine, Maine’s quality of place is preserved and promoted, and taxpayers and ratepayers are not saddled with financing a costly, intermittent, unreliable technology- whatever that technology is.
As an independent investigator, this question of “pro-wind” or “anti-wind” will be left to those asking, to ponder.
TEN RATEPAYER AND TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES
The total cost of wind turbines and transmission upgrades, as envisioned by recently enacted Maine law, will be $7 billion. Via electric rates and taxes, Mainers will pay for this, but it will produce less than 700 megawatts of electricity.
Policymakers in the federal government have determined that certain energy sources are more desirable and less viable than others, so government incentives are granted to various energies. Here are the federal taxpayer subsidies paid by energy source in dollars per MW/Hour:
Natural Gas and Oil $.25
1. Wind projects can take the “cash in lieu of investment tax credit” or the 1.9 cent production tax credit. For example, in 2009, First Wind, Maine’s most active wind developer, took over $100 million of federal taxpayer “cash in lieu” monies. In 2009 $849 million (or 84%) of US subsidies went to overseas companies.
Iberdrola of Spain took $545 million through its American subsidiary. Almost all of the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on US wind projects was for wind turbines, blades, and nacelles which were manufactured in foreign countries.
2. Wind developers also take a federal subsidy of 2.1 cents in renewable energy credit per kilowatt produced. Taxpayers bear this cost.
3. Despite creating imperceptible numbers of jobs, wind projects in Maine routinely get Tax Increment Financing and Community Benefit Arrangements which reduce their property tax obligations, thereby passing on tax burdens to other taxpayers.
4. Wind power is unpredictable, intermittent, and cannot be stored. So it must be used or lost as it is generated. The nature of this electricity requires an overbuilt grid that can handle these wild fluctuations and thermal stresses. Additionally, wind power is sited remotely, far from load (end users) so transmission costs are exacerbated even while electrons are lost in the distance traveled. Utilities build these unnecessary power lines and charge their ratepayers for the cost.
5. The only way that wind power can grow and still preserve system reliability is with grid expansion, like CMP’s $1.4 billion transmission upgrade (MPRP). Ratepayers will pay for this upgrade – as well as similar upgrades in the other New England states – through their electric bills.
6. In order to meet New England’s anticipated 12,000 MW of wind power buildup, the New England ISO forecasts building 4,320 new miles of transmission infrastructure with midrange costs between $19 and $25 billion. Ratepayers will get the bill.
7. Utilities are under pressure to acquire renewable energy (or credits) from wind farms in order to comply with the state Renewable Portfolio Standards. For each missing megawatt hour of renewable energy where the mandated percentages are not met, nearly every state in New England imposes a fee that is collected by each State’s Public Utility Commission (PUC). The cost for either the renewable energy credit or the compliance fee is passed on to ratepayers in the form of higher electricity bills.
8. Current requirements mandate penalty payments for not meeting minimum renewable generating capacity levels. Penalties are currently 6 cents per Kw/Hr, escalating with inflation. Maine’s CMP & Bangor Hydro are presented with the incentive to sign with Maine wind generators to expensive long term contracts, or risk paying penalties with nothing to show for it. Maine ratepayers get the bill either way.
9. In the Pacific Northwest the Bonneville Power Authority overbuilt wind power for export to California, a state that mandated more renewable consumption. This critical mass of wind power is so difficult for the grid’s ISO to manage, it necessitated initiation of a surcharge on wind power which will be passed on to ratepayers. Maine’s buildup for Southern New England users could result in the same outcome.
10. Since Maine’s statutory wind generation goal will be intermittent and will largely produce off-peak and off-season, the ISO-NE will have to procure quick-start generation to back-up wind and to balance the grid. Not only does this require maintaining excess capacity in traditional generating plants like natural gas, it renders such traditional plants inefficient as they constantly start and stop, like city versus highway driving. Aside from increasing emissions, these combined capitol generation costs and inefficiency costs are shared among grid participants (socialized). They are not paid by the renewable generators, but by ratepayers.