The windmills of Bernie’s mind

Staff Columnist

“Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in December introduced a sweeping renewable-energy plan that would among other things, require tens of thousands of new wind turbines.  Sen. Sanders’s ‘people before polluters’ proposal may help rally his followers, but it won’t be so well received in rural America, where resistance to wind farms has been building.  Nowhere is the backlash stronger than in Mr. Sanders state.”  (Robert Bryce, Wall Street Journal, Monday, February 8, 2016)

Resistance is building in other places besides Vermont.  Among these  Bryce lists Stark County, North Dakota; Somerset, New York; Los Angeles County, California; Black Hawk County, Iowa; Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.  Vermont’s State Senator Rodgers  said, “ People come here from around the world for our scenic vistas and rural working landscape.”  He also said “Destroying the natural environment in the name of climate change is moronic.”  The Sanders Presidential campaign is reported to not have responded to questions.

Now I have written on windmills, more correctly wind turbines for these pages.  We published the following piece in 2013.  To set the stage for SEN Sanders and others I’ll Repeat it here this week.  There is a lot more on the subject which I’m sure we will be treated to during the coming campaign.



Here on Longboat Key we tilt at cell towers, not at windmills.  Windmills are a subject du jour in America. A month or so ago I mentioned in this column the appearance of a 400 +/- one in the previously unspoiled marshland behind the home of our friends in Scituate, Massachusetts.  I was surprised to see, and hear, it there.  Our friends seemed more accepting.  The Town of Scituate had permitted the windmill on town owned land. Sound familiar?  These are no Holland style water lifting devices; they are rather sleek structures designed to generate electricity – wind energy to electric energy.

As a short primer to discussion of windmills and things about energy a very short

reminder of the basic law governing this material might be in order.

First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another. The First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation) states that energy is always conserved, it cannot be created or destroyed. In essence, energy can be converted from one form into another.   (Wikopedia)

Key words here:  Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

“Federal subsidies for new wind-powered generation will end Dec. 31 unless they are renewed by Congress.  For the sake of our economy and the smooth operation  of the energy market, Congress should let the subsidies lapse.  They waste taxpayer money, subvert the allocation of capital, and generate a social cost many times the price tag of the subsidies themselves.”   ( Phill Gramm – The Multiple Distortion of Wind Subsidies, Wall Street Journal 12/26/12)

Gramm, a former Republican Senator from Texas, is a senior partner of US Policy Metrics, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  He writes further, “The costs of wind subsidies are extraordinarily high – $54.48 per one million watt hours generated, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  By contrast the costs of generating the same amount of electricity from nuclear power are $3.10, from hydropower 84 cents, from coal 64 cents, and from natural gas 63 cents.”  There are additional subsidies in the form of federal mandates for the use or renewable energy.  These and state tax breaks, subsidies, and mandates for wind power have never been quantified.

“The cost to taxpayers is only part of the problem.  Subsidized, wind-generated electricity is displacing other, much cheaper sources of power.  The subsidies are so high that win-power producers can pay utilities to take the electricity they produce ad still make a profit.”  Remember that tower in the marsh in Scituate, Massachusetts.  Power is generated only when the wind blows.

Gramm cites as examples, “When electricity demand peaked in Chicago on July, 6, 2012, wind energy, which comprised 2,700 megawatts of capacity, was able to supply only four megawatts of electricity, a stunning 99.8% failure rate.

In Europe, one day this February wind power produced almost a third of Germany’s electricity – but four days later it produced none (it was a still day).”

Grids that rely on wind power must maintain redundant backup generating capacity for those still days.

Wind-power is an ancient technology – a Greek mathematician, Heron of Alexander, is generally credited with building the first windmill 2,000 years ago.  Charles Brush, an industrialist, was the first to generate electricity from a windmill in this country in Cleveland almost 125 years ago.  But it never proved to be commercially viable.”  The Federal Government first subsidized wind-power in the 90s hoping to improve the technology.  Federal subsidies have been extended seven times.

Gramm continues, “Yet wind power is less economically viable today than when it was when the current subsidies started in 1992.  The Department of Energy’s 2009 Wind Technology Market Report finds average wind-power costs were higher in 2009 than they were in 1994.”  Energy Secretary Chu has called wind energy a “mature technology.”

Meanwhile the production of natural gas has surged,  “The price paid for this energy source has declined dramatically to $3.29 per million BTUs at last report.  This is less than one-fourth the July 2008 price, according to Energy Information Administration data”  Declining electricity costs will give us a comparative advantage in industrial jobs such as aluminum, glass, steel, cement, and petrochemicals, all involving high levels of energy use.  It means, also, that wind-power subsidies will become even more costly and disruptive.  According to Dieter Helm in “The Carbon Crunch,” wind subsidies make “new gas investment much more risky and … gas contracting difficult, since how much gas the power station buys as its fuel depends on factors outside its control: the wind speed.”

Senator Gramm concludes, “It is increasingly difficult to make a case that the taxpayers should continue to subsidize wind-generated electricity.  The end of the subsidy will not induce owners of existing windmills to shut them down, since so much of the cost is fixed in the original construction project and so little of their costs are entailed in operating the windmill once it is constructed.  Under current law, billions of dollars in subsidies will continue to be paid out over the next decade on existing projects even if the subsidies for projects built in the future expire.”  So why not stop these subsidies.

Remember that first law; we’re not creating any energy up there in those sleek windmills.   We’re only changing its form, from wind to electric, and not very efficiently.


FLASH:The Wind Tax Credit survived (Cost: $ 2.1 Billion) in that bill passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on December 31st and January 1st.


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1 Response for “The windmills of Bernie’s mind”

  1. There are now almost 356,000 of these oil-built eyesores on the planet and CO2 continues its upward trend. The growing blight, noise and dead birds, bats & insects is hardy green.

    Pro-wind forces change the subject to older damage when you show them this new “clean” carnage. They can’t admit that it’s just a new spin on growthism.

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