By Wayne Brough
America needs an energy policy that embraces all of the nation’s abundant natural resources. Yet the government continues to push wind energy, which has done little to create more affordable or reliable energy. After 20 years of government subsidies for the wind industry spearheaded by the Production Tax Credit (PTC), wind energy remains unreliable, economically disastrous, and harmful to the environment.
There is no denying that wind is an inherently unreliable power source. The strength and direction of wind fluctuates in different areas and at different times of the day. Because of this problem, wind-powered energy grids require additional fossil fuel-based energy to balance and stabilize them. The combination of wind-based and fossil fuel-based energy grids drives up the cost of using wind energy, which is then passed onto struggling businesses and worried consumers. At the same time, because of its reliance on stable fossil fuel-based energy, wind energy isn’t decreasing as many emissions as we had hoped.
Wind energy has also proved itself to be economically disastrous. The PTC has cost billions of dollars over the past two decades. After 20 years of burdensome subsidies, the industry generates less than 2 percent of all energy consumed in the United States while costing taxpayers more than $1 billion annually. As a stark indicator of the wind industry health, it shed 10,000 jobs since 2009.
Though unreliable and financially unviable, wind energy is assumed to be at least environmentally friendly. But this is false. Wind energy isn’t as environmentally friendly as special interests and politicians would have us believe. The unspeakable environmental impact on migrating bat and bird populations is just one harmful aspect of the wind industry. An estimated 33,000 to 111,000 bats are predicted to be killed by wind turbines in the mid-Atlantic Highlands alone by 2020. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year, including hundreds of bald eagles. Bat and bird populations are desperately needed to sustain healthy local ecosystems but the wind industry has a proven record of distributing this fragile balance.
Robert Bryce said it best in the Wall Street Journal in 2009: “This is a double standard that more people—and not just bird lovers—should be paying attention to. In protecting America’s wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.” The strongest argument in favor of using wind energy seems to have been over exaggerated. Wind energy is not environmentally safe.
Why haven’t the politicians in Washington come to terms with the realities of wind energy? Recently, the Senate Finance Committee voted to extend the PTC for another year, costing an additional $3.3 billion. Two Republicans on the committee—Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota—threw their votes behind an extension of the credit. The wind industry happens to be rather expansive in both of these states and relies on government subsidies for survival.
An American energy policy that caters to misguided environmental interest groups, wind industry lobbyists, and special interest politicians is flat out wrong. Americans deserve an energy policy that embraces reliable, economically viable, and environmental friendly resources. Wind energy is sadly none of these things. An extension of the PTC will simply continue the use of unreliable, costly, and environmental dangerous resources while benefiting special interest groups rather than the nation as a whole. PTC wind subsidies must end.
Dr. Wayne T. Brough is Chief Economists and Vice President of Research for FreedomWorks.