The Answer Really Isn't Blowing in the Wind

Ninety billion is a rather large number.  To get a gauge of just how large, consider that 90 billion minutes ago equates to roughly 171,090 years, the moment in history when scientists believe our ancestors began preening their bodies of lice.

Three hundred thousand kilometers per second is the speed of light.  We all know that's pretty fast.  Well, 90 billion kilometers per second is the speed of light-squared.

And the vast, seemingly infinite yonder of the entire universe, some scientists postulate, is 90 billion light-years across.

In the natural world, 90 billion goes a long way.  But as we've discovered, a $90-billion investment to subsidize renewable energy sources in the natural world does surprisingly little.  This amount, allocated in 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to subsidize green energy initiatives, has thus far yielded today's bustling "renewable-energy sector" that employs roughly 140,000 Americans.  And even that dismal figure is wildly inflated.  Consider that according to Hans Bader of the Examiner, "most of America's existing green jobs predate the Obama administration, which did not create them."

That is not to say that this investment our politicians made on your behalf did not have positive results -- it just didn't have positive results for you.  In the first year of this green stimulus, an estimated 79% went to foreign nations; among the larger of these payments went to Babcock & Brown, an Australian company that went bankrupt just two months after the passage of the stimulus bill.  Couple this fact with notorious domestic failures like Solyndra and Beacon Power Corp., and the obvious conclusion is that this administration's green energy initiative has been a spectacular failure to this point.

But in no other floundering green energy sub-sector is that failure so strikingly apparent as in wind energy.  According to Andy Sullivan of Reuters, the wind industry has actually "shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has doubled."  Andy then takes the liberty of giving us context for those results by reminding us that meanwhile, "the oil and gas industry has added 75,000 jobs since Obama took office."  And one can only imagine how much larger that figure could be if the president had not cauterized job growth in that time frame with a senseless drilling moratorium to appease environmentalists. 

To punish their success, the Obama administration is now seeking to hamstring the oil and gas industry further with a bevy of new taxes.  The clearly impotent wind industry, on the other hand, may enjoy continued subsidization to the tune of $3.5 billion per year.

Of this prospect, Louis Woodhill of Forbes has a different suggestion for Congress.  "First, we end the subsidies" to the wind industry, he says.  He continues:

This will stop new turbines from being built, and, over time, cause all of the existing ones to shut down. Second, we allow the free market to replace the electricity obtained by wind energy with power produced by burning cheap natural gas. Third, we hire 17,500 unemployed veterans at $100,000/year each, and put them to work as snipers to kill the 400,000 birds (including 70 golden eagles) that are now hacked to death by wind turbines each year. Voila, the same results as wind power, and a savings of $1.75 billion/year for the taxpayers.

Clearly, the devotion to wind power is not due to the fact that it's a lucrative investment.  It's a Western fallacy that is the fiscal equivalent of selling your home to buy a much less efficient one for twice the price.  And beyond being economically wasteful, global events have proven this fallacy to actually be deadly.

In The Independent, Kevin Myers relates that on a weekend in late January, widespread blizzards hammered Europe.  During this time, the Russian natural gas company, Gazprom, was unable to meet the demand, and 300 people died in the conditions.  He asks, "Did anyone even think of deploying our [Europe's] wind turbines to make good the energy shortfall from Russia?"

"Of course not," he says.  "We all know that windmills are a self-indulgent and sanctimonious luxury whose purpose is to make us feel good. Had Europe genuinely depended on green energy on Friday, by Sunday thousands would be dead from frostbite and exposure."

Europeans, like American environmentalists, have an affinity for anything green.  But that warm and fuzzy feeling that they get when they think about the good that wind turbines do for the planet will not keep them warm and "alive" when natural disasters strike and reliable electricity is the difference between life and death.  Wind, he says, is "not so much a Renewable as it is an Unusable, and also an Unpredictable, an Unstorable, and - normally when it is very cold - an Unmovable."

In frigid temperatures, wind typically does not blow, meaning turbines do not generate power in such conditions.  Even when wind is generating power, there is a need to plan for the risk of those times it does not, meaning that you will still have to create "a parallel and duplicate energy supply to provide cover for when the wind stops."  So the only way to possibly view wind power as a reliable energy source is to have another, more reliable power source readily available with a greater potential for delivery.  And that should immediately raise the question as to why unreliable wind power is expected to be relied upon at all.

Europe's devotion to the doctrine of environmentalism has compromised its energy independence -- much like American devotion to environmentalism has compromised America's energy independence through environmentally justified sanctions on domestic drilling.  "To play such games with our energy systems to satisfy the whimsical gods of climate change," Myers offers, "is as intelligent and unscientific as the Aztec sacrifice of the young."

And he is right.  Thankfully, we in America have not become so devout in our efforts to appease the gods of climate change, and legislatively, we are in an earlier stage of transition to these inefficient and costly "renewable" systems.  We can only hope that the winds of change are blowing in 2012, and with them we can put an end to the crippling subsidization of "renewable" systems like wind power -- until such time that free-market innovations dictate that they can be a viable addition to our energy infrastructure.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.

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