Wind Power’s Embarrassing Effect on Global Warming
By James M. Taylor
Efforts to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal and natural gas with wind power appear to be doing more harm than good. A new study shows replacing coal and natural gas with wind power increases carbon dioxide emissions. Government policies designed to fight global warming by encouraging, subsidizing, or mandating renewable power may be making global warming worse.
In a paper published at the free-market Web site Master Resource, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.
For a good analogy, consider this: A driver who keeps his or her speed at a consistent 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 miles per hour. The inefficiency of frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driving at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than many vehicles with a lower fuel economy rating.
The same appears to hold true for power generation. Power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, those emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 3 percent of the power mix.
If the proponents of federal legislation to force reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are sincerely concerned more about alleged global warming than the accumulation of government power to hand out money and favors to preferred industries and contractors, these real-world carbon dioxide facts should put an immediate freeze on renewable power subsidies, renewable power mandates, and cap-and-tax global warming plans. How Congress responds to these new findings will tell us much about the true motivation behind proposed global warming legislation.
The apparent failure of wind power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions should come as no surprise given the record of failure for other global warming schemes. Congress has long mandated and subsidized ethanol and other biofuels to reduce greenhouse gases, but studies these biofuels create more greenhouse gas emissions over their lifecycles than does gasoline. Global warming activists are now racing to rewrite legislation to eliminate counterproductive biofuel programs. A better course of action would have been not to have enacted the subsidies and mandates in the first place.
In the lawmaking process, as in life itself, rushing to enact “solutions” to speculative problems before the facts are known usually produces more harm than good. Keeping this axiom in mind, Congress need not rush to enact carbon dioxide restrictions on the American economy. After all, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling, not rising, and they have been declining for the past decade. To the extent global emissions are rising, the fault does not lie with the United States.
Before hamstringing the U.S. economy with expensive mandates that may cause more harm than good, Congress owes it to the American people to get the facts.
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