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RNP News Item
by: Ken Dragoon
August 27, 2010

RNP Responds to WSJ & Media Trend: Truths About Wind Energy & Carbon Reduction

In response to a recent Wall Street Journal column by Robert Bryce, RNP developed the following statement and set of science-based resources to dispel myths and misinformation projected by the article. We invite you to join us in spreading the truth about wind and renewable energy. 
 
A recent Wall Street Journal article (“Wind Power Won't Cool Down the Planet.” Robert Bryce, August 23, 2010) critical of wind energy is reflective of a number of popular media stories circulating to promote studies commissioned by the fossil fuel industry. The article rejects the widely known carbon benefits of renewable resources and cites studies that require a careful look.
 
Our public and policymakers deserve to know the truth about wind and renewable energy: the reports cited by Bryce are contrary to the vast set of overwhelmingly conclusive studies undertaken by power system operators, federal agencies, and regulatory bodies around the United States and world showing significant, quantifiable reductions in carbon emissions due to renewable energy sources.
 
Suffering the effects of low market prices due to a faltering economy, some in the fossil fuel industry are striking out at the vigorous renewable energy industry, which they see as a threat to their business. The Wall Street Journal piece reports on a study that suggests Colorado carbon emissions have increased due to wind generation. That study was directly contradicted by the local utility. Colorado’s Xcel Energy responded to the report stating flatly,1 “This is simply wrong.” 
 
Interest in the effects of wind on power system is high, spawning numerous sophisticated wind integration studies. Studies not funded by the fossil fuel industry uniformly show lower carbon emissions due to wind generation. Reductions in carbon emissions from each megawatt-hour of wind range from a low of 810 pounds in California2 to a high of 1,628 pounds in the relatively coal-dominant Mid-Atlantic states.3
 
Another renewable energy myth being promoted surrounds tax incentives. Renewable energy critics contend that federal tax incentives are too high for renewable energy, but the fact is that total federal support for the fossil industry vastly outweighs the minute fraction allowed renewable energy. Other subsidies are less obvious. Fossil fuel plants consume the air we breathe and return toxic materials to our atmosphere but are not held accountable for the damage. At the same time western states struggle toward a balanced siting policy respectful of the mating habits of the sage grouse, entire mountaintops are being removed in Appalachia and dumped into streams and valleys to mine coal.
 
Some reports correctly recognize that the carbon benefits of wind generation today are primarily due to displacing natural gas fueled power plants, while a greater benefit would be realized by reducing generation from coal plants. Policies promoting renewable energy are clearly not a substitute for an overarching energy policy that directly addresses reducing carbon emissions. In Europe, for example, utilities reduce coal plant output when other resources are available, because a carbon tax makes it more economical for utilities to do so. We look forward to U.S. government policies that will give renewable energy the highest priority on the grid and carbon-intensive sources the lowest priority.
 
There is no question that renewable energy is on the forefront of combating climate change by reducing our collective carbon footprint. It is our hope that the current barrage of popular media stories can serve a useful purpose by spurring more effective carbon policies. -KD
 
Sources:
2) California Energy Commission Intermittency Analysis Project
3) Potential Effects of Proposed Climate Change Policies on PJM’s Energy Market, PJM, 2009
 
Ken Dragoon is Research Director at Renewable Northwest Project, where he works on power system wind integration issues, analytical support for utility resource plans and on the implementation of renewable energy portfolio standards. He previously worked at PacifiCorp for nine years in various analytical support roles and with Bonneville Power Administration for nearly fifteen years.
 
 
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) offers a wealth of science-based information that further dispels myths about wind energy. We invite you to explore these valuable resources:
 
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