Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wind Is Not Reducing Emissions

Top Wind States are the 20 states with over 930 GWh from wind, in 2010
Clearsky Advisors put out an article, a couple of months ago, built on US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, comparing rate increases between 2005-2010, and total renewable energy capacity ‘of solar PV and wind.’ The same company put out a report in 2010 to claim spending huge sums on solar was great because it took all kinds of hours of work to create a Watt that way. That report went so well in 2011 the wind industry paid them to do the same. That report still gets trotted out by the ‘green’ lobby as proof of something or other whenever they wish to obfuscate - which, in Ontario (and BC and Alberta) they are doing this week to prevent rural governments from managing rural jurisdictions (only in Ontario).

In December, Clearsky selected 5 states it claimed had the highest installed capacity of wind and solar, as Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon. I suggest Minnesota would be #6, and Washington #4 under their criteria and the EIA’s data. The major point they were trying to establish was the impact increasing wind (which is the bulk of the capacity) had on price from 2005 to 2010. They showed it didn’t have much of an impact over those 5 years, in fact the prices rose slower in their top 5 states, although those states remained more expensive than others. I’d suggest they should look at the increased share of wind and solar, in terms of total capacity, between 2005 and 2010 as a fairer metric to match rate increases during that time frame. 

That would make the 5 top states North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Oregon.

For the change in price, the outcome isn’t different than Clearsky indicated with it’s selection criteria. Residential rates rose only $13.61/MWh in these states, over $16 in the bottom 5 and almost $22 in all the others. The price angle doesn’t look so good to anti-renewable types, although it also hasn’t accounted for the production tax credit, which is $20+/MWh.

There are many factors at work in pricing. Last week, Robert Bryce - another anti-renewable type - released a study on “The High Cost of Renewable-Electricity Mandates” Bryce’s study notes the low prices in states that don’t have renewable-electricity mandates (or Renewable Portfolio Standard -RPS); remarkably, states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming - 3 of the top 5 states for increasing the share of generation capacity coming from wind and solar - primarily wind.

3 of the states most rapidly adding wind, as a share of their generation capacity, don’t have RPS programs, but that doesn’t mean RPS programs aren’t involved in the decisions to build there. If an Illinois, or California, mandate that their utilities need to procure a percentage of supply from renewable sources, they don’t usually dictate from where - so the ‘where’ ends up being a windy place. Generation in Iowa can be built dependant on power purchase agreements with utilities in Indiana.

Throwing in Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff as a comparison, which has been both inflationary and anti-competitive, the EIA data indicates the superiority of an RPS over a FIT. Bryce’s piece adds to the literature making a compelling case against both. That literature includes the writing of Severin Borenstein, who released “The Private and Public Economics of Renewable Electricity Generation” about the same time Clearsky took the whack at using the EIA data to spread a message that renewables weren’t expensive. While Borenstein notes the superiority of a carbon tax to the market-meddling methods of FITs and RPS tools, he still implies FITs and RPS tools lower emissions. That, the EIA data indicates, is unlikely.

Here’s a look at how the states in either Clearsky’s top 5, or mine, did in reducing emissions between 2005 and 2010, compared to how the total USA did. Minnesota (which didn’t belong in either top 5 list) reduced CO2 and NOx emissions quicker than the total USA did, North Dakota was just slightly better than average in reducing CO2 emissions, and California reduced SO2 emissions much quicker that the USA as a whole. Those are the few exceptions as most states that increased renewables most aggressively had emissions reduction far below the US average:


What’s really remarkable on these figures is not renewables - it’s the reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions.

While the public discussion is dominated be the impact renewables could have on pricing, and the broader economy, the continue presence of that discussion is blocking out the rather stark fact that renewables aren’t accomplishing what they were primarily meant to accomplish.

There are far better investment to address pollution (the SO2 and NOx emissions), and other options for greenhouse gas emissions (which NOx is, but which is primarily a separate, CO2, issue).

Some of the other options even work.


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