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Click to see a simulation of the proposed wind plant atop Backbone Mountain in Western Maryland
Notable Quotes

"I'm a strong advocate of wind farms on the high seas. But there are appropriate places for everything. We wouldn't put one of these in Yosemite, and I think environmentalists are falling into a trap if they think the only wilderness areas worth preserving are in the West. The most important are the ones close to our cities, where the public has access to them. And Nantucket Sound is a wilderness, which people need to experience. I always get nervous when people talk about privatizing the commons. In this case, the benefits of the power extracted from Nantucket Sound are far outweighed by the other values our communities derive from it."

—Robert Kennedy Jr., E Magazine (November/December 2003).

Wind Energy: The Case of Denmark, by Hugh Sharman and Henrik Meyer

President Obama has frequently cited Denmark as an example to be followed in the field of wind power generation, stating on several occasions that the Danes satisfy "20 percent of their electricity through wind power." The findings of a new study released this week cast serious doubt on the accuracy of that statement. The report finds that in 2006 scarcely five percent of the nation's electricity demand was met by wind. And over the past five years, the average is less than 10 percent -- despite Denmark having 'carpeted' its land with nearly 6000 wind machines.

"As climate officials descend upon Copenhagen later this year to continue their work to engineer a world in which energy is rendered less reliable, less affordable and increasingly scarce, the eyes of the world will naturally fall upon the host country as well," said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), which commissioned the report.

"In the case of Denmark," added Pyle, "you have a nation of 5.4 million, occupying some of the most wind-intense real estate in the world, whose citizens are forced to pay the highest electricity rates in Europe -- and it still doesn't even come close to the 20 percent threshold envisioned by President Obama for the United States. This may indeed be the model for the future – but only if you believe that a combination of smoke, mirrors and prohibitively high utility rates are the key to our economic and environmental salvation."

Prepared by the independent Danish think tank CEPOS and co-authored by economist Henrik Meyer and Hugh Sharman, a prominent Denmark-based international energy consultant, the report details the extent to which Denmark's claim to wind superiority is essentially founded on a myth – the function of a complicated trading scheme in which the Danes off-load excess, value-subtracted wind generation to other nations for roughly free, asking only in return that these countries sell some of their baseload power back to Denmark on the frequent occasions in which the wind does not blow there

The upshot? The Danes retain the title of world's most prolific wind producer, and President Obama cites their experience as a path to be followed. The cost? Danish ratepayers are forced to pay the highest utility rates in Europe. And the American people are led to believe that, though wind may only provide a little more than one percent of our electricity now, reaching a 20 percent platform – as the Danes have allegedly done – will come at no cost, with no jobs lost and no externalities to consider.

Speaking of jobs, the report also pulls back the curtain on the wind power industry's near-complete dependence on taxpayer subsidies to support the fairly modest workforce it presently maintains. Just as in Spain, where per-job taxpayer subsidies for so-called "green jobs" exceeds $1,000,000 per worker in some cases, wind-related jobs in Denmark on average are subsidized at a rate of 175 to 250 percent above the average pay per worker. All told, each new wind job created by the government costs Danish taxpayers between 600,000-900,000 krone a year, roughly equivalent to $90,000-$140,000 USD.

"That the current political leadership in Washington is enamored of the European energy model has been made abundantly clear -- from the president himself, all the way on down," added Pyle. "Less clear is the extent to which these people actually know what's taking place over there, and whether they're willing to level with the American people about the serious costs associated with following this dubious path."

Jon Boone interviewed Mr. Sharman in Washington on September 16, 2009. Here is his summary of that interview:

We talked by phone for a little less than 20 minutes, for his itinerary was very tight--a good sign he was talking to many people. Mr. Sharman said that all of Denmark's internal fossil fired electricity producing plants are CHPS units. The larger ones are coal fired; the smaller ones fired by natural gas. The former are used for baseload; the later mainly for regulation. They are all sited as central systems, not as units providing local custom service, and as such are not greatly effective in providing heat (the transmission problem). The primary wind following regulation comes from imported hydro. This is why he said in this paper that wind has contributed some carbon savings, although he said it was very little and that it was impossible (his words) to specify exactly how much.

He agreed that Denmark has achieved about a 6% reduction in fossil fuel use since 1990 but said that was because of a variety of factors--a decrease in coal use because of a substantial increase in natural gas usage, combined with the building of much more efficient coal fired CHPs units (he had cited one example of this in a footnote early in his paper). At the same time, he felt that the current economic meltdown has created a temporary decline in demand, so that slightly less supply is needed. Again, he emphasized that any wind contribution of carbon reductions would have to be negligible.

He acknowledged that Denmark was in a most anomalous situation, with easy access both to the Nordic sink, with such a high level of supply, and to Nordic carbon neutral hydro, which is also so highly flexible, allowing for carbon neutral wind regulation when it's imported back to Denmark--at a much higher price. Such a fortuitous situation is unlikely to occur elsewhere, particularly in the United States. (Although, thrown enough money, it might obtain in Canada).

We briefly discussed, with mutual concern, the fact that the Danish government's edict that the country have in place by 2025 a total of 6900MW of installed wind capacity to service demand unlikely to have a peak beyond 7500MW and a base load of only 4000MW, an amount much too great to unload in the Nordic sink.

I sent him as follow up both the Peter Lang, Cost and Quantity of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Avoided by Wind Generation and Tom Hewson's article in July's Power magazine, Calculating Wind Power's Environmental Benefits: Here's the punchline from the article:

"... proponents who suggest that wind is able to entirely displace C02 overlook a fact fundamental to energy generation: wind's unpredictability means it truly has no generating capacity value, and its construction will not displace building any new coal or natural gas generating capacity. Grid reserve margins require wind-back up, and the inefficiency of quickly firing up a natural gas unit to meet erratic wind generation output means any emissions displacement is minimal. Wind is simply an additional capital cost which proves to be more than twice as expensive for the ratepayer."

Link to the study:

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