One of the four energy planks of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) proposal is government incentives to “grow domestic supply chains in solar, wind, and other critical industries in communities on the frontlines of the energy transition.”
Wind power? How many decades have transpired with government research and development, tax incentives, and treasury grants, and preferential regulation? And how many decades ago did the wind interests proclaim their impending or immediate competitiveness, so as not to require further government largesse?
The answer to these questions is humbling—and indicative of the inherent problem of dilute, intermittent energies trying to compete against dense, reliable ones.
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 enacted the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) at $0.015/kWh, adjusted for inflation. Available for new projects beginning in 1993 for ten years of operation, the provision was set to expire in mid-1999. But wind was not ready to compete, so the PTC was extended in 1999 and again in 2002 … 2004 … 2005 … 2006 … 2008 … 2009 … 2012 … 2014 … 2015 … 2016 … 2019 … 2021.
That’s 13 extensions and almost 30 years—and Biden’s BBB plans to extend the lucre out to 2026 with special categories and incentives. Yet the wind industry promised time and again to lawmakers and the public that competitiveness in the free market was at hand. Here are some highlights of that siren song.
In 1983, the American Wind Energy Association et al. concluded:
The private sector can be expected to develop improved solar and wind technologies which will begin to become competitive and self-supporting on a national level by the end of the decade if assisted by tax credits and augmented by federally sponsored R&D.
In 1986, a representative of the American Wind Energy Association testified:
The U.S. wind industry has … demonstrated reliability and performance levels that make them very competitive. It has come to the point that the California Energy Commission has predicted windpower will be that State’s lowest cost source of energy in the 1990s, beating out even large-scale hydro.
He added: “We are not quite there. We have hopes.”
In 1986, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute lamented the untimely scale back of tax breaks for renewables with the competitive viability of wind being “one to three years away.”
Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute predicted wind’s impending viability decades ago.
Tax credits have been essential to the economic viability of wind farms so far, but will not be needed within a few years. (1984)
Although wind farms still depend on tax credits, they are likely to be economical without this support within a few years. (1985)
Early evidence indicates that wind power will soon take its place as a decentralized power source that is economical in many areas…. (1986)
In 2011, Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress stated:
It is clear that solar and wind are competitive in many situations right now…. And continued aggressive deployment along with continued R&D will keep driving the price down.
Also in 2011, DOE Secretary Steven Chu predicted:
Before maybe the end of this decade, I see wind and solar being cost-competitive without subsidy with new fossil fuel.
The saga continues. Wind power is not a new or “infant industry.” Commercialization attempts have failed ever since the 1.25 MW Grandpa’s Knob experiment in central Vermont during World War II.
Neither is wind power the silver bullet for competitive, reliable electricity at scale. James Hansen, the father of the climate alarm, stated in 2011: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
And in Senate testimony, back in 2014, Hansen said:
I am sorry that we scientists have not done an adequate job of communicating energy facts…. Non-hydro renewables provide only a tiny fraction of global energy and do not appear capable of satisfying the large energy requirements of developing nations such as China and India.
Lawmakers from both major political parties should remember the false promises of wind power and deny what would be the 14th extension of a 1992 subsidy gone wrong.