Hospitals need electricity to operate medical equipment keeping people alive during the coronavirus outbreak, illuminate operating rooms for surgeons, sterilize equipment, and power computers that track patient’s medical records. Hospitals require secure, reliable, and resilient energy to function effectively and to save lives. In case of an outage, hospitals do have back-up generators fueled by natural gas and diesel, but hospitals in Texas found that those generators were not necessarily a foolproof option when flooding resulted from a tropical storm in 2001. The storm caused a blackout, flooded streets with up to 9 feet of water, and forced patients to be evacuated. Electrical vaults and back-up generators were then moved above flood levels.
Hospitals consume large amounts of energy because of how they are run and the many people that use them, including health care workers, patients, and visitors. Hospitals are open 24 hours a day; thousands of employees, patients, and visitors occupy the buildings daily; and sophisticated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems control the temperatures and air flow. In addition, many energy intensive activities occur in these buildings: laundry, medical and lab equipment use, sterilization, computer and server use, food service, and refrigeration. For example, one large MRI machine can consume as much electricity as six modern houses.
As can be expected, most hospitals are located in the larger populated states, as is depicted below. While some of these states are ensuring their electrical system has power that can be relied on 24/7, others are requiring their energy to be produced from increasingly large quantities of intermittent renewable power—e.g., wind and solar. California, for instance, requires all utilities in the state to source 60 percent of their electricity sales from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030 and all of the state’s electricity to be renewable by 2045.
California’s Electricity Mix
According to the California Energy Commission, California has almost 12,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity and 6,000 megawatts of wind capacity. In 2018, the state generated 21 percent of its electricity from solar and wind power. Including its imported electricity sources, California estimates that almost 23 percent of the state’s electricity mix was obtained from solar and wind power in 2018. This makes the state vulnerable to disruptions caused when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
Wind Industry Requests Coronavirus Aid
Despite the lack of reliability of wind units, the wind industry wants additional subsidies in the bills that Congress is enacting to help businesses and the economy deal with the coronavirus. The American Wind Energy Association was disappointed that their attempts to get additional subsidies did not make it into Congress’s phase three relief package, including extensions of the tax credits that have been driving the growth of solar and wind energy. The industry will try again in the next phases of the coronavirus relief bills. The industry has also asked that wind companies receive direct cash payments from taxpayers, rather than tax credits, which require tax obligations that may not be present.
The wind and solar industries want the subsidies despite touting that renewable energy is getting so cheap that it does not need to be subsidized anymore. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind-energy growth is “expected to remain strong” when the production tax credit goes away. In 2015, the wind industry agreed to a multiyear phase-out of the subsidy. But at the end of last year, the wind industry received a one-year extension of the subsidy and recently, they requested another extension through the coronavirus relief bill. The tax credit was never meant to be permanent. The wind industry already expects to collect $33.75 billion in subsidies between now and 2029. Another estimate indicates that cumulative subsidies given to the wind industry will total $60 billion by 2029.
Wind-energy development in some states—e.g., Hawaii, California, New York, and Vermont—has been effectively stopped due to local opposition. Rural residents are rejecting wind projects due to concerns about property values, noise, and views. In New York, due to local resistance to wind energy, Governor Cuomo included a measure in the state budget proposal that, if passed, will bar local communities from stopping wind and solar-energy construction in their jurisdictions.
Since 2013, California has added fewer than 200 megawatts of new wind capacity due to local opposition. Last year, Humboldt County declined a proposed wind project that would have erected 47 wind turbines in the county. In Hawaii, 200 people protested the construction of eight wind turbines on the island of Oahu, which will be decided by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Solar Industry Requests Coronavirus Aid
The solar industry sought changes to the investment tax credit in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that Congress passed, but it did not get them. The solar investment tax credit is a tax credit originally of 30 percent on the value of solar equipment against the yearly tax bill. The tax credit has become a solar investment vehicle. The investors who use it are large entities that need a deduction on their taxes, such as banks, insurance companies, pension funds, or other big corporations.
2019 was the final year in which the solar investment tax credit was set at 30 percent. This year it declines to 26 percent, and in 2021 to 22 percent. In 2022, it drops to 10 percent for commercial and utility-scale projects and phases out for residential projects. The Solar Energy Industries Association is lobbying to get the investment tax credit’s deadlines extended and to have the money delivered as a direct payment that can be paid now, rather than a credit that appears during tax season which would make it appealing to more investors.
Hospitals are among the biggest energy consumers in the country because they are open 24 hours a day and have sophisticated energy needs, such as particular air flow controls and specialized heating and cooling systems. During the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. hospitals will be stressed to capacity and will need reliable electricity to run the ventilators and to otherwise keep coronavirus patients alive. Intermittent renewables, wind and solar power, do not provide reliable power 24/7, which hospitals need. Despite their intermittency and their claims that they can compete with traditional technologies, the wind and solar industries want extensions and expansions of existing subsidies to be included in the coronavirus relief bills Congress is enacting.