by Andrew Follett
Off-the-books government regulations heavily favor wind and solar power by ignoring some of green energy’s major drawbacks while keeping the lucrative subsidies flowing.
These regulations force utilities to purchase any wind or solar power available and offer direct financial benefits for doing so, despite major technical problems and the high costs associated with unreliable green energy.
“In our energy system, unlike any other market, the amount generated needs to perfectly balance with the amount used at all times,” Rich Powell, managing director for strategy at the ClearPath Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It’s hard enough to forecast when the demand is going to happen, so it’s best to have supply that responds very well to that intricate balancing act,” Powell said. “But now, when some of our supply like intermittent green energy is very difficult to predict, it adds a whole other layer of stress, difficulty and cost to managing the power grid. You need backup for the intermittent parts.”
With conventional power plants, like nuclear or natural gas, matching demand to supply is not difficult because output can be easily adjusted far in advance of predicted demand for electricity. Solar and wind power, however, cannot be easily adjusted due to the unpredictability of cloudy or windless days. Power grid operators have to keep excess conventional power reserves on standby just in case wind and solar fluctuate.
“Wind and solar are unpredictable,” Powell continued. “The wind often blows at the time of the lowest power demand. Solar is less of a problem, but it’s unpredictable because the weather can be cloudy and overproduction has already occurred in California. Solar is better in some respects than wind because it is closer to the time of peak demand, but it’s not aligned directly and there’s no way to store the power.”
Wind and solar have already damaged Germany and California‘s power grids. Germany paid wind farms $548 million last year to switch off production in order to prevent damage to the country’s electric grid. The country has also literally paid its citizens to consume excess power to minimize the damage from over-production of wind and solar.
“If you were trying to have a 100 percent solar and wind power grid, you’d need an enormous amount of storage, about 30 times what the Department of Energy thinks is possible,” Powell noted, adding that most energy experts do not believe 100 percent green energy is possible on the proposed timeline.
“We are spending so much money on these subsidies that there’s not enough left over to fund breakthrough energy storage research which everybody agrees we need,” Powell told TheDNCF. Since the U.S. spends billions on subsidies for solar and wind, it “cannot raise the money for basic nuclear and storage research and development.”
Solar and wind power get 326 and 69 times more in subsidies, respectively, than coal, oil and natural gas per amount of energy generated according to 2013 Department of Energy data collected by Forbes. Green energy in the U.S. got $13 billion in subsidies during 2013, compared to $3.4 billion in subsidies for conventional sources and $1.7 billion for nuclear energy according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
“We’re pretty aware of these market distortions because they create enormous problems, ” Powell said. “The wind production tax credit, for example, compensates companies for power that isn’t useful. They are paid for whatever power goes onto the grid, no matter how much the market values it. At some point, the power is worth nothing, but they produce it anyway to collect the wind production tax credit.”
“Wind makes money regardless of how low the price of power is and can actually turn a profit when the price is negative,” he added. “That means that other power plants have to pay to stay online during those periods.”
These negative prices make it incredibly difficult for conventional electricity to compete because nuclear reactors and other sources of power take a while to turn on or off. The negative price periods are also extremely unpredictable, meaning that operators of conventional power plants are subject to random losses.
“Wind and solar can bid in at zero in a competitive market as they have no fuel or productions costs,” Powell said. “Since there are green energy mandates in place in many states, there are huge national incentives to use solar and wind power.”
Solar power produced 0.6 percent of all energy used in America last year while wind produced 4.7 percent, according to the EIA. Meanwhile, coal power and natural gas produced 33 percent, and nuclear power produced 20 percent of all U.S. electricity the same year. The tiny amount of green energy produced by solar and wind make it difficult to generate 94 percent of U.S. electricity.
“This system encourages companies to put wind turbines where the wind is best so they can produce a lot of electricity, but not where the market values the power,” Powell continued. “This causes tremendous congestion on the power grid…this can lead to too many people putting too much power on the grid which could fry the grid.”
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy disrupts the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believes there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provide.” Environmental regulations could make operating conventional coal or natural gas power plants unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the American power grid.
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