Is Investment in Wind Turbines Hitting the Fan?

Feb. 2, 2010

At the end of January, the Department of Energy released a study from its National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), which found that wind energy could supply 20 percent of the electrical load for most of the country by 2024. The report – with the charmingly bureaucratic title of The Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study, or EWITS for short – lays out various scenarios that could meet the 2024 date, including combinations of onshore and offshore wind farms. But the high-altitude document acknowledges that it is not a ground-level plan with the details that would be necessary for implementation.

Of course, one of those details is cost and who will pay it. Renewable power – wind in particular – has received a lot of support from the Obama administration. A $2.3 billion provision in the economic stimulus plan entitles clean-energy providers to tax credits totaling 30 percent of project costs, provided the projects are undertaken this year.

But that is a fraction of the investment that would be required, and the recession crimped investment in green power in 2008 and 2009. Voluntary purchases of wind power come at a premium over conventional power; nevertheless, as this month’s article on green power reports, some building owners are paying the price. As a result of existing state mandates, investments from the compliance market are expected to increase faster than voluntary investments in the coming years.

Building owners can hedge their bets against the possibility of rising costs for fossil-fuel power by making voluntary purchases of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which could also rise in the future. But there’s no guarantee that purchases made outside of compliance markets will result in profits going toward development of more renewable power. For this to occur, there would need to be greater government oversight of the market.

If the 2024 goal were to become government policy, the cost and regulatory apparatus are sure to arouse opposition. Would that opposition shoot it down or, like a kite that rises against the wind, help to improve the idea and make it fly?

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