Updated: Oct 9
One thing I found during this past summer, there continues to be a daily barrage of climate and energy related news. It is often polar opposite. Let’s start with wind and solar generation. The US Energy Information Agency touts that wind and solar surpassed coal in electric generation in 2022. According to the Associated Press Gregory Whetstone the CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy said, “Over the past decade, the levelized cost of wind energy declined 70 percent, solar power has declined by 90 percent. Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country in much of the country”.
Anecdotally most likely not in Pennsylvania, driving recently in the Laurel Mountains more than half of the windmills observed (over twenty units) blades were not turning. In New York the state utilities companies are requesting rate hikes to cover the cost of renewables citing the cost of wind and solar. In Great Britain as reported in the Telegraph, a recent auction of rights to build offshore wind farms failed to attract any bids despite the offering higher subsidized price. The industry claims that electricity prices need to be higher to make wind farms pay. The article went on to say the cost of subsidizing wind is vast. It takes a huge machine, the building of which requires a lot of energy and rare earth minerals. Moreover, add the cost of transmitting offshore power to where people live, upgrading the power grid, backing up wind with other more reliable generation such as natural gas plants, and then finally balancing the random fluctuating generation. In addition, the three biggest manufacturers of wind turbines are reporting problems of quality control, rapid upsizing, supply chain logistics, warranty cost and repairs. General Electric, Siemens and Vesta are reporting blade failures and turbine collapses in Oklahoma, Colorado, Wisconsin, Wales and Germany. According to GE CEO Larry Culp “it takes time to stabilize production and quality of these new products.
Siting wind farms also remains an issue, southwest Iowa residents voice concerns about turbulence. In Delaware local politicians push back against developers’ plan to site a windfarm off the Delaware coast to provide power to Maryland.
Solar generation demands ultimate battery storage that does not yet exist. Massive solar development projects require large quantities of rare earth minerals. In a recent Wall Street Journal published opt-ed S&P Global vice Chairman and author Daniel Yergin noted the practical effect of the net-zero dreams of the green revolution advocates is ‘Big Shovel, will compete with ‘Big Oil’ as rare earth mining ramps up to supply the vast increase in a wide range of minerals that energy transition requires. Going green, electric vehicles require 2.5 times the copper that a typical gas-powered car. According to Yergin an offshore wind project uses nine times the minerals of a natural gas fired power plant of the same generating capacity, The same principals apply to solar arrays too, needing beyond copper, significant amounts of lithium, cobalt, antimony to name several critical rare earth minerals. The reality these minerals come from China, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and the Republic of Congo, places where these minerals are mined in some cases by ‘slave labor’. Yergin point out the Biden administration has gone backwards on domestic mining in recent months, revoking existing permits for the Twin Metals mine in Minnesota and refusing to issue permits for various proposed new mining operations for these very metals needed now that are crucial to the green energy transition. So let the wind blow, more on our schizophrenic energy psychosis next issue.