Wind Power Blasted As UK Boondoggle

Wind foes in search of long, footnoted (but not peer reviewed) studies to bolster their case have a new one to embrace—a report out of the United Kingdom that blasts investment in the giant turbines as nothing but a boondoggle.

“Why is wind power so expensive?” [PDF] comes from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a London-based think tank that says its mission is “to inform the media, politicians and the public, in a newsworthy way, on (climate change policy) in general and on the misinformation to which they are all too frequently being subjected at the present time.”

UK wind power

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According to report author Gordon Hughes, that misinformation includes the idea that wind is a smart way to reduce carbon emissions. He says it’s simply too expensive to make sense.

Hughes builds his case on the assertion that wind requires massive and costly amounts of backup gas-powered generating capacity, specifically from open-cycle gas turbine (OCGT) plants, which operate less efficiently than combined-cycle plants but are easier to ramp up and down as needed. According to Hughes, the U.K.’s 2020 renewable power targets will require “total wind capacity of 36 gigawatts (GW) backed up by 13 GW of open cycle gas plants plus large complementary investments in transmission capacity at a cost of about £120 billion ($189 billion).”

Hughes says a better alternative would be to forget about wind and just build 21.5 GW of combined-cycle gas plants (which would be viable, the scenario goes, because the grid wouldn’t have to deal with wind’s intermittent production). That would provide just as much power as the big wind build-out, but at about one-tenth the cost, he says.

Crunching the numbers further, the report claims “the Government’s wind policy will reduce emissions of CO2 at an average cost of £270 per metric ton (at 2009 prices) which means that meeting the UK’s renewable energy target would cost a staggering £78 billion per year in 2020.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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