Fact Check: Is Trump Right That Wind Power Doesn’t Work?

It’s fair to say President Trump isn’t the wind power industry’s biggest fan. He’s said, several times, that as a way to generate electricity it doesn’t work without government subsidies. That’s brought him fierce attacks from environmentalists, including many Democrats and even some Republicans. There’s a loud campaign underway to convince us all that wind power is a financially viable way to supply power. But is it really?

Highlights

  • Wind power is the Great Green Hope. Renewable and non-polluting, environmentalists hope it will kick-start a move away from fossil fuels. If we’re all going to stop burning gas and switch to electric cars, the US will need a lot more electricity, and there’s not much point in phasing out the internal combustion engine if all that extra energy is going to be generated by burning coal.
  • Unfortunately, the numbers on wind power are shaky, to say the least. The wind might be free, but generating electricity from it isn’t — all those turbines cost a lot of money, and that has to be reclaimed by selling the electricity. If the price of turbines and other infrastructure is too high, then wind power isn’t economically sustainable.
  • Pushing up the price of electricity — and energy in general — pushes up the price of everything else, too. Food costs more to deliver. Stores cost more to keep lit and heated. Even the servers Amazon runs on need more electricity. So higher energy costs make everyone in America poorer — except wind power executives, of course.
  • Wind advocates have defended it against President Trump’s criticism, saying that some reports show it’s already competitively priced with gas- or coal-generated electricity.
  • How competitive is it when you figure out the subsidies, though? Since 2010, the US government has handed over more than $25 billion of taxpayer money to wind power firms — $4.5 billion in 2018, and an estimated $4.7 billion this year.
  • Federal subsidies on wind power come to about a quarter of what the consumer pays for a kilowatt-hour.
  • The reality is that wind-generated electricity is about 20% more expensive than a modern gas-fired power station, at $48.40 per megawatt-hour compared with $40.50 for gas — and remember that the gas generator is burning fuel. Wind power is so expensive to produce that, even with a fuel bill of zero, it still can’t compete.
  • The current subsidies are due to end in 2023. The Energy Information Administration says almost no new wind installations are planned after that date. If wind is really cost-effective without subsidies, why does nobody want to build more? The president is right — without government cash, wind power just doesn’t work.

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