December 09, 2002
Wind Power Rapidly Growing In Europe

Wind now supplies 28 million Europeans with electricity.

Europe's wind-driven energy has been growing at 40 percent a year. With a capacity of more than 20,000 megawatts installed on land, it now represents three-fourths of the world's total wind-power output. Europe hopes to raise this to 60,000 megawatts in the next six years. Much of that growth is expected to come from sea-based turbines.

Unfortunately, while the article is rather short on cost information (why didn't the NY Times editors demand the writer put this info in the article?) it doesn't sound like wind power is really cost competitive with other energy sources:

Then there is the issue of price. Industry spokesmen contend that, strictly speaking, the price of wind-driven energy is close to being competitive with other sources. They argue that traditional fossil fuels and nuclear energy get enormous hidden or indirect subsidies, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For example, in some European countries, governments pay for the insurance of nuclear power plants.

The nuclear insurance costs are a poor example of a power subsidy because nuclear power is not the lowest cost method of producing electricity in the first place. Fossil fuels (I'm guessing natural gas in particular) are the lowest cost energy sources for generating electricity. What subsidies exist for them are mostly in the form of not forcing producers to pay all external costs generated by the pollution from burning the fuels. Such costs are hard to estimate.

I get annoyed by articles like this New York Times article. What it needed (and what the NY Times surely could have gotten from industry sources fairly easily) was a graph of historical cost trends in fossil fuel and wind power generation costs for new fossil fuel and new wind power generation facilities. If we want to project foward about the prospects for wind power it would be useful to know how rapidly it is closing the gap in costs as compared to other power sources.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 December 09 11:22 AM  Energy Tech

Philip Shropshire said at December 9, 2002 5:51 PM:

What are you so surprised about? You know that papers have space limitations don't you, besides both of us can just go down to the American Wind Association's website and check out all of their gusty optimistic data, which I tend to believe in by the way...

As far as the nuclear stuff, that's all true. It's not just that you have to expend a lot of money into burying the waste that keeps on giving for thousands and thousands of years, it's that the nation's 100 nuclear power plants have become the primo targets of terrorists.

Or as Public Citizen points out here and here:

"The House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality was wrong to vote today to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which calls for the government - and therefore taxpayers - to foot most of the bill in the event of a nuclear power accident, Public Citizen said today.
Not only is it a bad idea to reauthorize the act, but lawmakers should gather much more information about the security of nuclear power plants before even considering the legislation, particularly in light of the events of Sept. 11, Public Citizen said. The nuclear power industry has a dismal record of passing mock security drills, and recent published reports indicate that nuclear power plants could not withstand the attacks perpetrated on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"This is absolutely the wrong time for the Congress to be considering the extension of this program," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The current law doesn't expire until next August, but the leadership in the House of Representatives has put this legislation on a fast track. It's foolhardy to consider this until a full and thorough discussion of nuclear safety is conducted."

The Price-Anderson Act was passed in 1954 to help the nascent nuclear power industry get off the ground by providing government-backed indemnification in the event of any nuclear power accidents. Now, nuclear power plants must buy $200 million worth of insurance, and the industry's costs in the event of an accident would be capped at $9 billion. However, a nuclear accident would likely cost $500 billion, according to government estimates. The government would have to pay for what the nuclear industry doesn't cover. Under the pending legislation, the act would be reauthorized for 15 years. Public Citizen opposes the reauthorization, but says that if lawmakers do approve it, they should impose strict security requirements to protect against terrorism and assure the security of the reactors and surrounding communities."

And here's something specific about the security issues of nuclear power plants. (At my site, I joked that apparently Homer Simpson really does work for the nuclear security industry...!)

"As you know, the tragic events of September 11, 2001 have raised serious concerns about safety and security at nuclear facilities across the country. Many facilities cannot meet the current security requirements, even though they are widely considered to be inadequate. For example, prior to September 11, nearly half of the nation's nuclear power plants failed to repel small groups of intruders on foot in "force-on-force" exercises conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This dismal performance would have been even worse if the mock attacking forces had been assigned capabilities comparable to those of the September 11 terrorists. Yet the NRC suspended force-on-force testing indefinitely after September 11, so there is no way to verify if nuclear plant security forces would be able to defend against the much greater threat that we face today.

In addition, numerous recent studies show that security personnel at nuclear facilities are under-staffed, under-trained and under-equipped to deal with existing threats. Studies also show that nuclear facility officials have failed to permanently upgrade security procedures since the terror attacks of last year. Recent media reports that senior Al Qaeda operatives consider U.S. nuclear facilities as targets underscores the need for increasing security. Given these concerns over nuclear plant security, Congress should hold the nuclear industry accountable for its inadequacies and operational vulnerabilities, instead of reauthorizing lax legislation.

It is simply inexcusable to extend the Price-Anderson Act, which will limit the public liability of nuclear facility operators in the event of an accident or incident involving sabotage, without approving legislation to increase the security of nuclear power plants. The House Price-Anderson Reauthorization Act and the Senate Nuclear Security Act of 2002, which was reported out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, include language that begins to explore some of the security-related deficiencies in the Price-Anderson Act."

To me, the great problem of the war against terrorism is that it's a false war. It's not real. And it certainly isn't serious. If it's a well known fact that the terrorists are using oil money to hang us, wouldn't you promote national conservation? Isn't that what we did during WWII? If you ride alone, aren't you riding with Hitler, or the House of Saud? Wouldn't it make sense to cut back the tax cut so that we can invest in alt fuels, secure our nuclear facilities, and secure our porous borders (read the very disturbing new book called "Invasion" which argues that our border policy is intentionally lax due to political reasons)? I think the writer's thesis is sound...

Philip Shropshire

PS: By the way, I believe the bill in discussion went down in defeat when the energy bill got voted down. And while environmental groups celebrated there's every indication that a newly designed bill under the gentle direction of the Republicans will be much much worse...

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2002 6:58 PM:

Phil, The fact that terrorists could try to blow up or otherwise attack a nuclear plant certainly is another argument against nuclear power. So are waste disposal problems. But this is all besides the point. In the US and in most other industrialized countries nuclear power is not expanding. Even with whatever subsidies it enjoys it still costs too much. Also, environmental lobbies worked hard to block it and many people do not want to live with a nuclear power plant in their neighborhood.

Wind power's real competitors are fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are not going to be phased out until other power sources become cheaper.

Currently wind power production is expanding more rapidly than photovoltaic power production. But in the longer run I expect photovoltaic costs to fall below wind costs because the material costs of solar seem to me to have the best prospects for falling. As soon as someone finds a way to cheaply make thin films using nanotubes then I think solar will take off.

Patrick said at December 9, 2002 7:41 PM:

So Europes wind power is growing at 40% a year. And they hope to go from 20 000 MW to 60 000 MW in the next 6 years.

But 40% growth for the next 6 years would give 150 000MW. So what they are REALLY saying is that they expect the growth rate to collapse to 20%/year.

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2002 11:23 PM:

Patrick, great observation. Upon reflection its not really that surprising. I am guessing (though of course the NY Times doesn't tell us this) that there are regulatory forces driving the construction of the wind farms in Europe and that the big increase in construction is due to a tightening of some regulatory screws by the EU to get EU countries to comply with the Kyoto Accords. But as long as wind power costs more industry will only build as much of it as they are forced to build.

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