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Free Power from Wind; Well, Not Quite:

By       Message Mike Folkerth     Permalink
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U.S. NEWS: So just how bad is the energy situation getting? Renowned oil man T. Boone Pickens is investing $2 Billion in a Texas wind farm. In fact, the largest wind farm ever built.

Pickens will purchase the wind generators from General Electric, which makes GE happy campers. GE has been in the selling business of late, but not of products, of parts of their company. Word is out that GE is shopping its 101-year-old appliance business for as much as $8 billion and last year it sold its struggling plastics business to a Saudi Arabian company for $11.6 billion. Yep, Saudi Arabian.

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So what makes an oil man like Pickens bet on wind? I’m going to guess that he is a little closer to the fact that we are running out of fossil fuels than the average Jill or Joe.

But let’s take a closer look at the wind business to figure out why America isn’t already running on free wind power. One reason of course is that Americans are spoiled and want the power to be on all of the time. That is a problem when the wind doesn’t blow all of the time.

This creates a need for backup unless you can find customers who will agree to have power on the days that the wind blows and take eight hour coffee breaks on the days that it doesn’t. Cold coffee that is, the coffee machine runs on electricity.

What I’m saying is that a conventional power plant with reserve capacity equal to the wind farm has to be standing by, just in case the wind doesn’t cooperate that day or blows too hard. Sure, when the wind blows too hard they have to feather the blades and shut down the generators to keep them from being destroyed. Not to mention what a little tornado activity could do to a wind farm.

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And then there is the cost of free wind. Jimmy Carter created massive subsidies to develop both wind and solar power, I know, I worked on a test site way back when. Once the subsidies were removed, there went the neighborhood and the wind and solar with it. Free wind and solar power was too expensive to compete without being subsidized.

But today, with all the advancements in technology combined with skyrocketing energy prices, things have changed; Jimmy Carter isn’t president any longer.

However, wind and solar still require subsidies to work and that is what T. Boone Pickens is betting on. He said, “I believe that Congress will recognize that it is critical not only to this project, but to renewable energy in this country, that they enact a long-term extension of the Production Tax Credits."

Let’s look at the numbers for this new wind farm in the Texas panhandle. The eventual cost will be between $10 and $12 Billion and it will cover 400,000 acres. The power produced is expected to power 1.3 million homes. Shall we apply a little Mikeronomics to that?

Doing a little math, that is .307 acre of wind farm per home powered. There are 112 million homes in the U.S., so if we chose to use wind to power all of those homes it would require 34,384,000 acres of land. That is considerably more area than the state of Indiana. If all of the new homes built in the U.S. were powered by wind, it would require an additional 400,000 acres…every year!

But more importantly, if you do the math, the investment in this part time power plant alone, neglecting transmission, profit, and operating overhead, is $13,000 per home. I say part time, because we must remember that someone has to own the backup power plant that isn’t making any money when the wind is blowing.

Solar in some ways is even worse when it comes to the massive arrays and land necessary to place them on. And like wind, solar is not full time, science has not figured out how to keep it from getting dark at night.

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I am certainly not against technology, just so long as we get the whole story. Like ethanol, we can burn our food supply, but not without repercussions.


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Mike Folkerth is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed" and is not your run-of-the-mill author of finance and economics. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, (more...)

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