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Kansas Wind Power Economic Benefit in Perspective

An editorial in the Wichita Eagle that promotes wind power as an economic benefit for for Kansas contains some reasoning that deserves examination before we commit to the author’s cause. (Emil Ramirez: Entire state could benefit from wind, February 19, 2009 Wichita Eagle.)

Unstated by Mr. Ramirez, but underlying this op-ed, is that the shift to wind power from coal is necessary to reduce carbon emissions for environmental reasons. The science behind this is far from settled. Besides, there’s very little that we in Kansas can do in light of the rapid increase in global carbon emissions. Doing something of this magnitude on shaky scientific evidence is unwise. (See KEEP’s Goal is Predetermined and Ineffectual. Ramirez, by the way, is an appointee to the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group.)

One of the arguments Ramirez makes is that investment in wind power is good because it creates jobs: “every wind turbine requires hundreds of yards of concrete, miles of steel rebar, copper wire and highly skilled laborers to install.”

This is a trap that many supporters of alternative energy investment fall into: Simply because something will cost a lot and create many jobs, it’s a good policy. The best energy policy we could have, however, is one that supplies our energy needs at the lowest cost. Spending more for no good reason leads to a misapplication of capital. After all, if we view our energy policy as a jobs creation program, why not build wind turbines and haul them to western Kansas without the use of machinery? Think of the jobs that would create.

Ramirez also argues that “concerted investment in energy efficiency” will create a “a bigger boom still.” He doesn’t say so, but I suspect that his goal is to get the government to pay for energy efficiency programs. But right now, every homeowner and business has the opportunity to invest in as many energy efficiency measures as they deem desirable. Each person or firm makes their own decision, based on their judgment of the future cost of energy versus the investment required to save energy, that suits their own needs.

This voluntary conservation and investment in efficiency is much preferred to government mandate, that mandate usually backed up by taxing and spending.

Finally, Ramirez also states that wind energy “uses no water,” alluding to one of the frequent criticisms of coal-fired power plants: their water use. This criticism is unfounded. As explained in my post Holcomb, Kansas Coal Plant Water Usage in Perspective, the water that a new Kansas coal plant would use is small compared to other uses of water in Kansas. There’s also the fact that the plant has purchased water rights for the water it will use. If the power plant didn’t use this water, it would very likely be used in agriculture, probably irrigating corn to be fed to cattle or turned into ethanol.

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One Comment

  1. Greg Kite February 20, 2009

    It seems odd that anyone who offers opinion is then held to the standard by which this single blogger holds all opponents of his ideas, and subsequently – a “proper” judgment can be made.

    Let’s examine the opinion of this less than qualified blogger:

    -“The best energy policy we could have, however, is one that supplies our energy needs at the lowest cost. Spending more for no good reason leads to a misapplication of capital.”
    The troubling concept underlying this mentality is that coal (as we can assume this quasi-journalist is referring to in comparison) is no longer the lowest-cost fuel source we have. In the last ten years, the cost of coal has risen sharply, a trend that does not see an end soon. Add the increase in cost to the increased demand globally for “infinite” coal supplies – and you get a global market place competing for a finite resource needed in high amount. The last time the US recognized a market structure like that and blindly continued on the path it was on, was 1960 when OPEC formed….and we’ve seen what that can result in.

    – What renewable energy and efficiency do is hedge against future volatility in energy markets, decrease demand at the same time, and provide wide-spread development in the process.

    – Sad, really, that smart planning and practical economics (which is recognized as a necessary step globally – remember that China, though “building a coal plant every day” is now jockeying for the leader’s spot w the US in renewable energy production) has fallen victim to partisan ideology and blogoshpere misinformation.

    – Finally, the water issue. Yes, new generations of coal plants use less water than coal plants built in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. That’s because anything built thirty years later is more efficient than it’s predecessor. However, in Kansas, when given the option of using “less” water or “no” water (in fact, wind energy does use trace amounts of water in construction and to run toilets on site) – – I’d take no water, and instead allow farmers greater access to larger supply. Especially when the rights bought would go towards making energy for Colorado and Texas. Our water, their energy….and it WOULD make sense if we were selling that energy. Sadly, it’s TX and CO’s to claim. They build the plant, they take the energy, no sale, just energy’s version of “take out”.

    Please, let’s leave politics out of this. Let the facts determine what’s best for energy policy in Kansas, and let unqualified blogger’s shouts echo in the chamber of partisan cathedrals.

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