Well, they ARE penny-wise ?

The New York Times carried an article this week about Virginia’s public utility commission turning down a proposed wind energy project, on the grounds that it would increase ratepayers’ electricity bills by a whopping 0.2%. Said the commissioners, “The ratepayers of Virginia must be protected from costs for renewable energy that are unreasonably high.”

Let’s see now—the monthly electricity bill for my family’s home is roughly $100 per month. Multiplying $100 times 0.2% means, yikes, that unreasonably costly renewable energy would set us back … 20 cents a month. Hmmm, now if we had that 20 cents back, what could we do with it? A cup of coffee is out, nobody sells coffee that cheaply anymore. Difficult question.

The Times reporters, for some reason, didn’t spell the actual cost out in terms of the average ratepayer’s bill–a curious choice, since news reporters generally make an effort to keep things simple for readers.

I’ve already addressed the question of the supposedly high cost of wind power in a recent post, and will have more to say about it soon. In the meantime, readers should be aware that the National Academy of Sciences found in 2008 that the “hidden costs” of coal-fired electricity (largely health impacts and crop damage from pollution) amount to roughly $60 billion a year—without taking the impacts of climate change into account. That, in turn, would equal about $50 per year for every family in the U.S.

Which begs the question: which is the truly unreasonably high-cost energy source?

Wind’s costs are competitive

We’ve said it before, and I’m sure we will be saying it again: wind energy’s costs are in a competitive range with those of electricity from other types of new power plants.

What does this mean? It means that you can’t compare the cost of electricity from a newly built wind farm with the cost of electricity from, say, a coal-fired power plant that was built 20 years ago (a plant for which the construction costs were paid off years ago, so that the electricity cost reflects only the cost of fuel). If you compare a new wind turbines plant and a new coal plant, the story is quite different.

By Tom Gray, www.aweablog.org/