Sen. Alexander tilts at wind turbines once again

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a frequent critic of wind energy and booster of nuclear power, was at it again this week, saying in a Congressional hearing that federal incentives for wind power should be on the chopping block, but not those available for other electricity generation sources.

What’s wrong with this position? It’s inconsistent with his support for nuclear energy, and distorts the picture of what this country really needs in its long-term energy policy:

* After nearly a century, our government is still spending five times as much on permanent fossil fuel subsidies than it is for wind energy, the fuel of the future, and other renewables which will never run out.

* The "hidden costs" (primarily health costs related to air and water pollution) of fossil fuels are $120 billion a year, the National Academy of Sciences found in a 2009 study. This amounts to a huge hidden subsidy that Americans pay, year after year, for energy that in the long run will run out.

* Wind farm power costs far less to build than new nuclear power, megawatt for megawatt. It beats new coal on price, too, and including the incentives on all sides, is close to cost-competitive with natural gas even at unsustainably low prices from hydrofracking.

* And, wind farm offers electric utilities these guaranteed low prices for up to 30 years. What other fuel can say that?

Despite Sen. Alexander’s attempt to single out certain energy sources as undeserving recipients of government support, we can all be reminded that every energy source has received government support over decades in order to build the energy market we have today.

The U.S. government been involved every step of the way using tax incentives, regulations, R&D, and risk protection for nearly a century to help build this country’s energy infrastructure. Today, we need a more diversified, clean, stable, safe and affordable mix of energy, and our government incentives and long-term tax policy should reflect those energy goals.

By Tom Gray,