Big energy companies building wind farm? And that’s bad?

Robert Bryce, of the fossil-fuel-funded Manhattan Institute, continues his long-running search for ways to criticize wind energy with a recent column charging that companies in the fossil fuels business are also building wind farms.

Ah, the irony–for years and years, those of us who think wind power is a good idea have looked at the entry of large companies (and yes, large energy companies, since it may be unlikely to expect laundry soap makers or big box retailers to invest in the energy markets) into the wind industry as a positive sign. In our view, it was a sign of the growing maturity and competitiveness of wind power.

Mr. Bryce rattles off a list of energy company names–names like GE, Iberdrola (a major Spanish utility), and others–and notes that they are still involved in fossil fuels. This is not exactly news. What IS news is that they have become major players in building a new clean energy industry that is displacing increasing amounts of–fossil fuels–every year in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world while at the same time reducing air and water pollution and conserving supplies of fresh water.

Mr. Bryce accusingly cites one energy company executive as saying his company invested in wind farm projects because of their low risk. That may seem strange to Mr. Bryce, but to me, it simply validates something we have been pointing out for a long time: wind turbines projects do indeed reduce risk, for project developers, investors, and electricity consumers. This is not because they receive incentives (subsidies have long been widespread in the energy sector of our economy), but because they use no fuel and are therefore immune to the sometimes extreme price swings in global fuel markets. Also, because of their very low environmental impact compared with fossil-fueled projects, due to the fact that they emit no pollution and use very little water, clean energy projects are not subject to many of the regulatory risks that fossil fuels carry.

In other words, for a variety of reasons, investing in wind power makes sense, and many companies in the traditional energy business are recognizing this increasingly obvious fact of life. Most Americans–including the large majorities that, in public opinion polls, routinely support greater use of wind energy and other clean energy sources–would say that’s a good thing.

Tom Gray,