Robert Bryce’s latest volley in his fossil fuel industry-funded misinformation campaign against clean energy, an article in National Review, has all of the hallmarks of his previous attacks: an intentionally misleading cherry-picking of statistics that is thoroughly discredited by dozens of credible data sources.
Mr. Bryce’s data on the costs of various energy sources is embarrassingly obsolete. I guess being behind the times should be expected for someone whose employer receives a large amount of funding from Exxon Mobil and other companies that make their livelihood digging up the remains of organisms that died millions of years ago. A few years ago, one might have argued that using wind energy would increase costs for consumers, but things have changed drastically since then.
I don’t know when Mr. Bryce last checked the cost of a wind turbine, but the cost of wind energy has come down sharply over the last several years, driven by continued improvements in renewable technologies, significant expansion of the American manufacturing base for clean energy, and increasing economies of scale in the deployment of renewable energy. By many measures, wind energy is now very affordable when compared to fossil-fuel sources of generation, and even more so when the subsidies for fossil fuel production are removed and the negative externality costs of fossil fuel use are accounted for.
Moreover, renewables offer tremendous value as a hedge against volatility and uncertainty in the future price of fossil fuels, as well as the price of carbon. The cost of fuel for wind energy will always be the same–zero–offering consumers and utilities who buy wind energy the ability to lock in stable energy prices for decades to come, something that no fossil or nuclear energy resources can offer. The world has seen wild fluctuations in the price of all fossil fuels over the last decade that have cost consumers and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars, and a reasonable assumption is that those trends will continue, as will the underlying trend of increasing fossil fuel costs.
A number of recent studies have confirmed that wind energy saves consumers money by reducing the use of expensive fossil fuels, reducing their electric and other energy bills. These savings occur because wind resources displace the highest cost power plants on the power system. Because wind power has no fuel costs and very low operating costs, it is able to produce electricity more cheaply than nearly all other sources of electricity. The supply curve for electricity is typically quite steep, so even modest additions of renewable generation to the power system can drastically reduce power prices by forcing expensive generators offline and lowering the market clearing price.
Department of Energy studies show that a Renewable Electricity Standard would reduce consumers’ energy bills by offsetting the use of more expensive fossil fuels. A December 2007 DOE study found that a 15% by 2020 Renewable Electricity Standard would reduce electricity prices by 0.3% and natural gas prices by 1%, saving consumers $400 million.
Recent state studies have verified that wind energy reduces consumers’ electricity prices. A 2006 analysis in Colorado found that the wind energy already acquired by the Public Service Company of Colorado at that point would save consumers on net more than $250 million over the lifetimes of the wind plants. A 2009 analysis for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) found that each MWh of renewable energy produced resulted in $100 worth of consumer savings on electric bills alone, far more than the $15/MWh average value of a renewable energy credit. The Joint Coordinated System Plan, a study conducted by many of the grid operators in the Eastern U.S., similarly found that obtaining 20% of the region’s electricity from wind and building the transmission infrastructure necessary to do so would save consumers over $40 billion per year, or $30 billion once the cost of the transmission was factored in. Another study found that the Southeast alone could save $23 billion by 2030 by investing today in renewable energy, with wind being the most competitive source.
Recent analyses from ERCOT and PJM, the grid operators in Texas and the MidAtlantic/Great Lakes regions respectively, have verified that, under a cap-and-trade bill, building additional wind would save each household $3 to $5 per month on their electric bill. Another study by Bernstein Research, a Wall Street analysis firm, has found that regions of the country that have experienced significant growth in wind energy over the last several years have also seen significant declines in wholesale power prices.
Other U.S. studies have found similar results. The consulting firm CRA, International, examined the costs and benefits for consumers of building major wind developments and associated transmission infrastructure in two analyses in 2009. In a study looking at 14 GW of wind development in the Lower Plains, CRA concluded the investment would provide economic benefits of around $2 billion per year. $900 million of these benefits would be in the form of direct consumer savings on electric bills.
Renewable requirements make consumers better off through less direct means as well. The Department of Energy’s 2008 report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030,” found that producing 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind energy by 2030 would reduce consumers’ natural gas costs by a cumulative $150 billion by reducing electric sector demand for natural gas and thus reducing the price for all natural gas consumers. By offsetting fossil fuel generation. renewable requirements also reduce the cost passed on to consumers for compliance with other environmental regulations, like SO2 and NOx emissions regulations. Many of the job creation, tax revenue growth, and other economic development benefits of wind deployment also accrue to consumers through direct and indirect ways.
Perhaps the only part of Mr. Byrce’s article that makes any sense is when he argues that “politicos should begin every discussion about energy with a pledge to make it as cheap, abundant, and reliable as possible.” We couldn’t agree more. With wind energy now available at stable, affordable costs, sufficient wind resources in the U.S. to meet our electricity needs a dozen times over, and wind energy demonstrating its reliability by keeping the lights on for millions of Texans when dozens of fossil-fired power plants broke down due to cold weather, wind energy is the clear answer for American consumers.
 For examples of some of Mr. Bryce’s other discredited attacks, see http://www.americanwindenergyassociation.net/newsroom/pdf/07-02-10_Bryce_Book_Response.pdf
 “Joint Coordinated System Plan,” 2009, summarized here: http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/upload/Transmission_and_Consumer_Savings.pdf
 Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, “Renewable Energy in the South,” by Georgia Tech and Duke University researchers, December 2010
 Bernstein Research, “Power Prices Below Zero,” webcast on May 21, 2009