MINOT, N.D. — Public policymakers, from regulators to elected leaders, have begun the process of responding to the Great Power Outage of 2021 (my term for the widespread, and often deadly, blackouts that impacted millions of American households) and the utility bill spikes many of us are about to suffer.
For years the proponents of wind and other forms of "renewable energy" scoffed at the idea that intermittent power would impact grid reliability or power prices.
Yet here we are.
What do we do about it?
We should start pricing wind power appropriately.
Right now we tend to treat all electrons on the power grid as if they were equivalent. The variances in price tend to reflect the cost of producing those electrons through various means — burning coal, spinning a wind turbine, nuclear fission, etc. — but not the nature of those means.
An electron produced by wind is not the same thing as an electron produced by a coal plant. Or a nuclear plant.
Baseload power sources, like coal and nuclear, can produce energy all the time. Wind only produces energy when weather conditions are right.
That's not taken into account in the power marketplace.
It should be.
How do we do it?
We could end the production tax credit for the wind industry. It's hugely distortive, having incented a shift on our power grids toward higher prices and less reliability, and the wind power lobbyists claim the industry doesn't need it anymore. It keeps getting renewed every year anyway.
How about we knock it off?
We could also put a premium on the price of wind electrons.
One way would be to require that wind projects (and similarly intermittent sources of electrons) come with an investment in baseload power as well. A sort of insurance policy. Wind farms are often pitched to policymakers and the public using figures about power production which represent their theoretical maximum output.
The truth is, wind farms rarely hit those maximums. Depending on which region you're talking about, they often don't even hit the halfway point, on average. When a wind farm is built, we can only guess at how much power will be produced on any given day.
Informed guesses, sure, but it's still a guess.
Instead of building one wind farm after another, hoping they'll produce enough energy when we need it, how about we require wind energy developers to live up to their power production promises?
Every new wind farm should come with a production goal it has to meet, whether it's through spinning turbines, or power produced from another source its developers partner with.
Will that drive up the cost of developing wind energy? Almost certainly, and it's about time.
The fairy tale in which wind energy is an equivalent form of power to baseload sources needs to end.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.