Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Samuel R. Avro on Oct 24, 2013 with 41 responses

Wind Power Costs in U.S. Are Six Times Higher Than Claimed

The following article was written by S. Michael Holly, the Chairman of Sorgo Fuels & Chemicals, Inc. Sorgo has developed technology for the production of ethanol, electricity and protein from sweet sorghum. Mike was formerly an alternative energy engineer and business analyst with the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development. He holds masters degrees in chemical engineering and business administration from the University of Minnesota.


Many U.S. special interests are misrepresenting wind power costs, including the wind industry, environmental groups, utility monopolies, independent system operators, educational and research institutions, and even federal and state governments.  On September 24, Bill Ritter, the current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and former Governor of Colorado, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “Long-term contracts for wind energy are being signed by utilities in several states in the range of 3 cents per kWh over 20 years” (1).  Xcel Energy, the nation’s leading wind-generating electric utility, declares “wind power is simply the cheapest resource” (2).

Before the overproduction of turbines led to recent dumping, developers were offering utilities (in the lowest-cost wind areas of the U.S.) bid prices of about four cents (3).  But the price of electricity from windmills outside the U.S. has been about 10 cents (in the form of feed-in tariffs), with capital costs accounting for about 93 percent of total costs.  The six cent difference in the U.S. can be explained by tax write-offs targeted to big companies and the rich that cover half to two-thirds of the capital costs of windmills, according to the wind developer web site Windustry (4).  Michael Mendelsohn of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explains that the federal production tax credit (PTC) and federal accelerated depreciation (MACRS) are worth about 30 percent and 20 to 25 percent of the capital costs of windmills, respectively.

The PTC is worth 2.2 cents after taxes or 3.7 cents before taxes at a 40 percent marginal tax rate (5).  After compensating investors with a financing charge worth about 0.7 cents, the tax credit is worth about three cents to developers.  A few years ago, wind developers were allowed to replace the PTC with an equivalent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that directly reimbursed 30 percent of windmill costs over the first couple years.  Many states also offer accelerated depreciation that mirrors MACRS.  Since Bolinger found combined federal and state accelerated depreciation provided tax savings over six years comparable to the PTC for 10 years (6), accelerated depreciation can also be considered to be worth about three cents or 30 percent of windmill costs.

Even though wind power has been subsidized from 10 to three or four cents, electricity rates have been increasing significantly in regions with the highest wind penetration levels (five to 10 percent), due to extra transmission and integration costs (that have often not been accurately reported by utilities).

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found capital costs for transmission lines are triple those of other generation sources due to the lower capacity factors of wind at about 30 percent compared to about 90 percent for base-load plants (7).  Transmission costs are also driven higher by the need to locate windmills further from load centers.  Typically, ratepayers must pay extra transmission costs of about two cents more for wind power (e.g., three cents compared to one cent or even less for base-load generation).

Moreover, states have misrepresented the extra indirect costs of integrating the intermittent output from wind into the grid.  For example, the 2006 Minnesota Wind Integration Study, which has served as a basis for state policies mandating the addition of wind power to 25 percent of generation, claimed the costs of integration are only about 0.3 cents.  But they made the false assumption that they would be the only state adding wind power into the entire market of the MISO, which is over 10 times as large as the Minnesota market, and thus actually determining the costs of integrating only 2 percent wind power.

At low levels of wind penetration, the variability can be regulated by reserve capacity already used for load fluctuations and allowance for failure of other generation.  Wind can also be used to displace a few inefficient generators still on the system even if it is not an efficient long-term solution.  The state’s new transmission and integration study for 40 percent wind and solar appears to be playing the same game.

Utility monopolies have violated state laws and rules by misrepresenting integration costs while petitioning regulators for their purchase of wind power.  Their economic models can’t even calculate the costs of intermittent resources.  Utilities should be using programs (like Promod) that can account for hourly variations of wind and report on hourly generation for each generator.  Utilities are not reporting the mix of generation that is most economical for load following of wind (e.g. single cycle, combined cycle, etc.)

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated grid-level system costs are at least 1.6 and 1.9 cents for wind penetration levels of 10 and 30 percent respectively, compared to only 0.05 cents for natural gas generation (8).  Grid-level system costs include the costs of various grid infrastructures, short-term balancing, intermittent electricity access, network congestion and instability.  However, the study didn’t include plant-level costs imposed on base-load plants that are increasing with wind penetration levels, including idled capacity and even an inability to make debt payments.

A 2012 study by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (financed by the U.S. Department of Energy) reports utilities are also becoming aware that requiring base load power plants to ramp up and down and operate at sub-optimal levels (while following the load of the intermittent wind output) increases maintenance costs and reduces fuel efficiency (9).  Another problem related to fuel efficiency has been wasted duplication of generation when base-load plants are unable to respond rapidly or drop output enough.  An April 18 Reuters article reporting on the study claims that as wind is added “Relatively inefficient single cycle gas turbines are likely to be the only practical option for load-following on the grid” (10).

In the future, grid operators can be expected to reduce the excessive need for backup with single cycle gas turbines by curtailing the five to 10 percent of wind energy greater than 60 percent of peak output at a loss to ratepayers of about 0.5 cents to one cent (or 0.2 to 0.4 cents after tax write-offs).  After curtailment, wind power can be expected to supply about half of base load generation (which is 80 percent of total generation).  Since single cycle gas turbines also cost about 12 cents, wind backed by these peaking plants doubles total electricity costs compared to just using combined cycle turbines fueled by natural gas at about six cents for base load power (11).  The extra six cents must be assigned to wind power as backup costs.

Even wind backed by peaking plants will have additional grid-level system costs.  General Electric representatives explained the problem while trying to sell their single cycle system for balancing wind:  “The variability of power generation from wind farms presents an operational challenge for power systems with significant penetration of wind generation….integration of wind generation into a power system will require the ability to dispatch, or control, power output… for fast, flexible, economic, modular deployment has been lacking” (12).

Moreover, wind backed by peaking (that is at most 30 percent efficient when trying to back up wind) uses as much natural gas and emits as much carbon dioxide and other pollutants as just using combined cycle at 60 percent efficiency (without wind power).

The industry is grasping for alternatives like new combined cycle natural gas base-load plants designed for fast-ramping (13), but integration costs would be even higher, largely due to a tripling of capital costs compared to conventional combined cycle (14).  The country is also trying to develop storage and so-called smart grid technologies but costs are also high.  The response has been the building of expensive transmission lines for export from high- to low-wind areas, but the potential is limited.

The U.S. has hidden from the public the additional costs to taxpayers for tax write-offs on windmills of about six cents, and to ratepayers for extra transmission of about two cents and backup of at least six cents, which drive total costs for wind power from bid prices of 4 cents to total costs over 18 cents.  Despite the high costs and low environmental benefits, the U.S. has been mandating, subsidizing and misrepresenting an incredible $30 billion of windmills per year to meet 45 percent of U.S. capacity additions (with natural gas second at 40 percent).

Meanwhile, the U.S. is allowing utility monopolies to use misrepresentation (that they can get wind power at only three or four cents) to reject the purchase of other lower-cost renewable energies.  The International Energy Agency has noted the “well-established competitiveness of hydropower, geothermal and bioenergy” (15).  At the April 9, 2013 Biomass Conference in Minneapolis, the President of the U.S. Biomass Power Association Bob Cleaves mused that biomass couldn’t use the “wind” tax write-offs very well.  The US is blocking hydropower, geothermal and cogeneration fueled by captive biomass wastes that could actually solve economic and environmental problems by reducing greenhouse gases at a cost of only six to eight cents without mandates or much (if any) subsidies.









(11) -benefits.html





  1. By Russ Finley on October 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    There isn’t enough “captive biomass waste” to make a meaningful dent in energy consumption. Britain is importing logs for their co-fired biomass power plants. Burning trees is no way to save the planet …whatever that means exactly.

    • By MikeH123 on October 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      There is a huge potential from crops like sugar cane and sweet sorghum (which our company seeks to grow if not blocked by favoritism for wind energy). These cane crops yield captive biomass wastes left over after ethanol production from the sugar.

      • By Russ Finley on October 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm

        From an article on Hawaiian energy production:

        Maui has one of the last remaining sugar mills in Hawaii. Ironically, before the word biofuel was even coined, the burning of bagasse at sugar refineries once produced a significant amount of Hawaii’s electricity.

        The burning of waste in local refineries to make heat and electricity seems to the most efficient use of waste and that idea isn’t particularly new.

        How do wind subsidies block government funding of your preferred project? As Elias said:

        “…not sure attacking wind is the answer – there won’t be a dollar for dollar shift to other renewables, just less support for clean energy generally …”

        • By MikeH123 on October 29, 2013 at 9:04 am

          Sorry but several hours ago I posted that I have stopped responding to comments. I must devote my time toward leaving this country. Besides your questions have already been answered.

          • By John H. on August 31, 2014 at 7:15 pm

            ” I must devote my time toward leaving this country.”
            Spoken like a true patriot! ‘-)

      • By Willem Post on March 10, 2014 at 11:00 pm

        Remove biomass from the fields depletes the soil.

  2. By NortheasternEE on October 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Wind industry propaganda has convinced environmentalists, political leaders and the public that renewable energy is necessary to combat Global Warming. This is not true. –

    Wind and solar energy is not a replacement for fossil fuel. It’s an add-on. The addition of wind energy into our system of power generation only serves to decrease the efficiency of our fossil fuel power plants to the point where little or no fuel is saved. –

    The most we can expect to gain from wind is the replacement of coal for natural gas, because wind needs the firming support of natural gas on the grid. While that may result in a less polluting system, the cost will skyrocket and the coal will be shipped to China, India, and elsewhere, where it will be burned without scrubbers increasing pollution worldwide. We will become solely dependent on natural gas for heat and electricity (So much for diversifying the fuel supply). Currently there is no way to avoid natural gas. –

    The Chinese will use our cheap coal to make wind turbines and solar panels, using “slave” labor. These will be exported to us so we can satisfy the artificial market created by the many mandates like the Massachusetts Green Communities Act for renewable energy. –

    China wins. We lose!
    It’s time to tell our political leaders to STOP!

    • By MikeH123 on October 25, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Yes but I would add that a move from coal to gas will not save greenhouse gases if gas industry-wide methane leaks exceed 2 percent..

      • By josephtoomey on May 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm

        But they don’t. So you can bury that overused canard in one of those carbon sequestration pits.

  3. By Kevon Martis on October 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    How long till the fossil-fueled Michael Goggin from AWEA shows up to peddle his wares on this article?

    • By MikeH123 on October 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Yes Goggin’s comments are typically misleading. He likes to say wind power displaces the least efficient sources but what he doesnt say is those inefficient sources are backing up wind the other half of the time, so there is no benefit. He also likes to accuse people of not knowing what they are talking about without explaining why.

  4. By Elias Hinckley on October 26, 2013 at 8:34 am

    “The U.S. has hidden from the public the additional costs to taxpayers…” You could have finished this sentence with pretty much any form of energy.

    • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

      The subsidization of wind and solar are unprecedented. They receive far more taxpayer subsidy on a per kWh basis than any other energy source. Like I said in the article, biomass power receives little if any usable subsidies. Wind receives even greater subsidies hidden in ratepayer bills, which you so conveniently chopped from the sentence. The complexity of using the tax code in this way and the secrecy of the regulatory process also makes this subsidization more difficult to quantify than any other energy source. And the fact that this conspiracy to commit fraud has been carried out on such a large scale shows a lack of respect for the American people.

      • By Elias Hinckley on October 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

        Not remotely unprecedented –

        I do completely understand the frustration regarding the lack of support/differentiation for base-load renewables (geothermal and hydro supporters can make the same complaints – I told the geothermal industry that not carving out value for base-load/dispatchability in RPS programs was going to be a very big problem several years ago). With that said, not sure attacking wind is the answer – there won’t be a dollar for dollar shift to other renewables, just less support for clean energy generally (which you can see from Eric’s piece isn’t all that much to begin with).

        I think a PTC extension and some backstop (or even scoring/verification) for feedstock supply in the back years would give biomass plenty of support to thrive, irrespective of what happens with wind.

        • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

          Of course, fossil and nuclear have received more total subsidies because they are larger industries operating over a much longer period of time. But like I said, wind and solar subsidies are unprecedented on a per kWh basis today. It is these per kWh subsidies that are blocking other energy sources today (i.e., 3 to 4 cent wind). Our company believes we (and the lowest-cost hydro and geothermal applications) will be competitive once all subsidies are removed (even if natural gas continues to receive its unwarranted exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act).

          • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 11:17 am

            @ Elias Your comments bring up another point that I wanted to discuss in the article, but found it too off-point. I believe the need for excessive transmission and backup has motivated the wind industry to support a political deal with utilities that allows continued monopolization. This has allowed the utility industry to rig wind bids to themselves, affiliates and cronies. The US electricity industry is very corrupt compared to much of the world that offers the same fair price to all generators as feed-in tariffs.

          • By Elias Hinckley on October 26, 2013 at 11:39 am

            Seems like cheap natural gas prices and flat demand (which keep wholesale electric prices very low) are a bigger problem than wind subsidies, which I don’t see having more than a nominal impact on power prices.

            • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm

              Getting rid of wind subsidies, that do have an effect on prices for satisfying renewable mandates, is an important first step. The dysfunctional wholesale energy “markets” (which have been 2 to 5 cents) are a separate problem that is not solely determined by low gas prices (6 cents). Regulated states allow utility monopolies to build their own generation (largely gas and wind) and then dump their excess generation into the wholesale markets (depressing prices). Deregulated states have created spinoff monopolies by allowing utilities to sell their old plants for pennies on the dollar and maintain control of T&D. There are so many problems with US energy markets that our company is leaving the country. For example, the US also subsidizes corn over new crops and favors cellulosic ethanol with mandates, subsidies, grants and loans.

            • By Elias Hinckley on October 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

              Again, this seems like more about the structural hurdles in the the utility construct here in the U.S. Your issue with wind seems to be it got a greater set of subsidies while there was a renewable mandate in place that was for all renewables.

              While I can see your point (as noted in my comment above), I think more than a little of this was poor vision and ineffective or nonexistent industry execution in the policy making that set those incentives. Trying to address it now by calling for an unwinding of wind incentives doesn’t solve your more fundamental problem that biomass struggles to be competitive in wholesale power market.

              I still think a better use of energy would be to figure out a way to get investor confidence up on feedstock availability and price – do that and we can meaningfully decrease the cost of capital and improve the economics dramatically (have never modeled, but willing to bet it’s the difference for many projects). Alternatively, leverage the wind industry to argue for the need for a renewed round of mandates (RPS or otherwise) and then work to get a multiplier for non-intermitence.

            • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm

              Your understanding of my problem with wind subsidies appears correct. But I don’t think you understand my problem with wholesale markets. Every energy source, including natural gas, struggles to be competitive in wholesale power markets. These pseudo-markets (based on energy prices without capacity costs) have run as low as 2 cents while regulated utilities were receiving a far higher guaranteed price. You don’t seem to understand that regulated states can build surplus capacity and dump it into the wholesale market at the energy cost, thus depressing prices. Any IPP that thinks it can rely on wholesale prices is crazy. Back around 2000, many IPPs went out of business at 2 cent prices. Cogeneration fueled by biomass wastes can compete with gas at its levelized cost of 6 cents. We would accept straight forward feed-in tariffs (like found in the rest of the world) for as low as 6 to 8 cents. We will not play politics with the subsidy crap in this country, especially since, if the markets were constructed fairly, we would be competitive without subsidy.

            • By MikeH123 on October 26, 2013 at 7:21 pm

              Wind power is bad for taxpayers (6 cents), the national debt, ratepayers (at least 8 cents), jobs, the environment and the future of renewable energy. Plus they and the utility industry has a serious problem with the truth. I want nothing to do with either industry. I will go to a country that at least seeks the truth.

        • By Thomas Stacy on October 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

          Elias, I wonder what is wrong with just letting the economic winners thrive and the rest languish or incubate in the lab until they can compete? Either your answer is that we face imminent shortage of the lowest cost inventoriable/dispatchable fuels, which is not true since coal, gas and nuclear feed stocks are plentiful, or you want the air cleaner at the lowest cost, which is clearly accomplished by replacing coal with CCGT until we burn no more coal, and then replacing gas with nuclear until we only have enough gas gen left to support demand fluctuation. Only after that does wind become the low-cost option to clean the air through power plant choices. Given that we want to use all generation assets until their useful life has been reached (or face massive energy and economic inefficiency), the above transitions are likely to take at least 60 years to complete. So my “phase out” plan for the wind PTC would be to end the it immediately and revisit it in 2070…

          • By Elias Hinckley on October 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm

            Global warming.

  5. By MikeH123 on October 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    The article has now been published for 4 days. I will no longer be responding to further comments. Thanks to the readers.

    • By Daniel LaLiberte on September 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      This says a lot, Mike. It says you don’t really care whether your arguments are full of holes. Or you ate firmly convinced you are right and no counter argument could possibly be persuasive so it is not worth your time to bother with.

      • By MikeH123 on September 5, 2014 at 9:45 am

        Please comment on my new article

  6. By Mike Barnard on October 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    There are a few major problems with this analysis.

    1. Grid interconnection is understood to be a positive force regardless of mix of energy on the connected grids. Being able to balance generation and demand across larger geographical areas has tremendous fiscal benefits. This analysis tries to make the claim that the only value is for wind energy growth and all costs should be applied. Inaccurate and misleading.

    2. Electricity prices have actually been increasing more slowly in regions with high wind penetration than in areas with low wind generation. The merit order effect drives lower wholesale prices as the form of generation with the lowest operating costs on the grid gets to set the price. Even if the PTC were eliminated, wind energy would still be setting the wholesale price because it has operating costs that are virtually zero. This is being played out all over the USA and in Australia. Other factors, usually completely unrelated to wind energy are causing world wide increases in electricity retail prices. Yet again, inaccurate and misleading.

    3. Wind energy reduces 99.8% of CO2 from fossil fuels when burned and has virtually no impact on efficiency of fossil fuel generators according to major grid studies in the UK, USA and Spain. Yet this article claims the opposite. Once again, inaccurate and misleading.

    4. The article picks a fight with wind over situations where wind energy might have massive penetration, supply 60% of demand. Oddly, this isn’t a problem and won’t be for a long time. And in regions such as Denmark and Spain where this does occur, they haven’t been having any particular problems. Inaccurate, and misleading.

    Basically, it’s a whine by a biomass guy who isn’t feeling the love that the best form of utility scale generation is feeling. Only an anti-wind campaigner of some sort wouldn’t see the massive flaws, which is why a couple of the usual suspects are here and are undoubtedly spreading it around among their anti-wind fiends.

  7. By michaelgoggin on October 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    For a thorough debunking of the false and misleading claims in this piece, please see:

    Michael Goggin,
    American Wind Energy Association

    • By MikeH123 on October 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      AWEA is using their same old tired arguments:

      1) refusing to even acknowledge that tax write-offs reduce wind power costs
      by about 6 cents per kWh in the US, and that wind receives five year
      acceleration that our biomass technology doesn’t receive.
      2) refusing to even acknowledge the huge transmission costs for wind power found by LBNL
      3) claiming the data from the 2012 OECD study was out of date and ignoring
      the NREL report (claiming wind will need to be backed up with inefficient single cycle in the future) while promoting integration costs in Texas (that have often been calculated by GE, a wind turbine manufacturer), utilities that have been misrepresenting wind power, and grids with low wind penetrations.

      Notice, AWEA attacks me on a web page where people can’t comment like here. They are a joke and a complete waste of my time.

      • By Cliff_Goudey on October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am

        Mike, why are you immune to new information? And why is it biofuels advocates feel compelled to attack other renewable energy technologies?

    • By Russ Finley on November 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Ironically, Michael Goggin’s article “debunking” this one is chock full of “false and misleading claims” and also does not have a comment field that would allow readers to critique what he says. It’s essentially a propaganda piece.

      I typically boycott authors that do not allow readers to point out errors and misinformation. Authors who don’t want others to see critiques of what they write can’t be trusted.

      • By Robert Rapier on November 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        Various lobbies aren’t interested in a fair and balanced discussion. They are like defense attorneys who don’t care if their client is guilty. All they care about is whether they can get them off.

  8. By Shawn Grannell on December 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

    The installation at Laker Schools in Michigan had a cost of $375,000, a rated total capacity of 195 kilowatts, and produced an average power of 16 kilowatts before it broke in less than 5 years. The levelized cost of electricity was $375,000/(16kw*8766hr/yr*5yrs) = $0.53 = 53 cents per kilowatt hour. I’m neglecting interest and being very generous by estimating that the project had a useful life of 5 years. The capacity factor was 16/195 = 8.2%. If the installation had put out 100% of rated power 100% of the time and lasted 20 years, then it would have paid for itself 10 times over, but it didn’t. That’s the difference between projection and reality.

    There is a lot of cheating going on with capacity factor. We’re told here that wind operates at a capacity factor of 30%, but in some cases the capacity factor is as low as 8%, which means that the actual cost of wind is about 4 times higher than indicated here. So wherever a cost figure is given for wind, multiply it by 4 and that will be the actual cost. When we’re told that a country, say Germany, has 25% renewable power, that’s nameplate capacity and the actual share of renewable power might be something like 2%. So Germans are paying 60% more for electricity than they did 10 years ago in order to finance energy sources that produce about 2% of their electricity.

    Fossil fuels could become more expensive someday. However, it doesn’t make sense to address that by replacing them with sources of energy that are much more expensive right now.

    • By A Real Libertarian on July 23, 2014 at 12:05 am

      There is a lot of cheating going on with capacity factor. We’re told here that wind operates at a capacity factor of 30%, but in some cases the capacity factor is as low as 8%, which means that the actual cost of wind is about 4 times higher than indicated here. So wherever a cost figure is given for wind, multiply it by 4 and that will be the actual cost.


      Your mistakes here are:

      1. Not understanding what “capacity factor” means.
      The net capacity factor of a power plant is the ratio of its actual output over a period of time, to its potential output if it were possible for it to operate at full nameplate capacity indefinitely.”

      2. Assuming an outlier is the same as an average (one shitty wind farm
      does not change the average capacity factor of a wind farm).

      3. Not understanding capcity factor is already applied to the cost of electricity (if a utility assumes wind power is quadruple its actual price, they’re going to make some bad business decisions).

      When we’re told that a country, say Germany, has 25% renewable power, that’s nameplate capacity and the actual share of renewable power might be something like 2%. So Germans are paying 60% more for electricity than they did 10 years ago in order to finance energy sources that produce about 2% of their electricity.

      Wrong again:

      Your mistakes here are:

      1. Assuming the numbers are capacity, not production.

      2. Assuming you can just guess the “correct” numbers.

      3. Assuming every price increase is caused by renewables

  9. By John H. on August 31, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    “Many U.S. special interests are misrepresenting wind power costs,
    including the wind industry, environmental groups, utility monopolies,
    independent system operators, educational and research institutions, and
    even federal and state governments.”

    That’s quite a vast conspiracy you’ve got going there!

    And your Great Source of Ultimate Truth to counter nearly the whole rest of the world’s view of reality comes from the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal!


    You should consider a career writing for The Onion.

Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!