While President Barack Obama is pushing to expand the nation's capacity of wind power, his efforts have been beset by questionable economics and environmental issues and are a long way off from making a dent in U.S. energy needs.
Obama, during a speech in June at Georgetown University, cited the success in the development of alternative energy in the U.S., saying "over the past four years, we've doubled the electricity that we generate from zero-carbon wind and solar power," while promising another doubling by 2020.
Even with the rapid growth of alternative fuels, renewable energy only accounts for 9 percent of the nation's energy use, behind petroleum (36 percent), natural gas (26 percent) and coal (20 percent) and slightly ahead of nuclear power (8 percent), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
But wind only represents 13 percent of the total renewable energy used, behind hydroelectric, wood and biofuels. Even further down is solar energy at 2 percent. While wind may represent the fastest-growing energy sector, it still only accounts for about 1 percent of the nation's total energy needs.
Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research, told Newsmax the White House is so focused on the politics of renewable energy that it "intentionally minimized the downsides of wind."
Simmons said the White House energy policy is more focused satisfying his political supporters on environmental issues like global warming than it is on developing the nation's rich energy resources. Politics "plays a huge role in the formulation of administration energy policy," he said.
While supporting wind and other renewables, the administration has pursued an energy policy "that is very anti-coal, anti-natural gas, and anti-oil," Simmons said.
"They also say they are concerned about global warming, so they need to promote other sources [of energy], and that has led them to intentionally minimize the downsides of wind," Simmons said. "People like wind and renewables because the downsides to these technologies are seldom discussed. Unfortunately, those downsides are real."
One of the down-sides of wind power is the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds caught in the wind turbines, which has spawned a unique battle between conservationists and environmentalists.
Usually birds of a feather, environmental and conservation special-interest groups are not flocking together to support wind power. Several wildlife groups are outspoken opponents of moves to extend existing wind farm permits from five to 30 years unless "advanced conservation practices" are used to protect birds.
In April 2012, the Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit in federal court to block one such wind farm project in California.
Critics also complain that the administration is not enforcing regulations on the books against wind-power producers for some bird deaths.
A story earlier this year by the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has failed to prosecute or fine a single wind-energy company for the deaths of eagles and other protected birds. Under the Endangered Species Act, each death would be considered a criminal violation. http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/20100141-418/story.html
The April story noted that the administration "has charged oil companies for drowning birds in their waste pits, and power companies for electrocuting birds on power lines."
"What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK," Tim Eicher, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent, told AP.
A newly published peer-reviewed study from Wildlife Society Bulletin reports U.S. wind turbines kill 1.4 million birds and bats every year.
There is a stark contrast between the administration's outrage at the wildlife deaths related to the BP Gulf oil spill, which resulted in the deaths of less than 10,000 bird and sea mammals, and the deaths associated with wind farms, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute tells Newsmax.
"I think the administration is foolishly acquiescing to the environmental lobby, and their pursuit of wind power has much less to do with promoting wind and more to do with an anti-energy agenda that seeks to shut down other sources of energy," Taylor said.
Taylor notes that the impact extends beyond just bird and bat deaths. "Birds and bats play an important role in terms of keeping insects in check and they also are critical to keeping the rat population in check," he said.
"Certainly there is a zeal to advance their cause and that results in a tendency to forget that trade-offs exist," Jonathan Adler, a professor of law at Case Western University's Center for Business Law and Regulation, tells Newsmax.
The trade-offs are not limited to environmental harm. A December 2012 report by the American Tradition Institute
, found that the failure to take "unusual indirect and infrastructure costs into account," the EIA has grossly understated the cost of using wind power.
The authors report that ratepayers are paying an extra $8.5 billion to $10 billion per year for using wind energy.
Wind also requires more land usage than other sources, such as solar power. According to Entergy
, an integrated energy firm, in order to produce an equivalent amount of energy, solar power requires using 13,320 acres (21 square miles), in contrast to the 108,000 acres (169 square miles) needed for wind.
And a Harvard University study
published in February further cast doubt on the efficacy of wind power, concluding that any "wind resource estimates that ignore the effect of wind turbines in slowing large-scale winds may therefore substantially overestimate the wind power resource."
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz recently said on the White House website that it is critical to further subsidize the industry by extending "the production tax credit which has played a vital role in the development of this clean, renewable energy source."
The tax credit for wind energy was extended for one year during January's fiscal cliff deal, and then the president's 2014 budget increased funding for renewable energy and electric cars, while slashing $4 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel.
Patrick Jenevein, CEO of the Tang Energy Group, a Dallas-based company that invests in wind power, says those subsidies have made the industry "less focused on reducing costs."
That lack of focus has resulted in the production of "a product that isn't as efficient or cheap as it might be if we focused less on working the political system and more on research and development," Jenevein wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
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