British Studies Show Prohibitive Cost of 'Renewable' Energy

British Studies Show Prohibitive Cost of 'Renewable' Energy
June 1, 2004

James M. Taylor, J.D.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly... (read full bio)

A pair of British studies released in March and April 2004 show relying on wind power or other non-nuclear "renewables" to reduce air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions forces consumers to pay at least twice as much as they currently pay for electricity generated from fossil fuels or emissions-free nuclear power.

Royal Academy

On March 10, the Royal Academy of Engineering released a study, "The Cost of Generating Electricity," comparing the costs of generating electricity from a number of energy sources. "The objective of this study," stated the Academy, "is to provide decision makers with simple, soundly based indicators of the cost performance for alternative electricity generation techniques. In order to make sensible decisions about energy policy, policy makers need to be able to compare the costs and benefits of different types of electricity generating technologies on a like for like basis."

According to the study, "The relationship between the cost of generating electrical power from various sources and the price that consumers pay is blurred by direct and indirect subsidies, market mechanisms, transmission, and distribution costs. The true costs of generating electrical power are often obscured by commercial sensitivities and competing claims that make the determination of sensible energy policy difficult and often imprecise."

After cutting through the hidden taxpayer subsidies and market constraints that frequently mask the true costs of electrical power generation, the Academy concluded, "Our cheapest electricity will come from gas turbines and nuclear stations, costing just 2.3 p/kWh (British pence per kilowatt hour), compared with 3.7 p/kWh for onshore wind and 5.5 p/kWh for offshore wind farms."

"This may sound surprising, especially as we have included the cost of decommissioning in our assessment of the nuclear generation costs," said Academy Vice President Philip Ruffles, who served as chairperson for the study. "But modern nuclear stations are far simpler and more streamlined than the old generation and far cheaper to build and run."

Even fossil fuels were found by the Academy to be half as expensive as renewable energy sources--even after the Academy assigned a penalty to fossil fuel sources to take into account the costs of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions to a level required by the Kyoto Protocol, which Britain has pledged to support.

Hume Institute Touts Nuclear Power

A study titled "Tilting at Windmills," released April 18 by Scottish economist David Simpson of the David Hume Institute, bolstered the Royal Academy's findings. According to Simpson, generating electricity through wind power and other non-nuclear renewables costs twice as much as generating power from conventional sources.

Achieving the British government's goal of 20 percent of generation of energy through non-nuclear renewable sources, concluded Simpson, will cost British citizens well more than a billion dollars per year. Additionally, according to the study, "A serious attempt to address the issue of a reduction in CO2 emissions may raise wholesale electricity prices by up to 60 percent in five years."

The study noted, "No matter how large the wind power capacity, the variable nature of its output means it can make no significant contribution to security of energy supply."

Renewables Lobby Concedes Study's Accuracy

An association of renewable energy companies, Scottish Renewables, conceded in a written response published in The Scotsman that the Hume Institute study accurately reflected the annual costs of supplying power through renewable sources. The renewable energy association also conceded, "Because of the cost of providing additional stand-by generating capacity, it is unlikely wind power will ever account for more than 20 percent of electricity generation through the National Grid, and will make no substantial contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions."

"The government should take advantage of the renewables review coming up in 2005-6 to reconsider the nuclear option," wrote Simpson. "Nuclear power avoids extra costs, emits no greenhouse gases, and contributes to security of supply."

Analysts Note Environmental Consequences

Analysts noted economic costs are not the only costs associated with wind power. Many environmentalists oppose wind power because of the substantial number of birds slaughtered by turbine blades every year. In Northern California's Altamont Pass wind fields alone, thousands of birds are killed by wind turbines each year, including roughly 1,000 annual kills of such valued birds of prey as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and burrowing owls.

Property owners near turbine locations also oppose wind power because of sight and sound pollution. The size of a single turbine tower and the large number of such turbines necessary to generate any measurable amount of electricity destroy any esthetic beauty of the turbine location, and the cumulative noise of the turbines is, report nearby residents, often unbearable.

"Wind power may well be the least environmentally friendly idea ever proposed by environmentalists," noted Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "Conservationists as committed as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and British television personality Dr. David Bellamy have come out against proposed uses of the technology."

In addition to environmental concerns, new evidence suggests wind turbines may be contributing to human disease such as malaria and West Nile Virus spread by mosquitoes.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conceded in a recent press release that wind turbines are frequently killing bats that cannot detect or avoid the turbines. Acknowledged the AWEA, "Wind power providers found bats fatally collided with turbines in West Virginia, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Wyoming last year. Bats play an important role as primary predators of night flying insects, including many major agricultural pests, and they pollinate plants and disperse seeds."


James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is taylor@heartland.org.


For more information ...

The Royal Academy of Engineering's March 10 study, "The Cost of Generating Electricity," is available online at http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/temp/cost_generation_report.pdf.

"Tilting at Windmills," the April 18 study issued by the David Hume Institute, is available online at http://www.davidhumeinstitute.com/DHI%20Website/publications/hop/Wind%20Power%20paper.pdf.

James M. Taylor, J.D.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly... (read full bio)