Tyler Hamilton has a pair of stories in the Toronto Star addressing concerns about wind power developments in Ontario. The first article examines health-related claims and indicates that no scientific evidence yet finds evidence of adverse health affects, but research in the area in increasing. The second article considers a number of other arguments against wind – the actual effect on emissions, the need for additional dispatchable generation to backstop wind’s variability, the high cost of wind power – and mostly find that many anti-wind power arguments are off the mark. (Critics of wind power clearly think Hamilton is off the mark. See the extensive back and forth in the comments following the piece.)
Mentioned in the second article is a short commentary on wind power by Michael Trebilcock, professor of law and economics at the University of Toronto, which asserts, “There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions.”
Hamilton’s article offers comments in opposition to Trebilcock’s examples, but I think the best answer is “It depends.” That is to say, the effect of increased wind power capacity on emissions depends on several things (actual wind power output, the variability of wind power output, and perhaps most importantly which other generation units reduce output – and, which increase output – as wind power production increases).
Trebilcock cites a working paper by MIT economist Arthur Campbell, which presents a theoretical case in support of “It depends,” and illustrates conditions under which increased wind power increases or decreases overall power system emissions. Previously at Knowledge Problem we’ve mentioned the research of Joseph Cullen in which he attempts to measure the substitution effect between wind power and non-wind power in ERCOT and estimate the net emissions effect. My sense of these and other reports is that while wind power does reduce emissions from electric power generation, the amount of the reduction is less than a simple 1-to-1 ratio.
So, how much does increased wind power capacity reduce emission? The best answer is, “It depends.”