Will Wind Energy Follow Ethanol’s Path?

Michael Giberson

The ethanol industry is suffering and The Wichita Eagle asks, “Will wind energy follow ethanol’s path?

The answer is: Possibly. It depends on politics, the health of the credit markets and the price of coal, oil and natural gas.

Oil prices are moving up, recently exceeding $70 bbl in NYMEX trading, but gas and coal prices haven’t followed. For ethanol, oil prices are more important; for wind, gas and coal.  Credit markets seem to be opening up a bit, but slowly.  What about politics?

“[Wind power] polls extremely well,” [AWEA policy director Rob Gramlich] said. “Both Republicans and Democrats support it.”

I guess if you can’t be good, it is good to be popular.

HT to the Caprock Plains Wind Energy Association.

4 thoughts on “Will Wind Energy Follow Ethanol’s Path?

  1. Interesting query, but not totally fair. Americans have already supported explicitly or implicitly all kinds of coal and gas plants and technologies. Their once-popularity is built in, the technologies matured, and now all that is invisible. It’s tough to compare a completely mature industry with what, 130 years of operating experience, to one that’s at best a couple decades old. Plus, there is the long-term variability in the price of coal and gas to price in. (Not to mention climate change.)

    The question becomes: who can tell the most plausible story about the total costs to society in the future?

    In any case, love the blog. Appreciate the issues you bring to the fore.

  2. “It’s tough to compare a completely mature industry with what, 130 years of operating experience, to one that’s at best a couple decades old.”

    Wind? Goes back to the Dark Ages. It has been successfully used in Northern Europe for hundreds of years. There is nothing new about it.

    Ethanol is a little more recent. Distillation is from the Middle Ages.

    There are no real technology issues in energy policy. There are economic issues, and for “environmentalists” there are religious issues.

  3. @Fat Man: Again, not totally fair.

    Electricity derived from wind is a very recent innovation with a very particular set of technological problems. The first small generators came about in the 1920s. They were sort of a pain in the ass and they were also actively driven out by the REA’s efforts. The very first megawatt wind turbine was constructed in the 40s but after its failure, there were few major efforts until the 70s. The 80s saw a boom but it was geographically limited and bloated from governmental efforts. The low cost of natural gas in the 90s made it tough for wind in the US. It’s really just in the last 15-20 years that you’ve seen the industry get some scale and operating experience in a variety of conditions. You could probably compare it to the first decade of the 20th century for thermal plants. Maybe even earlier.

    At least to these guys, the experience curve cost decreases look pretty good: http://martin.welcomes-you.com/work/M.Junginger%20et%20al.%20-%20Global%20experience%20curves%20for%20wind%20farms.pdf

    As if people who are not environmentalists don’t believe religiously in a variety of beliefs. I mean, that’s a worldview and I guarantee you have one.

  4. All of this leaves out the most pressing economic issue. If the federal government begins carbon taxes, of whatever form, how long will it be before they become addicted to those taxes, and the regulatory delays and environmental reviews on wind begin to stretch out…

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