Stop the Subsidies, and the Windweasels will Scurry Away!

Texans Move to Slam Wind Power Subsidies

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The great wind power fraud is in meltdown around the globe.

In the US, ‘wind power’ states have cut their state based subsidies to wind power outfits (or are well on the path of doing so); and Republicans are out to prevent the extension of the Federal government’s PTC wind power subsidy:

2015: the Wind Industry’s ‘Annus Horribilis’; or Time to Sink the Boots In

US Republicans Line Up to Can Subsidies for Wind Power

In Texas, the great wind power fraud launched off with a frenzy of construction, a decade ago. Thousands of giant fans were speared all over West Texas (mostly in the North).  However, with the demand for power centred to the South-East in Dallas and Houston, they spent nearly $7 billion on wind driven grid capacity expansion (see our post here).

But, as everywhere, the wind industry is long on its insatiable demand for an endless stream of massive subsidies, but short on delivery of anything more than empty promises. In Texas, that familiar tale brought the retort from its Comptroller, Susan Combs that it was time for wind power outfits to put up or shut up:

Texas Blames Wind Power Slump on (you guessed it) … the Wind

Now, the Lone Star State’s Legislators have cried “enough is enough”, with its Senate voting to scrap its State-based wind power subsidy, in a move that spells the beginning of the end for BIG WIND in Texas.

Texas Moves to Abolish Renewable Energy Mandates (but much damage has been done)
Master Resource
Josiah Neeley
29 April 2015

“With Texas wind power capacity at more than double the state’s RPS minimum, repeal is unlikely to do much to change the profile of renewable energy in Texas. But repeal is still important, because it sends a clear signal that markets, not politics, should decide what kinds of energy Texans use.”

Texas has always been big on energy. The state’s long history of oil and gas production is well known. And on the electric generation side, Texas ranks first in the nation for nuclear power and has the most installed wind capacity of any state.

While the willingness to develop our energy potential is unrivaled, the means has not always been the best. Like in other states, and the U.S. as a whole, Texas has periodically tried to prop up or hold back different forms of energy via special protections, subsidies, or mandates, rather than letting markets and the price system decide the best energy mix.

That’s why recent events at the state capitol are so interesting. Earlier this month, the Texas Senate voted to repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, as well as some related subsidies to the wind industry. If passed by the House and signed into law, the move could signal a broader change in how lawmakers treat energy in the U.S.

How We Got Here

Texas first created its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) as a sweetener to the 1999 legislation introduction of electrical competition. The initial mandate required the state’s competitive electric providers to cumulatively install 2,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity by 2009. Individual companies were responsible for a portion of the total proportionate to their overall share of the competitive electrical market, and could meet their requirement either directly (by building the capacity themselves) or indirectly (by purchasing credits from other producers).

Once in place, the RPS mandate inevitably grew (what Milton Friedman calls the tyranny of the status quo). In 2005, the Texas legislature expanded the RPS to require 10,000 MW of installed capacity from renewables by 2025.

The legislature also acted to deal with a geographical inconvenience: Most of Texas’ wind capacity was in the sparsely populated west, while our electrical demand is centered in urban areas hundreds of miles to the east. In response, the legislature created the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), to build a thousand miles of transmission line to link wind farms with urban demand (to solve the nowhere-to-somewhere problem).

These programs have been costly for Texas. Transmission lines under the CREZ program have cost nearly $7 billion, or $270 per Texan. The cost of transmission lines is socialized across all electrical consumers, and will start appearing on Texans’ utility bills in the near future. Costs of meeting the RPS have been lower, but still have been estimated at approximately$543 million since 2005. 

Blown Away

Yet upon close analysis, these programs appear to have achieved very little. Texas met the 10,000 MW target for installed renewable capacity in 2010, a full 15 years ahead of the deadline, suggesting that the RPS itself was not the major factor. And the CREZ lines are only now being completed.

If Texas’ RPS wasn’t responsible for the big increase in wind capacity, what was? Answer: federal subsidies.

The federal Production Tax Credit, which provided up to $22 per MWh for renewable energy generation, dwarfed any effect of Texas’ RPS. The PTC was so generous that wind generators would often bid electricity onto the grid at a negative price (i.e. they pay you to take it) just to be eligible for the subsidy.

Needless to say, this posed some serious challenges to the long-term reliability of the Texas electrical grid. It has also compromised the economics of conventional sources of power such as gas-fired power plants and even nuclear plants.

Texas’ RPS, more than realized, was an exercise in political symbolism. The costs were real, but the main benefit was that it allowed the state to take a share of credit for the expanding use of wind energy, as explained by Kenneth Anderson Jr. of the Texas Public Utility Commission in the appendix below.

A New Direction

The value of that symbolism appears to be changing. The federal government began phasing out the PTC at the end of 2013 and is currently looking at ways to reform the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.

And here in Texas, there is a growing sense that programs like the RPS and CREZ outlived their usefulness (if they were ever useful to begin with). Wind, in particular, has been the recipient of billions in subsidies over the course of several decades. If the technology can’t survive on its own by now, there’s no reason to think that a few more years of subsidies would change that.

Even if the CREZ program is repealed, Texans will still be paying the cost of these projects for years to come. With Texas wind at more than double the state’s RPS minimum, repeal is unlikely to do much to change the profile of renewable energy in Texas wither. But repeal is still important, because it sends a clear signal that markets, not politics, should decide what kinds of energy Texans use.

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Appendix: Texas Public Utility Commissioner Kenneth Anderson [1]

EnergyWire: After a [Texas] PUC report to lawmakers, bills have been moving forward on possibly scrapping a renewable energy standard and specifying commission oversight of certain direct-current (DC) ties to ERCOT. Some people are pretty upset, particularly on the renewable one (EnergyWire, April 14).

Anderson: I think their concerns are way overstated. … To be clear, we’re still counting renewable energy credits. We wanted to make sure that that continues to happen because it is the way that load-serving entities distinguish products. …

We just felt that there was no real reason to continue to have a mandatory purchase program because … we blew past our target years ago.

EnergyWire: A wind coalition has said the value of some credits could be affected.

Anderson: Will the price be affected slightly? It is possible, but I’m not sure why we should be continuing to have a mandatory program.

EnergyWire: Some environmental groups say Texas would be sending a bad message.

Anderson: How long do you have to subsidize something before it’s finally grown up? … We spent $7 billion to build out a transmission system that doesn’t cost them anything so that it would facilitate their interconnection to the grid. That is an ongoing and continuing, basically, social subsidy. …

Wind does not have to meet a schedule. They’re just a price-taker. ERCOT schedules the wind effectively first, you know, absent constraints on the system. … But, all things being equal, wind gets a free pass from the obligation to meet a schedule. So that in itself is a huge incentive.

[1] Source: Edward Klump, “From renewables to the grid, regulator seeks to keep Texas on its own path,” EnergyWire (E&E News), April 28, 2015 (subscription required).
Master Resource

The Texan’s retreat contrasts with the ridiculous push by Tony Abbott’s (conservative?) Coalition to carpet Australia’s countryside with 2,500 more giant fans. A “plan” which is backed by his $46 billion electricity tax on all Australian power consumers – a punitive and regressive tax, the entire proceeds of which is designed to be funneled off to outfits likenear-bankrupt Infigen as a whopping $3 billion a year subsidy that runs over the horizon, until 2031 (see our post here).

Note though, that Australia is in about the same position as Texas was in 2005, when it had no grid capacity to take power from its planned fan-expansion program. The missing grid had to built for no other purpose than taking wind power from North to South, as noted above. In:

2005 the Texas Legislature approved a major transmission project, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), to carry mostly wind energy generated in West Texas and the Panhandle to high-demand cities. The project was forecast to cost less than $5 billion but ballooned to more than $6.9 billion to build nearly 3,600 miles of transmission lines and dozens of substations.

As pointed out in the piece above, in part, it’s that whopping cost that has legislators in Texas pulling the plug on subsidies for wind power, in an effort to protect power consumers from ballooning power bills.

In Australia, as we’ve pointed out a few times (see our posts here andhere), there simply is no (or insufficient) capacity to absorb the 17,000 GWh of intermittent wind power (needed each year to satisfy the latest 33,000 GWh LRET annual target) that can – like Texas – only be built in areas altogether remote from major population centres and markets.

Here, however, grid operators have absolutely no incentive to throw $billions at building transmission lines, substations etc running to the back-of-beyond, to take power delivered at crazy, random intervals which – apart from the REC Subsidy that comes with it – has no commercial value at all. The REC Subsidy goes to wind power outfits, not grid operators – and wind power outfits pay nothing to use the grid – that’s a cost that’s extracted by retailers from their dwindling pool of retail customers (see our posts here and here).

And, grid operators in Australia have just been prevented by the Australian Energy Regulator from recovering hundreds of $millions in network infrastructure costs – making the chances of them throwing any more at transmission lines slimmer than a German Supermodel. Why invest a penny, when a regulator is going to prevent you from getting anything like the whole return on that investment back?

Australia’s ‘lack’ of grid infrastructure is just another insurmountable obstacle for an industry in its death throes; and a guarantee that the LRET will go to penalty – with the inevitable imposition of the $65 per MWh shortfall charge.

That charge – which (carpeting the) Environment (in giant fans) Minister Greg Hunt refers to as his “massive $93 per tonne carbon tax” – will see all Australian power consumers end up paying more than $20 billion in fines; on top of the $25 billion that will go as subsidies (in the form of RECs) to wind power outfits.

In their constant need for massive subsidies – that’ll have to outlast religion in order for them to survive – the behaviour of wind power outfits the world over is just like Disney’s doyen of eternal youth – Peter Pan: the boy who could never grow up.

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