Biden’s hard sell of wind energy hits ‘economic wall’

President Biden will visit a Pueblo, Colorado, wind turbine tower manufacturing plant on Wednesday to promote generous federal subsidies that have enabled the facility to expand and double production.

He wants to aggressively accelerate the nation’s wind energy despite increasing public opposition to onshore and offshore wind farms. Critics say rising costs to build and maintain the wind farms will ultimately be passed along to taxpayers and ratepayers.

“Wind power is running into an economic wall, and the public doesn’t want it,”  said Jonathan Lesser, an energy industry expert at the Manhattan Institute.

Wind power made up 10.3% of the U.S. energy mix in 2022. Some industry experts say it can play a more significant role in powering the grid as the nation moves away from fossil fuels.

Jay Apt, an energy expert at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said wind and solar have been smoothly integrated into the U.S. power grid and more renewables could easily be added to the mix.

About 3% of U.S. energy came from solar in 2022.

“There’s certainly a lot of headroom on wind and solar in this country,” Mr. Apt said. “I could certainly see it get to 60 or 65%.”

Still, wind farms face significant obstacles.

Supply chain problems, skyrocketing costs and public opposition have thwarted Mr. Biden’s goal of producing 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind along the East Coast by 2030. Onshore wind farms also face increasing public opposition.

In late October, Danish renewable energy company Orsted backed out of two major offshore wind projects along the New Jersey coast, citing rising costs and the failure to obtain sufficient tax credits. It dismissed $1 billion in subsidies from New Jersey and federal tax incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. The company was also facing lawsuits from local governments, residents and the fishing industry over potential damage to tourism and the environment.

Cape May County, New Jersey, joined fishing and tourism businesses in a lawsuit filed last month against the Department of the Interior to stop Orsted’s offshore wind project. The groups argued that the federal government violated endangered species protection laws when it approved the wind farms.

Construction and operation of the turbines, they said, would kill birds, hurt sea turtles and increase the number of beached endangered whales, which have been washing ashore along the Jersey coast during the initial phases of construction.

Before Orsted’s cancellation, two New England developers backed out of wind projects along the coasts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. They cited rising costs and supply chain problems. Several offshore wind projects in New York state are in jeopardy after developers were denied higher ratepayer subsidies to fund rising construction costs.

States can rebid abandoned wind farm projects, but at costs that will likely be much higher than the canceled contracts.

Onshore wind farm projects face obstacles in the U.S. as developers run out of places to construct the giant turbines without community opposition or significant environmental impacts.

More than 70,000 wind turbines have been constructed across millions of acres in the U.S. The combined power of the turbines can produce up to 146 gigawatts of energy, enough to power 45 million homes, according to the renewable energy lobbyist group American Clean Power Association.

Wind power companies scouting places to build turbines on private land offer farmers and other landowners lease agreements and royalties based on wind turbine energy production.

Communities are divided over the appearance, impact and noise of wind farms.

Last year, voters in rural Michigan blocked a 375-megawatt wind farm. Renewable energy ordinances would have permitted Apex Clean Energy to build 75 wind turbines on private farmland northeast of Grand Rapids. Voters also rejected the construction of a solar energy project.

Citizens of Montcalm County, where the turbines were planned, organized community opposition to the project. They warned that the 591-foot industrial wind turbines would harm the economy and the environment and destroy property values. They cited reports of health concerns, including headaches, dizziness, concentration problems and vertigo, though no causal link to turbines has been proved.

The transmission lines that must be built to distribute wind power and other renewable energy have been slowed by environmental groups and residents who have sued to block the projects.

Mr. Biden, who has set a goal of 100% “clean” electricity by 2035, has determined that the grid capacity must be more than doubled to deliver renewable energy throughout the U.S. to meet his goal.

He dedicated $1.3 billion to help states build large-scale transmission lines and upgrade existing transmission lines in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Vermont.

About one-third of the project would cross state-owned or private land, which could complicate completion.

Legal challenges caused a six-year delay in a 145-mile transmission line project to deliver hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts. The project was halted amid opposition from the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other groups that said the transmission towers and lines crossing through the western part of the state would damage Maine’s pristine forests, which must be clear-cut to make a path for the electricity corridor.

The project moved forward this year after a Maine jury voted unanimously that a state referendum blocking it was unconstitutional.

Critics say wind farm projects are expensive, damage the environment and make the electrical grid less stable and more prone to brownout and blackouts.

Wind turbines often generate energy far below their capacity and can become useless when the wind is not blowing.

They require a constant backup energy source from nuclear, coal or natural gas, making electricity far more expensive.

In Germany, electricity rates have climbed as the country invests billions of dollars in wind power, which is now 17% of its energy mix.

“It has been a failure and has done nothing but drive up the cost for the individual consumer and make the electric grid weaker,” said Daniel Turner, founder and executive director of Power the Future, an energy advocacy organization.

In Texas, which produces the most wind power in the nation, residents are asked to curb energy use during summer heatwaves, when air conditioning and other demands strain the system while wind turbines are not turning.

On Tuesday, wind turbines in Texas were generating an hourly average of about 3,000 megawatts of energy, far short of the state’s 12,686-megawatt capacity for wind production.

This year, the Department of Energy determined that wind power is one of the fastest-growing and lowest-cost sources of U.S. electricity and is poised for “rapid growth.”

The Pueblo facility Mr. Biden plans to visit is expanding operations and adding 850 jobs by 2026, the company announced in April.

CS Wind is based in South Korea. It plans to operate the Pueblo plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s the world’s largest wind turbine tower manufacturer and is expanding the Colorado plant using green energy tax incentives provided in the Inflation Reduction Act.

“This expansion investment will have a transformative impact on our environment, economy and local Colorado society,” said Seong-gon Gim, chairman of CS Wind.

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