A loaded gun for the enemy

Responding to a March 1997 Windpower Monthly article on the cost of wind energy in Germany, the author suggests that the German way of sticking to high premium prices is tantamount to handing a loaded gun to your worst enemy--it means the wind industry itself admits that all those who claim wind power is far from economic will always be right.

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Two very different stories were told in the March issue of Windpower Monthly; one from the UK and another from Germany. The UK news were very encouraging indeed -- the production costs of wind power are converging with those of conventional power, with a rate that could best be described as furious.

Meanwhile, the Germans are telling a completely different story (Experts warn against cut in rates, pages 30-31): wind power is definitely not becoming more competitive, on the contrary -- the production costs seem to get higher year by year! Therefore, says the German wind lobby, the extremely high EFL prices should not be cut -- and even a slight decrease in prices paid would lead to a complete collapse of the whole wind industry.

It is easy to tell which one of the stories is good publicity for wind power and which is not. The "German" way of desperately sticking to high premium prices is tantamount to handing a loaded gun to your worst enemy -- it means the wind industry itself admits that all those who claim wind power is far from economic will always be right.

Why should wind power be "forced" to become commercially attractive even in the low wind resource areas? If the ultimate political goal is to cut down CO2 emissions (and not to maximise the turnover of the wind turbine manufacturers), there must be more cost effective ways to achieve this than to subsidise wind turbines with a capacity factor of lower than 0.1!

Secondly, why should the wind turbine owner get his money back in ten years, if the economic lifetime of the turbine is, as it is claimed to be, 20, 25, or even 30 years? This again means the wind industry agrees with all the opponents who claim that wind turbines don't survive more than ten years. (Now you've got the gun let me show you where the trigger is.)

I believe the policy of "we need more subsidies and higher prices to survive" is extremely shortsighted. It makes it difficult for us to convince the decision makers that wind power is indeed getting close to economic competitiveness. "C'mon guys, haven't you read the news from Germany?" , they say with a wicked grin on their face, "Wind power is at least twice as expensive as conventional power and it's definitely not getting any cheaper." What can we say? After all, it was the wind industry itself who said so.

Thirdly, why are all the efforts to move the financial burden of supporting wind power production away from the utilities consistently met with reluctance and disgust from the wind industry? As long as it is the utilities who have to pay the bill (against their own will), the wind industry will have a committed and powerful enemy that will do its best to convince everybody (not just at home but abroad as well) that wind power is of no use. If, instead, the bill was paid by electricity consumers or tax payers, the utilities might change their minds -- they might even start developing wind power themselves. This would not just mean the guy with the gun would stop pulling the trigger -- it would do away with the grounds to fight. But, regrettably, I sometimes get the feeling that for some of the wind lobbyists it is more important to keep on fighting (against utilities) than to find and eliminate the cause of the fight.

The German wind power market has given the wind industry a good boost during the past years. But, unfortunately, it has also given the industry lots of negative publicity as "extremely expensive" technology. The ultimate goal of the wind industry should not be "as much wind power and as soon as possible." What should be sought for is a stable growth backed with strong political support (also from the utilities!) and a steady and predictable decline of financial support with a goal of reaching economic competitiveness within a time frame of five to ten years. Otherwise it will be very difficult to convince the politicians that wind power is still worth supporting. Especially when those who (unfairly and unwillingly) are on the one hand having to support wind, but on the other are doing their best to convince the politicians of the opposite.

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