Wind Farms

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 2, 2010    •    695 Views

What if peak wind for your wind farm equals peak demand? Good? Not necessarily. The key is timing.

According to a NY Times article, certain wind installations have to “dump energy late at night…” because there is no demand for power at that hour. How to avoid wasting energy? Batteries are one solution. 

Hearing about batteries for wind installations reminded me of ethanol and locovores.  Ethanol fuel can sound ideal. However a closer look at the entire ethanol production process in an MIT study reveals a close call for diminishing GHG (greenhouse gases). Similarly, buying local produce will lower transport emissions. However, what if the type of food we eat has a significantly greater impact on GHG?

You see where this is going. It takes us to cost and benefit. Are wind farm batteries a cost or a benefit? 

The Economic Lesson

As economists, we can assess the success of wind farms (or ethanol or buying local produce) by thinking at the margin. For each extra kilowatt hour of electricity generated by wind turbines, we should look at cost and benefit. Then, when cost equals and moves onward to exceed benefit, we should stop production.

The problem, though, is how to define cost and benefit. In Eastern Oregon, residents are complaining about wind farm noise. Does cost include that noise? Turbine transport? Battery production? Are new jobs a benefit? Do we want to learn more about wind energy by using it? A cost/benefit list could be endless. The bottom line, though, remains cost/benefit analysis. Let’s evaluate green projects at the margin so that we know they are truly effective. 

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