I am receiving numerous emails and letters both for and against the development of wind energy. This is electrical energy generated by very large windmills—some as high as 400 feet—that are anchored to the ground on a large concrete base. For a commercial enterprise to be economically feasible, a significant number (into the hundreds) of windmills are usually grouped together and electrically interconnected. This grouping of windmills is then called a “wind farm.”
As an Engineer with both theoretical and practical experience in the area of power generation, I must confess to being skeptical about the practicality of wind energy as a long-term economical and dependable source of electricity. I have done some research into this form of power generation and believe any community considering a large expansion of wind generation needs to go SLOW and make sure a majority of the residents in the area or county are in agreement.
In most cases, the prime motivation for building “wind farms” is not environmental or energy benefits; rather it is tax breaks and incentives. This is a positive for owners of wind farms, but a negative for taxpayers that must cover the difference. I found that generally tax incentives now available to wind farm promoters and Kansas land owners is significant.
Owners of Kansas wind farms receive four tax breaks:
- On the Federal level, a five-year double declining balance accelerated depreciation tax deduction.
- Also on the Federal level, a Production Tax Credit of $0.018 for each kWh of electricity produced during the first 10 years of operation. Note: A 100 tower farm with a rated capacity of 100 megawatts running at 30 percent capacity would generate an income in 10 years of approximately $47 million.
- The depreciation is applied at the State level in addition to the Federal level.
- The windmill equipment is exempted from property tax at both the State and Local level.
Double declining balance simply means that the wind farm equipment loses value at a much faster rate than normal, and owners would be able to deduct from their taxable income a total of 20% in the first year, 32% in the second, 19.2% in the third, 11.2% in the ensuing two tax years, and 6.4% in the sixth year.
Windmills are extremely large, yet produce very little electricity. If the fully operable windmills in California, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Washington and Oregon were to run and produce electricity, the amount produced would be equal to 1/3rd of 1% of the electricity produced in the United States in one year. This is costing a lot of money with very little return.
Windmills are very unreliable in that they depend on wind in the right speed range. They can produce a low amount of electricity if the wind speed is 8 mph, but they reach optimum capacity at 33 mph, which is a pretty strong wind. However, the windmill will cut out around 56 mph. Because they are so unpredictable, the electricity produced from windmills is of very little value.
The electricity produced actually costs taxpayers more than wind advocates admit. They do not factor in the cost of tax breaks that ordinary taxpayers must make up, nor do they consider the cost of providing conventional back-up power plants to balance out the power produced by windmills. Finally, they do not consider the cost of transmitting this electricity from the windmills to existing major high voltage transmission lines. Since the windmills are unpredictable, the transmission capacity is only used part of the time, resulting in a higher than normal cost for transmission.
In addition, these wind farms impair environmental, ecological, scenic and property values, for obvious reasons. The bulk of the windmills become an eyesore in many scenic areas, may affect bird migration, and potentially would adversely impact ecological rarities such as the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Many European countries have introduced wind energy as a source of electrical power, but Germany and Holland are both beginning to back down from it. Just last year, Holland decommissioned 90 turbines, which decreased their energy capacity for that year. Germany had to raise taxes on their wind farms, causing the smaller farms to shut down because they couldn’t afford the tariffs.
Finally, the amount of energy produced by the windmills is not worth the tax break owners are receiving. The windmills are only expected to supply less than 1% of the energy used in Kansas. This is not cost effective.
I would suggest that any community considering wind energy should contact and make a visit to West Texas and see the enormous impact these mills have on the topography, and talk to wind farm owners, land owners who do not have wind mills, and local and State governmental officials. I would consider arranging this kind of trip.