Environmental Defense Fund Gets Schooled on Wind Power Costs

Published October 22, 2014

Hell hath no fury like crony capitalists having their subsidies challenged. Case in point – the subsidy-dependent wind power industry is in emergency panic and attack mode on the heels of a paper documenting soaring electricity prices in the states most dependent on wind power.

Wind power lobbyists frequently claim expensive wind power somehow brings down electricity prices. In February of this year, for example, an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) press release claimed “consumers in the states that use the most wind energy have fared much better than consumers in states that use less wind energy.” I decided to fact-check AWEA’s self-serving claim, and I published the results last week in an article for Forbes.com. For my fact check, I compiled electricity price data for the 10 states most dependent on wind power and compared those prices to national electricity prices. The data, provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, showed electricity prices are rising at least five faster than the national average in nine of the 10 states deriving the highest percentage of electricity from wind power.

AWEA Wants ‘Top 11’ List
Lobbyists at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) frantically went into damage control mode, publishing a blog post on the AWEA website claiming my article was misleading because it did not include Texas. For my analysis, I examined the top 10 wind power states, which represent the top 20 percent of wind-power states in the nation. Both are nice, round numbers and logically define the top wind power states. AWEA, however, claimed my list was misleading because it “left out” the 11th highest wind power state – Texas. Texas electricity prices have declined in recent years and AWEA claimed wind power is the cause.

Texas Officials Document High Wind Costs
Top 10 lists are quite common; top 11 lists are not. Even so, I indulged AWEA in a follow-up article I published yesterday. Yes, Texas electricity prices are declining, but the price decline is due to deregulation and falling costs for non-wind energy sources, such as natural gas. As I documented in my follow-up article, Texas state officials in charge of overseeing the Lone Star State’s electricity market published a report last month thoroughly documenting how wind power in Texas is costlier, less reliable, and far more difficult to integrate into the electricity grid than conventional power. The official Texas report also documented how taxpayer subsidies skew the market in favor of wind power despite wind power’s many disadvantages. According to the official report, it is time to “end the tax credits and property tax limitations on new generation that helped grow the industry, but today give an unfair market advantage over more reliable power sources.”

So, yes, if you dig all the way down to the state with the 11th highest percentage of wind power, you finally find a state with falling electricity prices. However, government officials overseeing that state’s electricity market explicitly refute AWEA’s assertion that wind power caused or contributed to the state’s falling electricity prices. Instead, an official Texas government report documents how wind power is stunting further electricity price declines that would otherwise be taking place in the state.

EDF Sock Puppets Jump In
With AWEA’s claims being thoroughly discredited in my two articles, AWEA’s sock puppets at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) decided to press a new attack. In a blog post yesterday on the EDF website, EDF attacked the messenger and curiously criticized the very logic employed by EDF’s AWEA taskmasters.

First, EDF claimed correlation does not equal causation. According to EDF, the fact that electricity prices are skyrocketing in nine of the top 10 wind power states is a huge coincidence and irrelevant. In EDF’s words, “[A]n increase in electricity prices cannot automatically be accounted for by pointing the finger at wind energy. That’s simply playing fast and loose with the facts. This is the same tired slant we have heard from Heartland Institute time and time again. Not surprising – when pundits want to cherry pick data to make their argument strong, it doesn’t always work.” Well, that is all well and good except my initial article merely fact-checked AWEA’s own claims, which were made under the guise that correlation equals causation. If AWEA publishes press releases claiming correlation equals causation, AWEA’s EDF lap dogs cannot thereafter claim correlation does not equal causation when U.S. Energy Information Administration data blow AWEA’s initial claims out of the water.

Second, in a curious case of shooting-oneself-in-the-foot disease, EDF followed AWEA’s lead and brought up Texas again. EDF misleadingly claimed Texas is the “number one wind producer in the nation.” Yes, and Texas is also the number one oil producer and number one natural gas producer in the nation. What matters is the percentage of electricity derived from wind power. Texas ranks 11th. And even so, just last month Texas state officials published a comprehensive report explicitly documenting how wind power is costlier and less reliable than Texas’s non-wind power sources. EDF (not surprisingly) completely ignored this comprehensive recent study, and instead quoted – out of context – a five-year old paper claiming “during some periods” wind power had moderated electricity prices. AWEA conveniently neglected to mention the “some periods” noted in the old paper were the rare exception rather than the rule and came before the fracking revolution spurred dramatic declines in natural gas prices.

In a final desperate attempt to muddy the waters and take attention away from the objective data, EDF decided to “look at what it costs for Heartland to do your bidding.” EDF then claimed sponsors for the Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change series “amounted to $47 million from fossil fuel energy companies and right wind foundations,” which is quite amusing considering few of our co-sponsors donate any money to our global warming conferences, our global warming conferences have raised and spent less than a quarter of EDF’s claimed $47 million, and nearly all money raised for the conferences have come from individual donors with no connection to the energy industry. EDF also falsely asserted Koch Industries donated $225,000 to the Heartland Institute, which is only about $200,000 too high. Not only are EDF’s numbers laughably false, but even if they were true they would pale in comparison to what EDF rakes in from the likes of AWEA. EDF takes in $70 million per year, while the Heartland Institute takes in less than $7 million per year. How amusing that EDF wants to claim money buys influence when, according to EDF’s own logic, EDF is the Daddy Warbucks of influence peddling!

We’ll keep an eye open for which AWEA sock puppet is next to jump into the fray. Regardless, all the crony-capitalist lobbying money in the world can’t change objective facts.