Renewable energy fans have been waiting for this day for a long time, and while it will still take a lot of research to verify the numbers, it may be getting close. Some solar and wind turbine installations may now be producing energy at affordable costs… at least part of the time.
For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.
That day appears to be dawning.
The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.
Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.
Both natural gas and coal cost, on average, between 6 and 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, allowing for geographic variations. Traditionally, wind and solar had to be heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars, and/or mandated for use by the federal government to get them close to being competitive. If this study proves true, even without subsidies, some sources have gotten solar down to 7.2 cents “at the low end” and wind down to 3.7 cents. The at the low end caveat is important to note because these sources are notoriously variable in terms of reliability and production volume depending literally upon the weather. But at least in some areas in the Great Plains and the southwest they seem to have made progress in terms of viability.
Contrary to popular belief among some on the Left, I really have nothing against wind and solar. Unlike some folks currently in charge of government policy, I truly do believe in an all of the above energy strategy. If you can safely and economically produce energy from wind, solar, or harnessing hamsters in huge Pet Track wheels, I say go for it. The more reliable, affordable energy you can put on the grid, the better as far as I’m concerned. And while the supply of coal, oil and natural gas is far more vast than some would have us believe, the supplies are finite in theory so we need to be working on other technologies.
But if these methods are now becoming practical in terms of cost, then we should have finally put the last nail in the coffin of the endless subsidies we keep flushing into wind and solar. The American Energy Alliance is on the same page as me.
The American Energy Alliance has joined today with 65 other organizations from across the nation in opposition to the wind production tax credit (PTC). The coalition released a letter today ahead of the upcoming lame duck session, urging Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell to reject any attempt to revive the wind PTC, specifically in any tax extenders package.
This may be yet another thing that the new Congress can finally get together on and pass. This money will be well spent elsewhere, and if solar and wind are now not only reliable, but economical as supporters claim, it’s high time to end this practice. If you want to invest in emerging energy technologies, put some more money into converting spent fuel rods into new fuel for nuclear reactors. They work anywhere, whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. And the technology is available to handle the expired fuel rods far better than we used to.