Congress will make a big mistake if it provides money for accelerated wind power development as part of the Obama administration’s new economic stimulus program, according to veteran energy analyst Glenn Schleede. Instead, he says in a recent privately-published paper, “Investment in energy efficient light bulbs would save more than five times as much electricity in five years as an equal dollar investment in wind turbine would produce in 20 years.”

Here’s how Schleed makes his computation:

  1. Calculate the potential output from a wind turbine. Schleede notes that wind machine with a capacity of a megawatt would cost about $2 million, based on a statement by former Clinton administration renewable energy guru Joe Romm in a Bloomberg News reprot on January 15. “If that turbine achieved a capacity factor of 35%,” writes Schleede, “it would produce 3,066,000 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of electricity in one year or 61,320,000 KWh over 20 years. (1,000 KW x 8760 hours per year x 35% capacity factor = 3,066,000 KWh and 20 x that = 61,320,000 KWh.)
  2. Calculate the energy savings from energy-efficient light bulbs. “With energy-efficient light bulbs now selling for about $2 each, $2 million would buy one million light bulbs,” says Schleede. “Replacing a 50-Watt incandescent bulb with a 15-Watt energy efficient build providing similar light would save 45 Watt-hours in 1 hour. If used 4 hours per day year for around 5 years, saving from the one bulb would be 328.5 KWh. One million bulbs would save 328,500,000 KWh over 5 years.

On top of that, says Schleede, who has served over the years in the Atomic Energy Commission, the Ford White House, the National Coal Association, the Reagan White House (the third ranking official in the Office of Management and Budget), and as a key executive for the New England Electric System, electricity saved has advantages over electricity made. These are:

  • Saved electricity doesn’t require new transmission lines.
  • Transmission line losses mean that not all the electricity from a wind turbine reaches a customer’s electric meter.
  • The $2 million price tag for a wind turbine “doesn’t include costs for 20 years of operations, maintenance, repair and replacement.”

Among other problems for wind, says Schleede, who has been campaigning against wind power for several years, is that the wind projects don’t create a lot of local jobs. Most of the gear is produced elsewhere and shipped to the site. Construction last only a few months, usually by workers from outside where the wind farm is located.

Also, says Schleede, “Electricity produced is high in cost and low in value because it is intermittent, volatile, unreliable, and unlikely to be available when electricity demand is highest. Wind turbines do not replace the need for reliable generating capacity.”

A recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute, reported in Energy Daily, found that improvements in commercial lighting have the greatest realistic potential for efficiency gains in the future. The industry research arm estimated that commercial lighting upgrades could trim annual U.S. electricity consumption by roughly 90 terawatt-hours by 2030.