Wisconsin loves wind power, but for the right reasons?

Aerial photo of a wind farm in the Badger State.

A survey released today by Wisconsin Public Radio shows an overwhelming majority in the state supports wind power, but they may be confused about what it actually accomplishes.

The survey covers a wide range of hot-button state issues, but several questions specifically addressed wind power.

The headline statistic is that 77 percent of those polled said they want more wind power in the state, followed by hydroelectric, biomass, natural gas, and nuclear. Only 19 percent said they wanted more coal power.

However, of those who said they wanted more wind power, 83 percent said it will decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Yes, one can argue, as T. Boone Pickens does, that wind power frees up natural gas for transportation use, but that’s quite a stretch.

To be fair, similar percentages also agreed with statements that wind power would reduce coal use or help the environment. But when asked for the strongest reason to support wind energy, the largest percentage — 38 percent — again said it would reduce consumption of foreign oil.

And just more than half (51 percent) said they’d be willing to pay as much as $5 a month more on their electric bills to “significantly increase” the state’s use of wind energy.

But it’s the siting and land use questions that yield the most interesting results.

When asked, open-ended, to name harmful effects of wind power, 36 percent couldn’t name any. Twenty percent mentioned bird/wildlife issues, and only 12 percent cited noise. Cost, land use, aesthetics, and health hazards only mustered single digits.

The survey ventures into the state’s wind-siting debate, but misframes the question by asking whether people favor state or local control (61 percent said local).

Problem is, the policy issue in Wisconsin is not a question of state versus local control, but one set of state standards versus another, far more restrictive set of state standards.

To that end, the survey seems to indicate support for the less restrictive standard — 69 percent said they would favor having 8-10 wind turbines “located close” to their homes. Although, without a sense of what “close” means (100 feet? 2 miles?) it’s hard to gauge what that actually means.

A follow-up question illustrates this. Respondents were asked if they lived close to a wind turbine. Those that said “yes” were asked how far, and the answers varied widely. Only 11 percent said a mile or less (Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed siting standards would essentially require a setback of 1,800 feet) while 64 percent said “close” was a distance of 2 to 10 miles.

So it seems the takeaway is that Wisconsinites favor wind power, but not necessarily in their back yards. Not altogether surprising, really.

While we’re on the subject, another poll in Nebraska conducted by the Center for Rural Affairs also found strong support for wind power as well as a renewable energy standard. But once again, reducing foreign oil imports was cited as a major reason.

Photo by David Warlick via Creative Commons

16 thoughts on “Wisconsin loves wind power, but for the right reasons?

  1. What this article says to me is that the polls
    were taken in cities where the residents will not have live with the futile excuses for electrical generation and that they don’t give a
    damn about their rural cousins. This must be the reason as I cannot imagine that rural folk in Wisconsin are as naive and gullible as this article makes them look.
    As for the $5.00 a month more on their electric bills – who’s kidding who here -maybe $5.00 a week if they are lucky. Education as to the realities of wind power is the key -try
    http://www.windwatch.org or http://www.windaction.org or see overseas http://www.epaw.org.

  2. Keep feeding the propaganda, and eventually the non-critical thinkers (which form the vast majority of our population) will be ingrained with and believe the wind spin. Why support wind, it’s inefficient, unrealiable, non-dispatchable, and will not replace the need for fossil fuel generation. Why not simply support all sources of power that are scientifically sound — that means those that make technical, economic and environmental sense. What’s the matter with that?
    There is no study which shows that wind energy can be an alternative to fossil fuel generation, in fact it cannot exist without these because of it’s intermittent, unreliable nature.

  3. Let’s see here:

    1 – This whole energy business is very technical stuff, so exactly how many citizens have an adequate understanding of it? 1%±

    2 – These same citizens have been incessantly bombarded by wind energy propaganda. How often do they hear an accurate representation about the realities of wind energy? 1%±

    With just those two facts alone, one would expect about 99% support. The fact that it was only 77% is a resounding rejection of wind energy.

    3 – The extra costs for wind energy come from their utility bills AND taxes. Were they told that? No.

    4 – Much of the wind necessitated cost is carefully hidden in other areas (transmission, smart grid, etc). Were they told that? No.

    5 – A more realistic cost for consequential wind implementation would be $1000/yr (taxes) and $500/yr (utility).

    6 – If they say that is OK, then would they agree to sign a 20 year contract legally requiring them to pay this $1500 per year?

    7 – Several of the questions were clearly stacked to take advantage of people’s ignorance. For instance what would they say to: “Do you favor wind energy if you must pay $1500/yr for it and it will not consequentially reduce any of our fossil fuel use?” What would be wind support under that condition? 5%±

    8 – For a scientific perspective in wind energy see EnergyPresentation.Info.

  4. Couple of thoughts:

    One, I’m not aware of anyone (at least, anyone credible) who’s ever argued that wind power alone can meet all of our electricity needs.

    Two, it seems inconsistent to suggest that ratepayers bear 100% of the cost of wind power when virtually all types of generation enjoy public subsidies, both direct ones and those hidden in external costs that are passed on to the public (health effects from coal pollution, for instance).

    The commenters above make valid points, but focusing on the negative aspects of one energy source while disregarding problems created by others doesn’t add much value to the conversation.

  5. Ken:

    Indeed all sources of electrical power have liabilities.

    However, as much as the lobbyists would like you to believe, there is no amount of wind energy that can replace a single coal facility. Not 1000 turbines, not 10,000, not 100,000.

    So let’s be clear that we are talking apples an oranges.

    So whether wind makes up 5% or 10% or 20% or our electrical power, the facts are the same: it iis a VERY high cost, LOW benefit alternative that has a miniscule effect on reducing fossil fuels.

    So what’s the point?

  6. Again, that’s just not a useful way to frame it. No one is saying take down a coal plant, and put up a wind farm to replace it.

    Utilities buy electricity from multiple sources on a spot market, and prices vary widely depending on demand.

    Thousands of megawatts of wind energy have been successfully integrated into the grid, and big utilities like Xcel and Duke Energy actively support renewable portfolio standards that require them to buy that power.

    In some cases, that results in higher rates, but not always. Utility customers see rate increases for all sorts of reasons, include costs associated with coal generation.

    I fully understand your point, and appreciate you taking the time to weigh in.

  7. Ken:

    The key word you used was “successfully”. Exactly what does that mean? Yes, what engineers do is to implement things.

    So yes, wind energy has been forced into the system. The question is: does this make TECHNICAL, ECONOMIC, or ENVIRONMENTAL sense?

    Firstly, wind proponents are not required to answer these questions before OR after. What sense does that make?

    Secondly, evidence provided by independent third parties who have looked into this have concluded that wind does NOT make technical or economic or environmental sense. That’s a BIG red flag.

    Thirdly, let me give you an analogy. Let’s say that because of lobbyists pressure the government passes a law mandating that at least 20% of all vehicles must be horse-drawn by 2020.

    Their “justification” is that fossil fuels will be reduced, jobs will be created, economic opportunities will abound, etc.

    Clearly we WOULD be able to integrate horse-drawn vehicles into our grid (road) system.


    The exact same situation applies to wind energy.

    See EnergyPresentation.Info.

  8. Please name an energy source that someone, somewhere hasn’t dismissed as not making “TECHNICAL, ECONOMIC or ENVIRONMENTAL sense.”

  9. We used to use coal to directly heat our homes, schools and factories. Then we found something better.

    We used to use coal to fuel our ships and trains. Then we found something better.

    We are still using coal to generate about 60% of our electricity in Minnesota. That doesn’t mean we can’t find something better….

  10. Ken & Bob:

    Not sure what your argument boils down to: two wrongs make a right?

    No one is against “something better”. We’d welcome that!

    My position is that any new alternative needs to be subject to proper scientific scrutiny — BEFORE it gets mandated on the public.

    Do you really have a problem with that?

  11. No one is saying that. The straw-man arguments are becoming tiresome.

    The problem is you’re asking people to start with your conclusion – that wind is a boondoggle – and work backwards, building a case based on evidence that supports the conclusion. That’s not scientific, in fact, it’s the exact opposite.

    In some cases, wind doesn’t make economic sense. In other cases, it does. That’s true of any technology, and it depends on the variables you choose to look at and the parameters you choose to set.

    Drawing broad conclusions based on a specific set of disadvantages of a specific type of generation under specific circumstances oversimplifies the energy discussion to the point of distorting it. Energy is a complex subject that requires taking a holistic view.

  12. Ken:

    Sorry that I am not a good communicator, as I started with no such presupposition or position about wind energy. As far as I know wind could well be worthwhile.

    My position is:
    1 – we have serious energy & environmental issues.
    2 – these issues should be solved in a scientific manner.

    Is this something you agree with or not?

  13. Of course it should. But it’s also a matter of economics, and the economics of energy change – literally – by the hour.
    Ten years ago, a purely rational, analytical approach might have concluded a natural gas power plant was a foolish investment. Yet look at where we are now.
    Now imagine if we find that fracking actually gives gas a higher carbon footprint than coal. The calculus changes again.
    Renewable power sources, for all their shortcomings, have a very predictable fuel cost: Zero dollars, forever. That makes them an attractive hedge for utilities who don’t know where the price of coal or gas will go, or whether they’ll have to pay a price for carbon emissions.
    The energy mix can’t turn on a dime – these are investments that need to make economic sense in 20-40 years as much as today. It’s as much a matter of prognostication as science – the economics will never be a settled question.

  14. Ken:

    I’m glad that we agree that our technical problem ust be solved using real science.

    As I wrote earlier, a proper scientific assessment evaluates the technical, economic, AND environmental aspects of a proposed source. So what you havelabeled as a “purely rational, analytical approach” does include considering ALL of the economics you mention.

    My main point is that a proper (e.g. independent, transparent, empirical) technical, economic and environmental assessment must be done PRIOR to any source being forced on taxpayers and ratepayers.

    So please explain, what part of that do you have a problem with, and why?

  15. The issue, again, is framing. What’s a “proper” assessment? Who decides that?
    An energy source isn’t something you can isolate in a lab and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to.
    Energy decisions should be based on a clear set of priorities and the best available research. Obviously, that’s not always the case, but ultimately, it comes down to a subjective judgment that attempts to balance what people need and what they want.

  16. Ken:

    Our electrical grid has served us well for over a hundred years. It has been the basis for our economic and industrial success. We would not be the leading world power without our prior electrical grid.

    Changing this 100+ year old system should be done with proper care, which involves a two part process:
    1 – a scientific evaluation of the net merits of our options, and then
    2 – a political decision as to which (if any) should be added or subtracted (based on economics, priorities, etc).

    My simple point is that we have entirely skipped over the first step and simply proceeded to the second.

    That is a recipe for disaster, as we do not have a scientific foundation to make our political decisions on — we are simply making unproven assumptions (like wind energy will make a consequential reduction of CO2).

    The more important the consequences (e.g. global warming is supposedly threatening us with extinction) the more important it is to get it right.