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Bill McKibben says wind is cheap as coal. Jo Nova says “so who needs a carbon tax then?”

Bill McKibben wants to stop a mine in Australia because it might affect the weather. He says wind power is as affordable as coal.

The Australian, Friday Oct 25:   “… we’ve reached the point where alternatives have become realistic.Wind power is now as affordable as coal-fired power in Australia, not to mention the limitless energy potential of the powerful sun that shines on your continent.”

To which I say, fantastic. If wind power is as cheap as coal, we don’t need a carbon tax, emissions trading schemes, renewable targets, or other subsidies … people will use wind simply because it is cheaper. Alternatively, Bill is talking out of his hat.

Kill the schemes, cut the subsidies. Bring it on. I say!

We can see how many people rely on Windpower in Australia

That’s the yellow part. Coal is the black or brown part.

Source: ESAA

Source: ESAA

All the assertions of “cheap wind power” are only true if we assume our CO2 emissions cause warming, amplified by water vapor and cloud changes, which causes dangerous and expensive outcomes. Furthermore we must assume that it is cheaper to mitigate rather than adapt (which it isn’t), and then assume that taxes, windpower, and carbon trading schemes actually reduce emissions (which they don’t). The long chain of inference falls down at every step, but the nonsense is printed without questioning anyway.

You’d think it would be easy to get estimates of the costs of generating electricity…

You’d think it would be easy to get estimates of the costs of generating electricity, but it’s a quagmire that depends on assumptions about capital costs, maintenance, life of the plant, length of transmission lines, and–for an unreliable source like “wind”–the cost of back up and storage as well. Then levelized cost assessments may slap on the mystery carbon factor too, which means a truckload of climate assumptions stacked on estimates of guesstimates about the cost of the impacts. In the end, the uncertainties go exponential.

The Victorian Auditor General assessed the costs and found wind cost three times as much as brown coal: wind ~ 10c/kWh, brown coal ~ 3.5c/kWh. Taylor and Tanton found wind energy costs were 50% more as expensive at 15c/kWh.  Advanced natural gas-burning plants cost around 6.3 cents per kWh, while coal is much cheaper again. (I’ve heard 3c/kWh for coal, but has that gone up and can anyone find a comparable, respectable value?)

Anton Lang adds: “There are just so many things that are not taken into account … There’s up front grants from Governments, sometimes all three, Federal State and even Local. These grants make wind “seem” cheaper. Then there’s the rebates paid by governments, again sometimes both Federal and State for the actual electricity being generated, (that per kWh rate, again worked out at contract time, and never disclosed). Then they assume the best case maximum Capacity Factor usually between 38.5% and I have even seen it as high as 42%, again effectively “expanding” the amount of electricity actually being generated, when actual CF is closer to 30% at best. Then they expect wind plants have a life span of 25 years but it’s becoming evident that their output drops after 15 years and some after just 10.  When they compare coal fired power and wind, they always quote that LCOE (levelized cost of energy). They estimate the best case scenario for wind that they can possibly find, and then they give coal fired power the worst case scenario. They infer the most expensive constructed coal plants, inflating the cost of the coal that is used, and the cost of the transport. Then they add on the huge cost of the totally unobtainable carbon sequestration technology, almost as if that’s a done deal. But by far the worst thing they do with LCOE, and they have the hide to call it a level playing field, is to give coal fired power the same life span as wind, so best case for everything for wind for 25 years, and only the same 25 years for coal fired power, when coal fired power can easily obtain 50 years and some extended out even beyond that.”

If editors asked correspondents for some evidence to back up their wild claims, we wouldn’t have so much drivel filling up our national conversation, would we?


  1. Victorian Auditor-General’s Report, Facilitating Renewable Energy Development, April 2011. 2010-11:27. PP No 21, Session 2010–11
  2. Taylor, G., Tanton, T. (2012): The Hidden Costs of Wind Electricity Why the full cost of wind generation is unlikely to match the cost of natural gas, coal or nuclear generation, The American Tradition Institute, Centre for Energy Studies. [Discussion] [PDF]

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