[Editor Note: This essay, the fourth in a series aimed at correcting the most harmful wind energy-related policies of the Obama era, examines how the U.S. Department of Energy has set aside its scientific objectivity and, instead, has assumed the role of chief advocate for wind power in the federal government.]
Since 2008, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has touted the technical feasibility of using wind energy to meet 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030. In 2015, the agency refined its plan with the release of its Wind Vision, which further qualified the opportunity and laid the groundwork for the US to achieve 10 percent wind power by 2020, 20 percent wind power by 2030, and 35 percent wind power by 2050.
DOE and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) insist that the industry is on track to meet these goals, but even a casual look at DOE’s claims makes clear that the reports are more advocacy than reality.
Advocating Wind …
In 2015, wind power supplied about 5 percent of total U.S. electricity sales. (See Table 1) Doubling this output by 2020 would mean adding tens of thousands of new megawatts and significantly boosting the annual average capacity factor across the entire fleet of operating turbines to 40 percent, where 31 percent is typical today.
This would require upgrading existing facilities, most having been in operation for less than 10 years, or attaining exceptional levels of output at new installations constructed after 2015 (55 percent capacity factor). Reaching higher levels of wind power penetration by 2030 is equally unrealistic, as older turbines would have reached their end-of-life, thus requiring even more wind turbines to be installed. None of these scenarios are likely or feasible, but DOE’s purpose is wind advocacy, so it doesn’t matter.
|TABLE 1: Wind Growth 2007-2015 and Proposed|
|Year||Wind Capacity (MW)||Total Wind Generation (TWh)||Total US Sales of Electricty (TWh)||% US Electricity Sales|
|Years following represent DOE Wind Vision for future growth|
… and Infrastructure …
Since wind projects are generally sited in remote areas, DOE’s Vision also mandates thousands of miles of new transmission capacity to deliver the energy at a cumulative cost and scale that is not well understood. Generous state and federal subsidies have skewed power markets such that on-shore wind energy facilities can afford to be located long distances from load areas, despite locational price penalties meant to discourage such siting.
As a result, rather than working to keep deployment of transmission to a minimum, DOE’s Vision advocates building extensive transmission capacity where none was needed before. Texas alone required its residents pony up over $7 billion to finance transmission to deliver West Texas wind to eastern parts of the state. New England is forecasting between $15 and $25 billion to deliver in-region wind to population centers around Boston and Southern Connecticut.
… For Industry, Against the Public
The battles over siting and cost allocations are already raging in every region of the country, including Arkansas where the DOE is now attempting to bypass state regulators and assert federal authority over approval of a transmission line that will carry western wind to points east.
With turbines reaching heights of 500- and 600-feet, public opposition has proven a significant barrier to development. Lawsuits are increasingly common as residents move to stop applications and developers take action to overturn permit denials or restrictive land use regulations. Since October, NextEra filed three lawsuits in Michigan, Missouri and Indiana. In that same period, Apex Clean Energy called on the courts at least twice in North Carolina and New York, and more action is in the works by developers and residents.
DOE’s Vision accepts that obstacles to wind energy expansion might exist, but these issues, according to the Vision, “can be effectively managed with appropriate planning, technology, and communication among stakeholders.”
Experts Without Expertise
In many cases, such planning and communication have fallen to the DOE directly and its employees have shown a willingness to help, even if it means advocacy that extends outside the agency’s core proficiency.
In December 2009, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) released the first of several statistical analyses claiming wind turbine facilities do not diminish the values of nearby residential properties. Since then, LBNL has expanded its study and customized the data for different locales, including Massachusetts.
Despite obvious flaws in DOE’s methodology, wind proponents repeatedly use these government-sponsored reports to silence the public and discredit actual licensed real estate appraisers who testify to results that contradict DOE’s claims.
In another instance, DOE delved into wind turbine noise emissions. In that case, LBNL employees involved themselves in assessing the effectiveness of operating wind turbines in different modes in order to reduce noise emissions at the 4.5 MW facility on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine.
Both reports, on property value impacts and noise emissions, had the same chief authors, Ben Hoen and Ryan Wiser. Neither Mr. Hoen nor Dr. Wiser has professional experience as real estate appraisers nor is either qualified to provide certified appraisals.
With regard to wind turbine acoustics, neither has any academic or professional experience as acousticians nor do they have any direct experience assessing wind turbine noise.
Nonetheless, the reports of these nonexperts carry the weight of the federal government, despite their true intent to advocate for wind power.
In the coming months, we recommend the new administration take action to reset the priorities of the DOE including:
 The IRS approve new guidance in 2016 that allowed for repowered turbines to be PTC eligible.
 EIA Power Monthly (Mar 2016) https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/current_year/may2016.pdf
 Hoen, Ben, Ryan H. Wiser, Peter Cappers, Mark A. Thayer, and Gautam Sethi. “Wind Energy Facilities and Residential Properties: The Effect of Proximity and View on Sales Prices.” Journal of Real Estate Research 33, no. 3 (2009). http://emp.lbl.gov/publications/impact-wind-power-projects-residential-property-values-united-states-multi-site-hedonic
 Wind farms, residential property values, and rubber rulers. Albert R. Wilson – February 16, 2010 http://www.windaction.org/posts/24661-wind-farms-residential-property-values-and-rubber-rulers#.WEX1M_krIuU
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