Letter to the Editor: Wind Farm Concerns

While I fully support the use of renewable energy, I’m concerned about the economics of industrial wind energy. Industrial wind was initiated in the U.S. by Enron as a tax shelter generating scheme.  

MidAmerican Energy (owned by Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet) owns 7% of the country’s wind generation. Buffet stated publicly, “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms.  That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Although the wind farms don’t produce enough energy to pay for themselves, they provide an enormous tax credit, funded by the tax payer, to profit the corporations. For example, it’s estimated MidAmerican Energy pays no taxes on $1.5 billion of income, as a result of the wind tax credit.  (Fred Sauer, Stanford Business School, and a fellow at the National Legal & Policy Center)

Furthermore, the amount of wind energy generated by a wind farm is small — the actual amount of electricity produced is only about 32% of the capacity amount advertised. Additionally, the turbines are expensive to maintain, and 2000 turbines have been abandoned.  

Wind energy is completely dependent on the Wind Tax Credit (WTC) — there’s been subsidies of more than $176 billion since 2000 for wind energy.  If Trump eliminates the WTC, the industry will discontinue, or electric rates will skyrocket, as it will be cost-prohibitive to maintain the turbines.  

Wind farm risks include the turbines becoming obsolete in 10-20 years, and not worth maintaining. If the WTC expires before that, then the turbines will not be replaced, and farms will be stuck with inoperable turbines. Whenever the WTC expires, rates will increase significantly, because now the rate-payer will be funding what the subsidy had covered. In Europe and Austrailia, as a result of wind energy, rates have skyrocketed, making energy unaffordable.

The DeKalb County, MO, wind farm includes a Decommissioning Agreement, which stipulates if the wind farm is not operational for a year, that the owner, NextEra, is responsible for removing the turbines. There is also a guarantee from NextEra’s principal subsidiary, Florida Power & Light. However, if there is not a WTC to fund new turbines, then even if the wind farm survives, there is a risk there will not be corporate funds available to honor Decommissioning Agreements.

If the wind farm is owned by a private equity firm (PE), the risk is significantly increased, because even if the firm is willing to sign a parent guarantee, the PE’s often have the goal of selling the wind farm in about 5 years or less. For example Energy Capital Partners purchased Terra-Gen in 2015, and could plan to sell it in 2020, which would render the parent guarantee invalid.  

If so, farmers would be left with inoperable turbines displacing productive farm land. And it would be the farmer’s responsibility to remove the turbines, in accordance with EPA regulations. Even if removed at the farmer’s expense, the soil will not be the same again due to soil compaction and enormous concrete bases. The cost of unproductive farm land for generations, outweighs the benefit of landowner compensation for a decade or so (or less).

Farmers, there are real risks associated with the high returns being offered for wind turbine leases. Please understand the huge risks before betting the farm!