The Instigator
Pro (for)
6 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Wind power is unlikely to be economical within ten years

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/7/2011 Category: Technology
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,156 times Debate No: 18216
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (47)
Votes (2)




Will wind farms soon compete with coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants as an economically viable means for generating electricity in the United States? Thanks to my opponent for proposing this timely topic.

For this debate, wind power is electric power generated from wind energy for delivery over the power grid to users. Wind power is now generated using wind turbines of various kinds, often large propellers, driving electric generators.

"Economical" means commercial cost competitive with other means of generating power such as coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy. The cost of wind power includes the capital costs of building and installing the wind powered generators, the costs of tying the power to the grid, and the cost of providing a backup system when necessary if there is no wind. For competing systems, the costs also include fuel costs. One way to compare costs is to compute a cost per kilowatt hour delivered to the consumer. For this debate we are considering the unsubsidized costs. Those are the costs that would occur under free competition, without government mandates or incentives..

"Unlikely" means having a probability less than 0.5. The resolution affirms that it is more likely that wind power will not be competitive within ten years than that it will be competitive. The burden of proof for this debate is shared. Voters are to decide whether wind power is less likely (Pro) or more likely (Con) to be competitive.

This round is for definitions and acceptance. Arguments begin in R2.


Thanks to RoyLatham for agreeing to debate this topic and issuing this challenge. I am sure this will be the most challenging debate I've had so far at DDO. Just to clarify, since San Francisco has a large wind farm that my opponent is familiar with, I will use it as a base for most of my data, as I attempt to prove that similar farms are possible across the United States. Also, wind energy cannot provide all the required electric power for homes and businesses due to the intermittency of wind. However, I will prove that when Wind Energy is generated along with other means of electricity generation such as coal, natural gas and nuclear energy, wind energy will be cost-competitive with them and be an economically viable means for generating electricity in the United States.

I accept my opponents definitions and the shared burden of proof. Good luck.
Debate Round No. 1


100% backup is required for wind energy

Wind energy is unlikely to be a competitive source of grid power within ten years because its unreliability requires 100% backup. The wind can die at any time, so there has to be a ready source of generating capacity on line to replace the wind power. The cost of the backup must be attributed to the wind system because it otherwise would not be required.

One of the world's largest managers of wind energy, Germany's Eon Netz, acknowledges the implications:

"Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times."

Backup is requied to meet peak demands, during hot summer days. "Wind speed is one critical factor in determining the amount of electricity produced and wind speed varies widely with stronger wind tending to occur at night and in colder months." That's completely at odds with the peaks. Backup is essential,

It's rare when wind advocates acknowledge the backup cost. Most of the time, they assume that ratepayers will absorb the cost without attributing it to the use of wind energy. The backup system must be capable of being spun up quickly, which in practice means that extra natural gas powered turbine generators must be on line. About two-thirds of the cost of fossil fuel generators is in the capital and maintenance costs, with only a third in fuel.

Suppose a wind farm with a one gigawatt output is built to supply a city. To have an average output of a gigawatt, the rated output would have to be 2.5 to 5 gigawatts, because wind only ocasional reacs the maximum. Under ideal conditions, the wind farm will be producing 40% of the time. In practice, it's closer to 20%. The gas turbine will be producing at least 60% of the electricity, so at least 60% of the fuel the turbine would consume without the wind farm will be consumed anyway, The average cost of electric power in the US is about 11 cents per kilowatt hour. Roughly 4 cents of the delivered cost is in transmission and distribution, with 7 cents in generation. That makes the cost of the backup for the wind system to be: .67x 7 (capital cost) + .33 x .60 x 7 (fuel cost) + 4 (transmission/distribution) = 10.1 cents

Only 40% of the fuel was saved by having the one gigawatt wind farm, amounting to 0.9 cent. For wind to be economic, its total delivered cost must be less than one cent per kilowatt hour. The need for 100% backup never goes away because the wind will always go calm from time to time.

Transmission costs double

Actually, the economics of wind power are worse than that. Wind power systems can only be put in favorable locations, generally not near the major metropolitan areas they serve. That means a new transmission line must be run from the wind farm to the city, That line will average at most 40% of its capacity, with no energy transmission in calm weather and full capacity in heavy winds.

In addition to the new transmission line, a sophisticated control system must implemented to control the backup generators to exactly match the power demand as the wind energy output varies minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour. Wind advocates usually assume that ratepayers won't identify the extra costs as associated with the use of wind farms, so they generally ignore the extra costs. Since the efficiency of the transmission system is reduced by half, a ball park estimate is that the cost will double from four cents to eight cents. That assumes that something is saved by not having to duplicate the local system, but that the control costs added match that savings.

I estimated transmission and distribution costs from the electric rates in Idaho, where the generation is very cheap hydroelectric power, accounting for two or three cents, at most, of the 7 cent rate. I put transmission at 4 cents.

Wind energy generation cost + 14.1 cents must be less than 11 cents for wind energy to be economic. That's impossible. Suppose that in ten years, the cost of natural gas increases dramatically. That means the backup cost will increase dramatically as well. Transmission costs are not likely decrease, but if they do, the competition cost will also decrease.

Basic wind energy generation costs are not favorable

"The Energy Information Agency predicts that in 2016 wind power will still be 49% to 77% more expensive than electricity from either coal or natural gas. Furthermore, because wind turbines work only when the wind blows, wind farms cannot replace conventional plants. Backup power from conventional sources, usually gas turbines, must be ready to come on line the moment the wind fails."

Noted investor T. Boone Pickens has given up on his large investments in wind energy, saying in cannot compete with cheap natural gas prices. New horizontal drilling technology has greatly increased the availability of gas and lowered its price. As is conventional for wind energy projects, Pickens ignored backup and transmission costs, prospects were evaluated on the base generation costs.

Additional cost risks of wind energy

The Altamont Pass wind farm near San Francisco was sued by environmentalists and ultimately force to shut down during the winter months to reduce the deaths of migrating birds.

US laws allow anyone to sue under the Endangered Species Act, and a judge can shut down any project if there is any potential harm to endangered species. There is no cost-benefit analysis, and any environmentalist can sue.

This poses and extraordinary cost risk to investors. So far, the federal government has been funding wind energy projects, either directly or through government mandates on utilities. Our debate assumes free market competition, where the risk of losing an investment would make wind energy impractical. The insurance costs against shutdown would be prohibitive.

Wind farms cover enormous areas. The Altamont Pass wind farm covers 78 square miles and produces only .125 GW. (A nuclear plant produces 3 GW on six sq. miles.) The large area implies intrusion on human habitation. That leads to turbine noise problems.

"Perhaps most crucially, wind advocates rarely acknowledge that turbine noise is often 10 dB louder than background sound levels (sometimes even 20 dB or more); acousticians have long known that any increase over 5 dB begins to trigger complaints, with 10dB the threshold for widespread problems."

Wind farm builders will have to buy expensive properties or buy off the people who live there.


Wind energy is not economic. The need for backup, long transmission lines, complex controls, and large areas, are inherent in the nature of wind. Wind is not going to be competitive within ten years, if ever.



I thank my opponent for instigating this debate and apologize for the late response. This topic was very time-intensive as were the collection of data and calculations.

I will focus on California. I contend that if Wind Energy becomes practical in California, there is a high likelihood that
it will be practical across the United States. My opponent is free to argue this point. To be fair, I will assume that all wind used in California must be generated in California and may not be imported from other states.

1) Total electricity costs and projections
According to the California Public Utilities Commission, consumption is growing at a rate of two percent annually [2]. The total retail sales of electricity is about 260,000 GWh in 2009 [3]. At this rate CA's total electricity requirement will be 330,000 GWh by 2021. The average retail price is 13.24 cents per kWh [3]. With a 2.5% rate of inflation which is the standard rate of inflation for electricity prices [4], the overall cost of electricity will be 17.81 cents per kWh in 2021.

2) Wind Costs:

(a) Capital cost of building and installing the wind power generators
To meet the requirement of 333,000 GWh per year by 2021, we need to find out how many wind farms must be installed.

California produced 5840 GWh of electricity from wind power in 2009 which is 2.9% of the state's total net generation of about 204,000 GWh[5]. I will assume that in 2021, 50% of energy generation will be from wind and 50% from all other sources, and then show that wind will be competitive with all other sources. To meet the requirement for electricity, a total of 165,000 GWh must be produced from wind in 2021 at the rate of 17.81 cents per kWh while still being profitable to the power plant.

The cost of a commercial scale wind turbine starts at $1.2 million per MW [6]. The total number of hours in a year is
365*24 = 8760. So, $1.2 million gets 8.7 GWh. In order to generate 165,000 GWh of electricity, we need $22.75 billion
to build the necessary wind farms. Now assuming that wind power only works at its peak capacity 40% of the time, the actual amount of investment rises to $56.87 billion.

(b) Transmission costs
I agree with my opponent that transmission costs often neglected must be taken into account. The unit cost of wind transmission is about $300/kW [7]. This becomes $300 per 8760kWh assuming maximum capacity 100% of the time with there being 24*365 = 8760 hours in a year. At 40% capacity it becomes $300 per 3504kWh. The cost for 165,000 GWh can then be calculated as $14.12 billion. This is assuming that wind only blows at maximum capacity 40% of the time and the power lines can only be used at 40% capacity.

(c) Backup costs
It is true that wind energy requires backup. I will assume that wind can be used to maximum capacity 40% of the time. As stated earlier, I will also assume that in 2021, 50% of energy generation will be from wind and 50% from all other
sources. This leaves about 10% or 33,000 GWh of electricity production that must be added to the cost of wind energy. At the rate of 17.81c per kWh, this would cost an additional 5.87 billion for the 33,000 GWh.

(d) Additional costs
I won't take legal costs into consideration because it is just as likely if not more likely and environmentalists will try to sue non-renewable sources of energy as opposed to renewable sources like wind.

Land costs are variable, and differ based on the location. I will assume a uniform cost of 10% of the total capital costs. If my opponent disagrees, he is free to point out exactly how much cost we should take into consideration. This will be $5.6 billion.

TOTAL economic viability
The total costs are $56.87 billion for building and installing, $14.12 billion for transmission, $5.87 billion for backup costs and $5.6 billion for land costs. The initial cost would be $76.5 billion in start up costs adding up the costs for building, land, and transmission. Transmission is added here because most of the transmission cost for wind is due to building the infrastructure necessary. Once the infrastructure is in place, the actual costs of transmission would be much lower. The total estimated costs per year would be $5.87 billion for backup costs.

If electricity produced from wind is sold at 17.81c per kWh and 165,000 GWh of electricity is sold, the total revenue to the industry in 2021 will be $29.4 billion. Since additional costs are required for backup, the net profit can be estimated to be about $23.53 billion per year. The initial investment can be recouped in as little as 3.25 years.

It can be seen that wind energy is a very economical solution to producing electricity and can certainly be competitive with conventional sources of electricity. Not only will the government invest in it, but so will private corporations due to the profits that wind energy can bring them.


Debate Round No. 2


100% backup is required for wind energy

Below a wind speed of around seven miles per hour, wind turbines produce no electrical energy output. This is a consequence of the wind energy being proportional to the cube of the wind speed. At low wind speeds there is too little energy to yield a net output. Consequently, wind farms sometimes produce no energy output at all. Large regions, e.g. all of California or all of the Midwest, can drop off line.

My opponent proposes that by 2021 half of California's electricity may be produced by wind energy. That means that when there is no wind, either half the state will go dark or there must be backup generators that provide the missing half of the power. The half powered conventionally is not backup, because it is on line providing power to the state already. Backup generators must be purchased, tied to the grid system, and kept running and on line. However much power is expected from the wind, an equal amount must be built and paid for.

Inadequate backup led to serious power disruptions in Spain and Texas. In Spain, on March 1, 2005, at a time of high demand, at drop in the wind reduced the power output of 11,000 windmills by 700 MW. Large power users were forced off line to prevent consumer blackouts. Spain has since added large gas-fired backup generators. In Texas in 2008, wind power dropped from 1700 MW to 300 MW in ten minutes. The power companies forced major users off line. [1]

Natural gas generators can be spun up quickly to compensate for the variations in the wind. All the costs of natural gas generators, siting them, and transmission lines for them must be paid for, and in addition, since wind power is unreliable, abut 60% of the natural gas fuel costs must be paid as well.

Con may refer to my calculations in the previous round. The whole natural gas generator system needed to supply the power demand when the wind fails costs 90% of what it would cost if the wind system did not exist.

Wind power is inefficient

Con makes the gross error that the wind power systems run at peak capacity 40% of the time. That's not true. If a wind farm has a peak output of one gigawatt, over the course of year it will produce at most 40% of the rated output energy for the year. The most that can be achieved is 40% of the watt-hours implied by the peak rating. I showed data that in California the expectation is around 25%. not 40%.

Con's reference says a wind turbine starts at $1.2 million per MW. However, the next sentence says that grows to $3.5 million when installed. Turbines have to be installed on towers and wired together, all on land for which the rights have been acquired. The 1 MW turbine in California will produce 0.25 MW of power over time. Con is therefore off by a factor of three too low (3.5 : 1.2) in cost and a factor of four too high (0.25 : 1) in power output. That makes the wind investment required about $273 billion. To this we must add the cost of a system capable of generating an equal amount of power using natural gas, which must be on line to pick up the load when the wind happens to drop below 7 mph.

That investment might alternatively yield about $11 billion per year at the corporate utility bond rate of 4%. The wind power system has a life of bout 25 years, so another $11 billion must be figured for depreciation. 165,000 GWh are generated by wind at a cost of $22 billion per year. That is 7.5 cents per KWh for the generation, to which we must add 4 cents for transmission and control, and 10.1 cents for backup. The total cost of the wind system is therefore 21.6 cents per KWh, compared to the present price of 11 cents by conventional means.

Con figures that the costs of conventional power will inflate, but not the costs of wind power. That's wrong because the price of wind turbines and maintenance will inflate like everything else, and the huge cost component of the backup system is conventional power.

Con calculates the transmission line cost incorrectly. He assumes that the transmission line appears only when needed, and disappears when not needed. The line must be built and paid for, even though it will be way below capacity most of the time, because the wind is not at it's peak.

Con proposes 11,000 square miles of wind farms

Good wind power sites in California are rare. The best available yield only about 25% efficiency. The Altamont Pass site produces 0.125 GW on 78 square miles. Con plans on adding 18.8 GW, requiring 11,731 square miles of high quality wind site. The area required is 7% of the state, and there is not that much good wind siting available

Most of the good wind energy sites in the US are in the region from Texas to North Dakota. That's where the 40% efficiency might be achieved. California has nothing as good. The brown areas on the map are on the threshold of viability, and the task is to cover 7% of the state with wind farms. The 25% efficiency will not be achieved, and power will have to sent of long transmission lines. Poor sites will increase the costs above what was figured, probably by more than a factor of two. Keep in mind that half the wind has only one-eighth the energy, so sites that might seem only slightly worse are actually much worse.

Additional Costs

Some environmentalist will try to sue to stop any new source of energy. However, the ability to use the Endangered Spec's Act to stop a project is unique. Projects can be stopped without any consideration of costs or benefits. Giant flood gates that would have saved New Orleans from Katrina were stopped to protect a fish that couldn't mate when the flood gates were closed -- or at least was suspected of losing the ambition. California has a large agricultural area devastated by lack of water in order to protect a minnow. There is no legal instrument of comparable power available to stop the construction of gas turbine generators.

In California, the Altamont Pass site is closed n winter to prevent the deaths of several thousand migrating raptors each year. In Southern California, win sites conflict with the habitats of endangered California condors and with Golden Eagles.

Wind turbines kill bats by overpressure, without contact. A wind farm project in West Virginia has been stopped due to the problem. Bats eat insects and consequently important to agricultural production in California's Central Valley, including potential choice wind farm sites.

Noise and other problems with conventional power plants are limited by the small area occupied by the plants. Objections on noise or unsightliness or other reasons are met by putting modest buffer zones around the plants. That approach doesn't work with 11,000 square miles of wind farms.


My opponent makes gross errors in computing the cost of wind power. He assumes that a backup system and transmission lines need only be paid for on an hourly basis when needed. That's dead wrong. Backup generators and transmission lines all must be paid for as permanent parts of the system. The whole costs are required even if they are only used part time. He also mistakes how much power a wind farm generates relative to it's peak capacity. In California, the total power is about a quarter of the rated peak. These are fundamental errors that make his cost estimates off by more than a factor of twelve. Con's errors are made almost universally by wind power advocates. I explained those errors in R2,and have gone over them again in this round.


[1] Etherington, John, The Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist's Evaluationn, p. 68


The US Department of Energy classifies the potential for wind energy on the coast of Northern California as "superb" [4].
The average wind speed is given as between 19.7 to 24.8 miles per hour. My opponent worries about how to get backup power when the wind speed is less than 7 miles per hour. However, it can be seen that the wind speeds are much higher. I will go into more detail later about offshore wind energy.

I thank my opponent for his response. Pro's main argument is that my calculations have overestimated capacity while underestimating price. In this round I will refute my opponents arguments and then explain the calculations is more detail to address my opponent's concerns and show how wind energy can be economical within 10 years.

1) 100% Backup power
My opponent incorrectly assumes that wind requires 100% backup power. According to a study by the utility wind interest group: “the results to date also lay to rest one of the major concerns often expressed about wind power: that a wind plant would need to be backed up with an equal amount of dispatchable generation. It is now clear that, even at moderate wind penetrations, the need for additional generation to compensate for wind variations is substantially less than one-for-one and is often closer to zero” [5].

The cost of backup is around $76 per MWh of wind including the cost of the generator, generating costs, and even adding tax credits on top the cost[6]. This would make it $76 * 100 * 165,000 = 12.5 billion for the entire 165,000GWh required for the year. This is not very high at all.

Another good way to get backup is to use Solar Energy. Solar energy can be used to backup wind energy as when wind doesn't blow, it is usually because it is hot which is a good scenario for solar energy. Solar and wind energy can complement each other providing backup for when one is not available.

2) Capital costs
The information from my source says that it costs 3.5 million for 2MW, not 1MW so it is actually 1.75 million per MW [1]. My opponent says that the most amount of watt-hours that can be achieved is 25%, not 40%. My opponent makes very conservative estimates but let's go with that for now. So we have 1.75 million per MW that is 8.7GWh per year or $33.2 billion for 165,000 GWh. If the rating that can be achieved is only 25% as my opponent says, then the price will be $132 billion in capital costs. It is a little higher but not as high as my opponent says.

3) Transmission costs
My costs of transmission assumed that the power lines can only be used at 40% capacity. I don't assume that the transmission lines will appear when needed and disappear when not needed. I added the transmission costs to generate about 412,000 GWh per year while calculating the price. I then assumed that the transmission will only be used 40% of the time giving a total figure of $14.12 billion for 165,000GWh. So, this calculation was entirely accurate. It assumed that power can be transmitted only 40% of the time yet the cost will need to be paid for, 100% of the time exactly as Pro asserted. I will show later how despite this extra cost, wind energy is still practical.

4) Other costs (Land Area, Noise, and closure in winter)
Offshore wind farms easily solve all of these problems that my opponent mentioned. There is no requirement to buy land, as it can be done at sea. The speed of the wind offshore is usually faster than nearby sites onshore [2]. This solves my opponent's wind speed problem as well. While offshore wind farms may cost more, this is only due to construction costs [2] and so it will be a one-time investment to create a floating bed or to create a platform that is anchored to the seabed. Once this is done, 25 years later when the wind turbines need to be replaced, there will be no extra cost to installing them offshore since a land platform has already been built and the installation costs would be the same as that on land.

With many wind farms offshore, the need to buy a lot of land decreases as well leading to savings which can be invested in the construction of offshore platforms.

Total Viability
The total costs are now $132 billion for building and installing, $14.12 billion for transmission, $12.5 billion for backup costs and $5.6 billion for land costs. The initial cost would be $151.72 billion in start up costs adding up the costs for building, land, and transmission. Transmission is added here because most of the transmission cost for wind is due to building the infrastructure necessary. Once the infrastructure is in place, the actual costs of transmission would be much lower. The total estimated costs per year would be $12.5 billion for backup costs.

If electricity produced from wind is sold at 17.81c per kWh and 165,000 GWh of electricity is sold, the total revenue to the industry in 2021 will be $29.4 billion. Since additional costs are required for backup, the net profit can be estimated to be about $16.9 billion per year. The initial investment can still be recouped in just 9 years even with my opponent's conservative estimates. Now, my opponent says that the wind turbines only need to be replaced every 25 years. It can easily be seen that investing in wind and selling it at the same price as electricity from other sources is immensely profitable.

Many lenders now do 0% financing and as long as the wind companies have a high credit score, they can get money from a bank and easily pay it off in 9 years. After than they can profit for the next 16 years before needing to buy new wind turbines.

Debate Round No. 3


Thanks to Con for an interesting debate on a good technical subject. I think we have surfaced many issues important to the economics of wind power, and that readers willfind the debate informative.

100% backup is required for wind energy

When the wind drops below 7 mph, wind turbines produce no energy and a backup system must take over to produce the power needed by consumers. So, is it true that even over large regions the wind can fall below the required levels? The evidence includes the flat statement of one of the largest managers of wind energy that "Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times." In addition I cited examples in Texas ( wind power dropped from 1700 MW to 300 MW in ten minutes) and Spain ("a drop in the wind reduced the power output of 11,000 windmills by 700 MW") where the wind died suddenly so as to threaten blackouts. It's also common knowledge that the wind never blows continuously; it depends upon the weather.

To make matters worse, wind energy peaks on winter nights, when demand for electricity is least. Con did not rebut that point.

Did my opponent ever cite data from any place in the world showing completely reliable winds? He did not. If any such thing existed, it would be cited by every proponent of wind energy. I have never seen the claim made.

100% backup is needed, which means that a generator system of equal capacity must be built and kept running on line. All that is saved relative to letting the backup system serve as the primary power source is that some of the fuel costs are lowered. Since capital costs dominate, the backup costs 90% of what it would cost to generate all the power. However, Con admits that in addition new transmission lines must be built and will only be used at 40% of capacity at most, and only about 25% in California. On top of the extra transmission line cost, complex expensive load management equipment must be installed to transfer the load back and forth from wind to the backup system.

Because the backup,transmission, and switching costs, wind energy cannot be competitive even if it were free.

Basic wind energy generation costs are not favorable

Wind energy advocates always assume that the backup power will come from the power grid at no cost. When wind is generating 0.1% of the load, it's likely the grid will have enough spare capacity to avoid blackouts when the wind dies. As shown by the examples in Texas and Spain, that's not a valid assumption if the wind power is a substantial contributor to the energy in a region. Still, how would wind energy economics look if the backup costs are ignored?

We have two authoritative sources that have done projections. The U.S. government's Energy Information Agency predicts that in 2016 wind power will still be 49% to 77% more expensive than electricity from either coal or natural gas. Separately, investor T. Boone Pickens has given up on his large investments in wind energy, saying in cannot compete with cheap natural gas prices. Pickens has the financial incentive to try to cash in on his investment, but he cannot make the numbers work.

Con does his own calculations to produce the results that neither the Government or Pickens can sustain. Con makes many errors in his calculations. One is to assume a greatly inflated price for electricity as the baseline for comparison. Con does not deny that electricity can be generated by natural gas and delivered for 11 cents per KWh. California has among the highest electric prices in the US because they require that huge sums be spent on uneconomic wind and solar power. A ground rule of our debate is that we are to compare free market prices, not prices that include government-mandated waste.

Moreover, Con assumes electricity prices will inflate. Electricity prices were stable for thirty years before green mandates where introduced in the last decade. Vast new supplies of natural gas from horizontal drilling are likely to drive free market prices down. That's what Pickens concluded when he abandoned wind power investment. In any case, if there is inflation in in non-wind power, wind energy will suffer 90% of that in the cost of the backup system. Con ignored the inflation cost reflected in the backup.

Offshore wind power is too expensive

Con offers offshore wind power to solve the cost and backup problems. If wind were reliable offshore, sailing ships would still be used for reliable transportation on the coasts. The wind is as capable of dying off the coasts as it is anywhere else. Con cites the high average wind speeds, and that helps total energy production even though it does nothing for the backup costs.

However, while there are good average winds offshore, the cost of erecting wind towers in ocean waters and running high voltage cables underwater more than offsets the extra energy production. Offshore wind costs 35 cents per KWh ("Study tilts at offshore windmills”, Newsday, November 4, 2010) before adding the backup and switching costs. the high costs have deferred other offshore wind projects.

To complete his calculations, Con ignores capital costs, saying "Many lenders now do 0% financing..." There is not a chance of getting free money; utilities sell bonds paying 4% interest rates to obtain money.

With offshore wind so expensive as to be not viable, Con has not addressed how 11,000 square miles of suitable wind sites will be found in California, when the wind energy map shows few good locations.

Con has shown no reason why his calculations should be accepted and those the US government and T. Boone Pickens rejected. Even without the backup costs, wind power will not be economic within the foreseeable future.

Environmental Cost Risks

The Alamonte Pass wind farm, one of the largest in the nation and a model selected for our debate, is shut down for the winter season to reduce the kills of migrating birds. Protection of endangered species is not subject to analysis of costs and benefits, the projects are shut down by court order regardless of the harm caused. Con has not contested those facts.

Con first replied that all energy projects are subject to lawsuit. I then pointed out that endangered species laws are uniquely powerful, and I challenged Con to cite similar potentials for shutdowns in conventional power plants. Con did not reply and dropped the environmental cost risk entirely.

Wind farms are especially susceptible to legal challenges because they cover vast areas; 11,000 square miles would be required for California. That makes the probability of damage to endangered birds, bats, or other creatures a near certainty. If the noise from the turbines might bother a land species, the project must be halted. Conventional power plants have a very small footprint by comparison, so there is must less risk to start with. Wind turbines are of course uniquely capable of killing winged creatures.


The backup and switching costs alone guarantee that wind power will not be economical for the next ten years. The Basic wind power generation costs, as projected by the Government and by investor Pickens, show wind power to be unlikely to be economical for the next decade independent of the backup costs. Finally, the legal risks of having large projects shut down due to the hazards to endangered species makes the economics not viable. The risk of shutdown cannot be insured.

For these reasons the resolution is affirmed. Note that the Pro position is that the economics of wind power have less than a fifty-fifty chance of being economic within ten years. That's a bit of a confusing double negative, but Pro is for the case of wind power not being economic.


RoyLatham, thanks for the wonderful debate.

1) Backup costs

Pro wind energy needs 100% backup. Firstly, this isn't true as I have shown in the previous round. Wind energy skeptics often assume that a wind plant would need to be backed up with an equal amount of dispatchable generation. However, from a study done by the Utility Wind Interest Group, even at moderate wind penetrations, the need for additional generation to compensate for wind variations is substantially less than one-for-one and is often closer to zero [2].

Secondly, the statement that 100% backup is required is illogical. Why would anyone build wind farms at all if 100% of the costs of conventional sources must be tacked on? However, we know that wind farms exist around the world and they are used extensively.

Wind farms are built in coastal and relatively sparesely populated areas. In periods of strong winds, they generate more energy than the area in question consumes at the same time. During such times, the grid serves to transport the wind power over long distances [1]. So the excess wind is actually on the grid and is being transported. This significantly aids in providing backup and matches with the study from the Utility Wind Interest Group. 100% backup isn't required.

This also solves Pro's problem of peak demands since the wind produced on cold nights can be transferred through the grid and effectively stored there by continuosly transferring it until demand rises again.

I have effectively shown and sourced the backup costs of wind in my my calculations which include the backup costs. As Pro himself says in round 1, only 2/3 of the costs of fossil fuel generators are for capital and maintenance costs. The rest is for fuel which need not be included 100% of the time. Only the fuel used when we run out of wind energy must be used. Also, it must be noted that backup isn't required every time there is no wind, but only when all the electricity in the transmission lines has run out. The most backup that a wind farm would require is 25% [11].

2) Wind Farm "Scam"
Pro's source for his 3rd round argument is a book called the "Wind Farm Scam". This is where he gets his data on Texas and Spain. The book is highly inaccurate and is an emotional diatribe rather than a factual analysis of Wind energy. The author frequently calls them "wind monsters" and "twitching crucifixions of landscape". Most data referenced to this book is inaccurate and biased and cannot be taken seriously. [11]

Pro says that the government predicts that wind energy will not be efficient in 2016. However, we are debating whether it will be efficient in 2021.

3) Generation costs
Pro says that since wind does not always reach the maximum capacity, we should say that the wind turbine can only be used 25% of the time at its peak value. But even after using my opponent's conservative estimates, it can be seen that wind energy is viable as I have shown.

Pro asks why my calculations should be used above those of the German corporation Eon Netz. Firstly, Pro presents no anologous calculations from Eon Netz, just a statement which he got from a 2005 report which shows the challenges they face. Hoever, since Eon Netz is a successful company and is using even more wind energy now, they are finding ways to overcome these obstacles. Pro provides no reason why my calculations are wrong which I haven't already addressed in the previous round, neither does he explain why Eon Netz is still successful and are increasing their reliance on wind energy if it is so uneconomic.

Pro says that large regions can drop offline below a wind speed of 7mph. I showed that it not the case. It is also very rare that wind speed drops below 7mph. The US Department of Energy shows that average wind speeds in Northern California, are between 19.7mph and 24.8mph at a height of 50m [3]. This is far from my opponent's 7mph below which the turbines generate no electricity. In fact, the US Department of Energy classifies the Wind Energy resource potential in Northern California as "superb". So, when my opponent says that my calculations don't match with that of the goverment's, it is not accurate. My calculations reinforce the US government's classification that there is great potential for Wind Energy in California and the United States.

I have also shown that generation costs included not just the cost of the wind farms, but the land and the costs of installation as well.

Pro has not shown through any source how the cost of electricity has been reliable for the past 30 years. I have shown that it increases at 2.5% a year [4]. This must be taken into account as we are debating not whether Wind Power is economical now but whether wind power will be economical in 10 years. As fossil fuels run out, electricity prices will increase very fast and we need renewable energy like wind in order to get cheap electricity.

4) Transmission costs
My opponent considers the fact that Wind Energy is produced outside of large metropolitan areas to be a disadvantage. I have shown that it is not the case as the Utility Wind Interest Group has shown through their studies that excess electricity can be transmitted [2]. Transmitting it effectively stores it while it is still being shipped and is on the grid. I have already proved that Wind Energy is economical after taking the transmission costs into account as well.

Since electricity works by the formula of E = 1/2 * m * v^2, [5] when wind speed is high, tremendous amounts of energy can be developed and entered into the grid.

5) Environmental factors
Pro's argument is overwhelmed by the fact that conventional power plants cause far more enviromental damage. Natural gas threatens ecosystems, drilling pollutes the coastal waters and the great lakes [6]. Coal plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year, including 2,800 from lung cancer [7]. Disposal of Nuclear waste causes adverse effects on aquatic life whereas using spent fuel for weapons production increases the risk of proliferation [8].

As for getting sued, natural gas power plants have been sued as well for violating clean air rules [9][10]. Getting sued is not specific to Wind Energy.

6) Offshore Wind Farms
Con says that the wind isn't reliable offshore, but I have shown above that it is not the case. The average wind speeds off the coast of Northern California range from 18-24mph whereas Pro requires them to be 7mph.

Since a combination of onshore as well as offshore wind farms can be used, it does not require as much land area as Pro says, and the higher costs of offshore will be offset by the lower cost of onshore. I have also cited a study from a Stanford research group which shows many great locations for wind including the Farallon Islands, Berkeley Pier and Hunter's point. This also negates my opponent's point that good sites in California are rare. Just a look at the graph from the Department of Energy is enough to negate that contention [3].

7) Economic Viability

Pro would like to use a utililty bond at 4% interest. The capital costs are 151.72 billion, the 4% interest would be 6 billion a year. The net profit is $11 billion a year after all the loans, backup costs, and inefficiencies are taken into account. In 14 years, the utilitity company can recoup their investment and make further profits of $11 billion a year for a further 11 years before they would need to replace their wind turbines. By then, they would have $121 billion. Keep in mind that every conceivable cost has already been taken care off.

It can be seen that Wind Energy will not only be economic and profitable within 10 years but may be required now that fossil fuels are running out. All of Pro's problems have been addressed.

The resolution is negated. Vote Con.


Debate Round No. 4
47 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
Offshore wind power has been studied extensively. You are saying that the people who did it are wrong, that planting towers on the ocean bottom is really cheap, as is running undersea cables, and maintaining the generators. That's not credible. It's expensive and will get worse. See if you can get a copy of the LongIsland Power Authority (LIPA) study. I only have a Newsday report of the result which show 4x to 6x the cost of natural gas, before backup and distribution costs. I'm sure they would appreciate your pointing out their errors.

the turbines comprise blades that are subject to metal fatigue, a gear box, the generator itself, and a heap of control electronics. Conventional generator stations are off line for about 10% of the time for maintenance. Nuclear is better, off line about 8% of the time.

If there are places where the wind never goes below 7 mph, why are you unable to point to one? No wind advocate has ever pointed to one, to my knowledge. If what you say s true, it should be trivial. So is it a conspiracy? Keep in mind that if the wind happens to go below 7 mph when there is peak demand, the lights go out. Why can't that happen?

It make very little economic difference if the backup has to be only 80% rather than 100%. If the backup is only 80%, then the cost of the backup will be about 70% of what is costs to run everything off the backup. So to be economic, wind power has to cost less than 30% of conventional power. That's not going to happen.

Your argument is that wind power costs are not competitive for five years, and there is then a reversal that drives them to near zero. But the trend is going the wrong way. Claiming the of conventional power will rise doesn't help muc, because you get 90% of that in the backup cost.

In your analysis, you way underestimated backup costs. You showed no data to support anything less than 100%, just a propagandist who claimed the grid will always cover it. You omitted axes and legal.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
If they would build small ones and made them affordable to the consumer to put on private property to supplement electricity, That to me would be a much wiser and more profitable cost benefit to the consumer and taxpayer. Oh and no tax breaks for buying one either. Also less harmful to the environment and wildlife as the land has already been developed and quieter to. You wont hear a small wind mill.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
So to make a long story short, When you build a conventional power plant you build one power plant. When you build a wind farm you have to build two power plants. The wind farm being the first one and the conventional one being the second. Logic in my mind dictates why build a power plant that will never be predictable or reliable. Why waste all that money, just build the conventional one. Let private investors waste their money on wind farms if they think they are so great and so profitable. If they were investors would be pushing and shoving trying to get permits to build them. Don't waste my tax dollars on them. Show me an investor willing to put up money without gov't subsidies build a wind farm and sell the electricity at a 10% net profit and I will jump on board. Until that day comes, it's a net loss and a gimmick to appeal to environmentalists just like hydrogen powered cars. My opinion is based on the true reality and state of wind farms today. They all operate at a loss and can not sustain them selves without gov't subsidies and that is absolute fact according to all available sources I have checked with regard to the profitability of wind farms. If they can not sustain themselves stand alone, they offer no cost benefit to the consumer or the tax payer. To them they are just endless money pits like the motorcycle I have in the garage.
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 6 years ago
The initial cost of offshore wind will of course be more expensive but the question is do the benefits outweigh the costs? How much maintenance really is required for wind turbines? Not very much. How much does a trip on a ship cost? These days, not very much. Keep in mind that the cost of buying land is drastically reduced because there is no land that needs to be bought while installing wind turbines offshore.

I agree that wind needs backup, but not 100% backup. Firstly it is highly unlikely that ALL the wind will disappear. There will always be wind farms where there is enough wind. Wind energy can also be transferred through the grid when there is excess of it, so it is storable to a certain degree.

The government's calculations were for 2015, mine were for 2021. We are debating whether it will be economical in 10 years. There is no calculation with the specific assumptions we agreed to: 50% of electricity from wind & a 10 year time frame. I had to make calculations using available data. I already took everything you said into consideration including transmission costs, backup costs, and initial costs.

You say that I assume that the government don't know how to calculate costs correctly. You haven't shown the calculations from the government or attempted to do them yourself. My data was taken primarily from government websites. The book that you read, "The wind farm scam" isn't really an unbiased representation of wind energy. The author hates windmills and there are mistakes in every chapter.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
Offshore wind is expensive because of the cost of the tower, which is attached to the ocean floor and because maintenance as to be done by ship. There is nothing in the technology likely to make either of those cheaper in the near future.

Saying an offshore site is "superb" doesn't mean it is practical, only thatthere is lots of wind. I mentioned that the best wind site for wind availability in the US is in the Aleutian Islands. Lots of wind, but nothing else is favorable. Building off the cost has been well-studied, and it is way too expensive.

Also, all wind sites, no matter what the average wind speed, need 100% backup because the wind will fall below the minimum at some times. When the wind disappears, something else must be there ready to kick in. A gas turbine must have been constructed and running so it can follow the up and down changes in the wind to keep the total output constant.

The government did cost calculations, which I cited, saying that wind would not be economical in the near future. Your whole approach is to claim that government and investors don't know how to calculate costs accurately, but you do. The reason you have to take that approach is that no one I've been able to discover on the web or in books now can make the numbers work. There was a brief time a few years when Pickens claimed wind could compete fairly, so long as backup costs are not counted. He's given up on that.

Incidentally, wind turbines must receive power from the grid to keep the field coils in the generators energized when the wind is not blowing.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
I belive fog horn leg horn said it first "That boy's about as usless as two tits on a hog"
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
"How would the the little piglets suckle if not for tits on a hog?"

A "sow" is a female pig, a "hog" is a male pig.

To be even more spacific:
A female pig is called a gilt from birth and when she has a litter of piglets, then she is called a "sow".

Hence the term "usless as two tits on a hog"
Posted by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 6 years ago
That was an initial assumption. I could have assumed anything. If I assumed 5% will come from wind, it would have been a hell of a lot easier to prove it. But to be fair to my opponent, we worked it out in a PM that 50% was going to be assumed.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
"I will assume" that in 2021, 50% of energy generation will be from wind and 50% from all other sources.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
I posted a tutorial on computing capital costs in the forums
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Ore_Ele 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Con went too far trying to get wind to work for an entire state, and even picked the wrong state to try it in. He should have focused on designing a single privately owned wind farm. A lot of his calculations had to be redone from round to round, and he made some changes without recalculating after the changes (like off shore wind).
Vote Placed by Raisor 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments. Its long but I think a well thought out debate deserves a well thought out RFD.