You know the saying: Ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately for the American taxpayer, when it comes to the wind turbine industry, ignorance is not as blissful as it is infuriating. According to a new report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop (in coordination with ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer and the Watchdog Institute), Obama can now add wind turbines to his growing list of failures within the stimulus package.
Renewable energy industry is growing; wind turbines are a key avenue of that growth. Obama has said he would like to be a leader in clean energy but that the United States is struggling to make this goal a reality. He's right, but that's only half the story. The Workshop reports that $2.1 billion in stimulus grants have been given to wind, solar and geothermal companies to make good on Obama's objective but almost 80% of those went to foreign companies. A bankrupt Australian company nabbed the largest grant so far-$178 million. With that, Babcock & Brown built "a Texas wind farm using turbines made by a Japanese company."
Even Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), hardly a foe of Obama's stimulus package, was disappointed with the news that foreign companies were receiving-4 to 1-stimulus funds and jobs on renewable energy-related projects. In an interview with ABC News he said: "Very few jobs here, lots of jobs in China. That is not what I intended or any other legislator who voted for the stimulus intended...It is fine that the Chinese make them. But why don't we use the stimulus money to start building up an industry to build them here, that was the very point of the stimulus."
Of the 80% of stimulus grants going to wind facilities, the majority of those are turbines which prevail in popularity both with renewable energy advocates, professional and laymen alike. If the 4 to 1 ratio is frightening, never fear: According to StimulusWatch.org, several organizations around the country are receiving your tax dollars-I mean stimulus money-to fund large-scale wind turbine projects. The National Science Foundation is receiving $435,231 in grant money to work on a wind turbine project in Buford, Wyoming. Likewise, the Department of Energy received nearly $25 million to "design, construct, and ultimately have responsibility for the operation of the Large Wind Turbine Blade Test Facility" through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. According to the report, no jobs are being created through those projects.
While the stimulus funds for energy projects are creating little to no jobs in the United States, they number they produce overseas is maddening. Allow the numbers to illuminate: The Renewable Energy Policy Project did a study and estimated that for every 1 megawatt of wind energy that is developed, 4.3 jobs are created. There were about 1,219 turbines built by foreign-owned manufacturers which equates to 2,279.5 megawatts. If you crunch the Renewable Energy Policy Project's numbers, the installation of these turbines may have created as many as 6,838 manufacturing jobs -- anywhere but here.
Such news may cause taxpayers to pause and evaluate the cost-benefit ratio of the turbines. Estimates vary but some sources say it can cost $300,000 to transport the turbines and a 2007 estimate by Windustry reported that a commercial scale wind turbine cost $3.5 million installed.
If one wind turbine produces 1.8 megawatts of energy -- enough energy for 500 households per year -- and each household spends on average $2,150 on their energy bill per year, the turbine saves $1.75 million per year in energy. At a cost of $3.5 million installed, a wind turbine will have earned its proverbial keep in two years.
While the math works out, the economics still don't. Turbines are only entirely beneficial if American taxpayer dollars were given to companies here to give to American workers here to construct them and if they worked like a charm once they were built. Unfortunately, therein, as the Bard would say, lies the rub.
In Minnesota, for example, a state which spent $3.3 million on eleven wind turbines, but which regularly experiences cold, winter weather, discovered this year their turbines freeze up when it's freezing. Apparently the hydraulic fluid which propels the turbines was supposed to work in colder temperature but failed to. There's a plan in progress to heat the fluid but as Minnesota native Ed Morrissey of Hot Air reported: "That will drastically reduce the net energy gain from each turbine, depending on how much heating the turbine fluid needs to stop congealing in the winter. Since cold weather here lasts anywhere from 4-6 months, that makes it mighty inefficient as an energy resource."
Blame could rest on the shoulder of the state on one side, the manufacturer on the other, and obviously this is an isolated incident. But if each American family only saves a few dollars every month after the wind turbines run efficiently and after they pay for themselves but their tax dollars were sent overseas for others to build them in the first place, is there a true cost benefit besides the warm, fuzzy feeling that we're all utilizing clean energy? Like his stimulus package, Obama's ideas work only if the theory is put into practice.