We know it is expensive and unreliable.
But a new study from the Heritage Foundation also shows that wind power could be more dangerous to worker safety than traditional energy sources. The tragic explosions in Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine and the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig have very appropriately focused attention on workplace hazards. But it would be a mistake to presume that switching away from fossil fuels to renewable energy would reduce fatalities, David Kreutzer, a senior policy analyst in energy economics and climate change explains.
It is important to understand that the current low number of total deaths in the wind-power industry is largely a result of the very low amount of power generated by wind, Kreutzer points out in his study. To properly project the potential consequences of switching to wind from coal, it is necessary to calculate the mortality rate per megawatt-hour.
“On a million-megawatt-hour basis, the wind-energy industry has averaged 0.0220 deaths compared with 0.0147 for coal over the years 2003-2008,” the study says. “Even adding coal’s share of fatalities in the power-generation industry, which brings the rate up to 0.0164, still leaves wind power with a 34 percent higher mortality rate. For the record, the workplace fatality rate for wind also exceeds that for oil and gas on an equivalent-energy basis.”
The 20 percent renewable energy standard included as part of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill would require swapping about 800 million megawatt-hours of coal generated with current with 800 million megawatt-hours of wind power, Kreutzer notes. The end result here gives good reason for pause.
“Using the recent mortality rates as a guide, we would expect there to be 4-5 more workplace fatalities per year than if there were no wind power at all,” he wrote. “Even this comparison ignores the fatalities we could expect from the additional power lines needed for so much remote wind power.”
Kreutzer’s study calls attention to an unexplored dimension of the energy debate. The Obama Administration’s pursuit of so-called renewable energy could have unexpected and highly damaging consequences over time.