Wind Energy is Blowing Away Nuclear

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The nuclear industry provides 19 percent of American electricity. Wind provides just 3.4 percent, but gaining ground is proving to be a breeze.

Bloomberg says the wind-power industry, with the help of government subsidies, is making headway against both coal and nuclear power.

In fact, in some areas, wind energy is forcing a nuclear company to pay power grid operators to take their energy…

Exelon, the largest U.S. nuclear operator, says a surplus of wind power is making negative pricing a problem in Illinois, where it owns six nuclear plants and a wind project. Prices for markets served by Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities reactors trade below zero between 8 percent and 14 percent of off-peak hours, said Joseph Dominguez, Exelon’s senior vice-president for governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy.

This happens because state laws aimed at going green force utility companies to buy some wind energy, and wind farms also get a $22/megawatt-hour federal tax credit.  During off-peak hours when demand is low and gusts are strong, this creates the weird negative pricing effect. Nuclear operators say wind farms should turn off the turbines when demand is down to be fair, but wind farms want to rake in the tax credit. It’s happening mainly in Texas, California, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, where the wind industry is booming.

And wind farms have, well, the wind at their back. Turbine costs have dropped a third since 2010 as demand has accelerated. Google’s pouring $1 billion into the industry, and Warren Buffett is a big backer too.

Over the past decade, wind-power use has grown tenfold. Last year the industry grew by $25 billion, and its contribution to American power grew by 28 percent. By 2014, wind is expected to provide 4.2 percent of our country’s energy.

Stacy Johnson

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