A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Tyler White: Time to end subsidies for wind, solar; coal-fueled plants essential, provide fuel security

As the federal government contemplated how to help people hurt by the pandemic and lockdown, the renewable energy industry was scrambling behind the scenes to use the COVID-19 rescue package to extend something called the Production Tax Credit — one of many government subsidies used to prop up wind and solar producers.

The renewables industry didn’t get its way on this particular COVID-19 bill, which passed without a PTC extension. But on the whole, the renewables industry has been mind-boggling successful at procuring handouts from Washington: over the last 40 years, federal subsidies for renewable energy have totaled more than $100 billion. To put that figure in perspective, it’s roughly eight times the size of the commonwealth’s annual budget.

And don’t believe the lie that fossil fuels receive even greater subsidies. For years, researchers have pointed out that, per unit of energy, wind and solar receive the most subsidies of any energy source. A new study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, for example, found that wind subsidies are 26 times greater than coal, and solar subsidies are a breathtaking 113 times greater.

The math is even more lopsided for Kentuckians. We pay for those subsidies even though we get less than 1 percent of our electricity from wind and solar. The vast majority — more than 70 percent — comes from coal.

There’s a good reason we use so little wind and solar, despite the massive handouts they get: we don’t rely on wind and solar because wind and solar aren’t reliable.

Wind and solar are intermittent sources of energy: they only produce power when the sun shines or the wind blows. To guarantee 24×7 power, wind and solar need virtually 100 percent back up from reliable sources — almost always fossil fuels.

Wind and solar can’t replace reliable power sources. They can only pile new costs on top of them, including infrastructure costs for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines — and inefficiency costs. In order to cope with the frequent fluctuations in wind and sunlight, reliable sources of power like fossil fuels have to be quickly ramped up and down. This wastes fuel the same way that driving in stop-and-go traffic wastes fuel. More waste, higher costs.

And so while coal-heavy Kentucky enjoys the lowest electricity costs east of the Mississippi, the places that use the least coal and the most wind and solar almost always have higher electricity costs. For example, the world leaders in wind and solar—Denmark and Germany—also have the highest electricity prices in the developed world, 3-4 times what the average US household pays.

Wind and solar subsidies mean that Kentuckians are paying for the privilege of helping other states use more expensive energy sources.

Worse, that expensive energy is making grids around the country less reliable. Because coal can be stored on site at a power plant and deployed on command, it’s the most secure fuel source in the world. That’s especially important during unusual weather events such as polar vortexes and bomb cyclones, which typically shut down wind and solar. By subsidizing renewables, we’re becoming more dependent on energy sources that won’t be there when we need them the most.

Tyler White is President of the Kentucky Coal Association.

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One Comment

  1. Mark Nolan says:

    Of course the mine owners are desperate to harm their competitors. They were happy to rape the land and milk state and federals subsidies for decades, but heaven forbid anyone else get support. Nor is there any mention of the terrible environmental and public health damage the coal industry has done. A pox on Mr. White and the toxic industry he shills for.

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