Ohio County Veto of Wind Project Shows It’s Time to End Federal Wind Subsidies
By Robert Bryce
May 19, 2022
Rural Americans keep rejecting wind projects. On May 5, commissioners in Crawford County, Ohio voted 2-1 in favor of a measure that prohibits the construction of wind projects in the county. The move halts a 300-megawatt project being promoted by Apex Clean Energy called Honey Creek Wind.
The Crawford County vote matters for several reasons. First, it provides yet another example of the backlash in rural America against the landscape-blighting encroachment of giant wind turbines; and those rejections are piling up. The vote in Crawford County marks the 330th time that government entities from Maine to Hawaii have rejected or restricted wind projects since 2015. (Details on those rejections can be found in the Renewable Rejection Database.)
The Crawford County vote also matters because it is happening at the same time that the Biden administration and renewable energy promoters in academia are pushing for yet another extension of the production tax credit, the federal subsidy that is the key driver of the wind sector. The PTC, which expired at the beginning of this year, is the single most-expensive energy-related provision in the federal tax code. Between 2020 and 2029, the PTC will cost the federal treasury some $34 billion. Big utilities like NextEra Energy and MidAmerican Energy, which are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits, want even more federal tax gravy.
Congress shouldn’t give it to them. Academics, climate activists, and politicians never get tired of claiming that weather-dependent renewables are the cheapest forms of power generation. But if wind is so cheap then the industry surely doesn’t need the PTC, a subsidy that has already been extended 13 times.
The Biden administration wants to continue the giveaways. On May 10, President Joe Biden gave a speech on inflation during which he said that “to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reckless autocrats like Putin, I’m working with Congress to pass landmark investments to help build a clean energy future” including “tax credits for businesses to produce renewable energy.” But more tax credits for wind and other renewables won’t do anything to reduce our need for oil.
The wind sector — which is in the midst of a crisis due to soaring commodity prices and regulatory uncertainty — desperately wants an extension of the PTC, which pays generators as much as $25 per megawatt-hour for the electricity they produce. But more subsidies will only fuel more land-use battles in rural America and give more incentive to giant utilities like NextEra Energy and Mid-American Energy to continue their land grab in rural towns and counties.
In fact, those companies have repeatedly sued rural governments in their efforts to blight more rural landscapes with wind turbines. For example, NextEra sued the town of Hinton, Oklahoma — in both state and federal court — after the town of 3,200 passed an ordinance that labeled wind turbines a nuisance and restricted their construction. NextEra even sued a Canadian woman, Esther Wrightman, for calling the company “NextError” on the Internet.
MidAmerican, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, sued Madison County, Iowa, the province that’s famous for its covered wooden bridges, to force it to accept turbines the county voters did not want. In that litigation, MidAmerican effectively intimidated a county supervisor into switching her position on wind turbines. By prevailing in the litigation, the company won the right to add another 30 turbines in the county for which it could collect about $81 million in tax credits. (In an email to me, MidAmerican claimed it was not seeking to intimidate the county officials.)
The backlash against the wind industry also exposes the growing social divide over climate change and how much each American will be required to do to slow it. These fights are about red versus blue, rural versus urban, and big business versus small-town America. Local governments and landowners are rejecting wind projects because of concerns about falling property values, ruined viewsheds, and potential loss of tourism dollars. They are also rightly concerned about the sleep-disrupting noise pollution that is emitted by 500- and 600-foot high wind turbines.
To ward off Big Wind, local governments are implementing noise and height limits on wind turbines, establishing zoning setbacks, and even seeking permits to build heliports, which would prevent the construction of wind turbines within a 1-mile radius of the landing pads. They are also fighting many of those same companies on solar projects. Like wind energy, large solar projects are also being rejected including, according to NBC News, more than 40 rejections across the U.S. since the start of 2021.
To be sure, the backlash doesn’t fit with the narrative being promoted by the biggest media outlets in the country, including National Public Radio, The New York Times, and Washington Post. It must also be noted that the The New York Times has never reported on the backlash against renewable energy in the state. That’s remarkable given that solar and wind projects are so unpopular in upstate New York that last year, the state pushed through regulations that will give Albany officials the authority to override the objections of local communities and issue permits for large renewable projects.
The punchline here is obvious: the land-use conflicts against the wind sector prove that the claims being made by climate activists that we can run our economy solely on wind and solar are rubbish. The all-renewable claims are absurd for many reasons, but the most basic one is that there isn’t enough land to accommodate the staggering number of turbines and solar panels that would be needed to attempt such a scenario. Indeed, over and over again, rural Americans – in places like Crawford County and Otoe County, Nebraska, which last month adopted a one-year moratorium on wind projects – are rejecting renewable projects and telling promoters to put their turbines in a place where the wind doesn’t blow.
The wind industry doesn’t need more of our federal tax dollars. Instead, it should be forced to stand on its own. As I show in the graphic above, which is based on Congressional Research Service data from 2018, when measured by the amount of energy produced, the wind industry gets about 158 times more in tax credits than the nuclear industry and about 44 times more than the hydrocarbon sector.
Crawford County and hundreds of other rural communities across America have vetoed wind energy. Congress should do the same when it comes to more subsidies for the wind industry.
Robert Bryce is the host of the Power Hungry Podcast, executive producer of the documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, and the author of six books, including most recently, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations. Follow him on Twitter: @pwrhungry.