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The big wind energy leap of faith


Published:   |   Updated: April 4, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Maybe wind turbines would be a good investment if the things actually worked. But they don't — not that well.

A lot of true believers don't care: They tell us wind is an ideal way to solve global warming. And the only thing standing in its way is the intransigence of the dinosaur-minded fossil-fuel crowd. That, and the facts.

Let's talk about what potential investors in wind energy may not know: Wind turbines don't last as long as promised; don't produce as much energy as hoped; and require more maintenance than anyone imagined.

The Daily Mail recently reported that the University of Edinburgh found “for onshore wind, the monthly 'load factor' of turbines — a measure of how much electricity they generate as a percentage of how much they could produce if on at full power all the time — dropped from a high of 24 per cent in the first year after construction, to just 11 per cent after 15 years.”

In America, numbers are hard to come by, but as many as one in four wind turbines do not work. Some spin but do not generate electricity, so it is hard to tell by looking at them.

The Altamont Wind Farms in Northern California used to be the largest wind farm on Earth. Now it is known as the largest killer of eagles and other raptors. The turbines are shut down for four months a year to protect the birds during their migration.

As many as 4,500 wind turbines have been built — and abandoned — in California alone. But as long as the tax subsidies continue, good money will continue to chase the bad.

Even so, many people want to know about the recent uptick in some wind energy stocks and whether now is a good time to add them to their portfolios.

But if you need the energy or the money, don't — because right now, wind is still a faith-based initiative.

Bill Gunderson is a San Diego-based writer, radio talk show host and wealth manager.


Bill Gunderson is a San Diego-based writer, radio talk show host and wealth manager.

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