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Archive for December 2012

When (and why) should an energy subsidy end?

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A German-made 900kWh PowerWind56 wind turbine dominates the summit of Mount Institute in Hawley, Mass. It provides, says a ski industry website, 100 percent of the electricity needs of Berkshire East. That’s the ski area, formerly known as Thunder Mountain, at which I learned to ski. From the valley floor, the brilliant white blades seem to lazily rotate at up to 28 revolutions per minute. But that’s visually misleading: When the wind blows sufficiently atop the 1,538-foot peak, the tips of the 91-foot blades slash through the air at 175 mph.

About eight miles northwest of the Berkshire East wind turbine lie the remnants of the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station. That’s New England’s first commercial nuclear power plant, constructed in 1960 for less than $50 million. During the years I reported on the utility industry in the Northeast, I toured the 185-megawatt plant many times. It served electricity customers for 31 years until it was shut down (“decommissioned” is the industry’s preferred argot) in February 1992 because of embrittlement — the result of three decades’ bombardment by sub-atomic neurons of its 8-inch-thick steel shell that houses the reactor’s core.

Neither Berkshire East’s wind turbine nor Yankee Rowe represent full cost acceptance by their respective industries. Both represent generous government subsidy, albeit on different scales. Both impose external costs, some economically intangible yet psychologically tangible, beyond their physical structures. Both suffer from an American governmental myopia that has failed to produce a coherent energy policy since World War II. And both technologies cost utility ratepayers or taxpayers a boatload of money.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized