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My view: Wind energy a faith-based initiative

By Bill Gunderson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

As many as 1 in 4 wind turbines just does not work. Some do not even spin. Others spin, but do not generate electricity.

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

But a lot of true believers in wind power 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 put aside for a moment all the talk about global warming; whether it exists; whether it is man-made; and whether alternative energy will slow it down.

Let's even forget for a moment that the plunging price of natural gas and its increasing popularity as a substitute for coal has reduced carbon emissions to their lowest level in 20 years and is threatening to make wind power even more economically obsolete.

Let's talk about what potential investors in wind energy may not know if they rely on the green energy press: Wind turbines don't last as long as promised, they 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 percent in the first year after construction, to just 11 percent after 15 years."

And that is just for turbines that are working. In America, numbers are hard to come by — another red flag for investors — but as many as 1 in 4 wind turbines just does not work. Some do not even spin. Others spin, but do not generate electricity, so it is hard to tell by looking at them.

Hawaii provides the favorite example: The 37 turbines at the Kamaoa Wind Farm stood derelict for more than 6 years after it was discovered that repairs were more expensive than replacements. This is just one of six abandoned wind farms in one of the most wind-ideal places on the planet.

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 each year to protect the birds during their migration.

So much for that pro forma.

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

How long can that last? Many of the true believers don't care. They even say that making money is no longer the point of being in business. They are free to believe that — but not with my money.

Even so, callers to my wealth management business and syndicated financial talk radio show 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.

There may be 1 million reasons to invest in wind or install a windmill. Most of those reasons involve bragging to your friends that you are saving the planet.

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 writer, talk show host and wealth manager.

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