A smarter way to analyze wind power's merits

In a recent commentary (“Md. offshore wind projects may hurt, instead of help, environment,” July 13), Robert Borlick correctly argued that Maryland’s Public Service Commission did not conduct an adequate cost-benefit analysis of offshore wind. Mr. Borlick’s main point is that offshore wind cost and performance need to be derived from a whole system concept. The root flaw in the PSC assessment is the assumption that wind farms and fossil-fuel plants are interchangeable. The science shows that the system impact is more complex.

The complexity of real systems is illustrated by the experience of Ontario, Canada. Over the past decade, Ontario reduced grid emissions by 80 percent making their grid is 12 times cleaner than ours. In 2016, Ontario produced 61 percent of its electricity from nuclear, 24 percent from hydroelectric, 9 percent from gas, and 6 percent from wind. They have the cleanest grid in the world except for some all-hydro grids in Scandinavia and South America. But the transition was not well planned, and consumers are complaining that electricity prices have nearly doubled. In 2016, roughly 25 percent of Ontario’s wind production was dumped, nearly 50 percent sold to Americans at low market prices, and 25 percent was used in Ontario at market prices. Yet ratepayers are footing nearly the whole bill as if 100 percent of available wind energy was being consumed.

The required cost-benefit analysis is not novel. It is the same method Maryland and Virginia used when they decided to replace the Wilson Bridge. The two states assigned nonpartisan engineers to quantify all alternatives: tunnels, high bridge, low bridge and drawbridge. While engineers recommended a tunnel, stakeholders (the public) chose a drawbridge. About $2.5 billion later, we have a drawbridge and everyone seems content. While it is not necessary for the states to choose the lowest cost option, that value choice should be based on rational alternatives, not a guess.

We are missing nonpartisan, whole system trade-offs that include both renewable energy and nuclear. A rigorous concept definition study would provide the PSC with the factual basis it needs for a sound cost-benefit assessment.

Alex Pavlak, Severna Park

The writer is chairman of Future of Energy Initiative.

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