Wind Boondoggles

            Wind can fit into the electric grid.  But all too often wind projects are boondoggles, government programs to concentrate the wealth of the nation into the hands of the politically connected, all too often with the cachet of Keynesian economics.

            Robert McCartney’s column “Wind power is worth the investment of $2 a month for Maryland households” in the 2012 February 25 edition of The Washington Post obviously argues for a greater investment in wind farms in Maryland.  But I was more intrigued by his explaining the political machinations being taking by the governor and his associates, using the Keynesian arguments for a temporary bump in construction jobs, a temporary bump for which Maryland consumers would be paying for years, probably costing more jobs in the long run than are produced in the short run.

            Three days after McCartney’s column The Washington Post  published my letter to the editor, along with two others, each of which had been written in response to earlier articles and editorials in The Washington Post .[1]  I take a longer term view of such investments.  We eventually have to pay for them.  Further, how many times has the government underestimated the cost of a project?  Yes, we are told it is only $2 a month per customer.  But that is today’s promise.  And $2 a month per customer is a lot of money.  Further, I doubt that the boondoggle will stop there.

            Keynes was a big proponent of the government spending its way out of recessions, which seems to be part of the governor’s calculus.  But I have to wonder about the payback.  Greece and a few other European nations are learning about the old adage, “Paybacks are Hell.”  They spent in a Keynesian manner and their economies are now being depressed by much more than the Keynesian spending had provided benefits.

Similarly, what will be the payback for the governor’s preferred method for adding more green electricity to the grid?  The benefits to limited parts of the current economy will be paid back at $2 a month per customer for years, sucking money out the Maryland economy, money that would otherwise have been able to provide jobs in the future.  I am sure that the response in the future will be more Keynesian economic investment, digging us into mess similar to the Greek hole.

            One aspect of the governor’s approach is a concentration of wealth into the hands of a few.  Though some might call it robbing Peter to pay Paul, I think of Robin Hood, the English folk hero brought to life by Hollywood, and his mantra of “Rob from the rich and give to the poor.”  Except as I say in my The Washington Post letter, the governor’s approach is the opposite of Robin Hood.  The governor is taking from everyone, especially the poor, and giving it to a few people, making the rich or richer. 

Yes, the governor talks about the working class people in Baltimore getting jobs.  But those same people will be the ones who will be short of jobs in the future when the $2 a month per customer payments are sucked out of the Maryland economy.  But that will be some other governor’s problem, just as the Greek hole is the problem of a different Greek government than the one that spent Greece into debt.

            But the wealth concentration is not just the temporary jobs given to the working class people of Baltimore.  The wealth concentration also shows up in payments to the manufactures of the wind turbines and in payments to the owners of the wind turbines.  In many respects these are the real beneficiaries of the governor’s wind program.  I am pretty sure that Robin Hood wouldn’t like this major, long term, part of the governor’s wind program, this legislative boondoggle.

            And as to the benefits of getting Maryland into the ground floor of manufacturing wind turbines, I seem to remember the same argument being made by the federal government about its loan guarantees to Solyndra, a manufacture of solar cells.  But these green generating devices were made more inexpensively by China, and Solyndra went under, with no long term benefit to the US for the investment in these manufacturing jobs, jobs that vanished with Solyndra’s bankruptcy.

            I would pull out my copy of Cervantes’s Don Quixote and begin tilting at windmills, but windmills do have a place in the electric grid, just not the way being proposed for Maryland.