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Long-Winded Media Support
How the economic failure of wind energy is overlooked in the media
In the last month, three offshore wind generating companies have written off billions from their books, abandoned projects and reassessed their strategies. This month, the UK government held an auction for new offshore wind projects for the coming year and there was not one single tender.
Even at the present (high) energy prices, it has become obvious that the wind energy sector cannot compete, their technologies are unstable and the main wind turbine producers are losing money. There are also questions about the ecological benefits of wind energy. But how was this news reported? Not as a failed technology but rather a failure of regulators to provide the means (funding) for these businesses to succeed. The widespread media bias in favor of wind energy has meant very little discussion on the economic or ecological viability of the technology.
In July, 2023, the Swedish company, Vattenfall abandoned the construction of its offshore wind project of the Norfolk coast in the UK. They blamed spiraling supply chain costs and interest rates and have taken a loss of around half a billion USD on the project. An article in the Guardian claimed their bid to the UK government was too low to ever be profitable and put the blame entirely on the failure of regulators to step up and support the industry. There was no mention of how expensive offshore wind turbines have become.
In August, 2023, Siemens Gamesa announced serious quality issues in its wind turbine division needing an extra 1.6 billion euros to rectify. The group also announced higher than expected costs in developing sites in its offshore division. If Siemens Gamesa were to go ahead and develop the tenders they have won, given inflation, there would be further serious losses. Reuters did not report on the failure rates of wind turbines and where precisely the problems were, nor did they analyze the economic viability of the ongoing offshore projects.
At the end of August, 2023, the world’s largest offshore wind company, Ørsted lost 25% of its value after disclosing it would have to write down more than 2 billion USD from its American operations. Production delays in the US have been caused because the Danish company, demanding 40% in subsidies and tax credits from the US government, could only get a 30% commitment. The Guardian journalist ended the article with a quote from the head of the American operations: “The US offshore wind market remains attractive in the long term”.
In September, 2023, the BBC reported that there was not one single bid for the UK government’s offshore wind auction. It argued that the prices set by the UK regulators were too low for companies to make a profit. Reporting focused on how this would make it difficult for the UK government to achieve its CO2 emission reduction targets. It presented a very misleading graph that tried to demonstrate the importance of offshore wind to UK energy production, showing only its percentage within the total renewables mix (amounting to 120,000 GWh) while failing to put it in the perspective of the total UK electricity consumption (275 TWh) produced at a cheaper cost.
The construction of Vineyard Wind, the first major American offshore wind project, has been beset by legal challenges to the credibility of its environmental impact assessment. Four lawsuits claim the Biden administration has ignored environmental concerns as it fast-tracked production of the wind park 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The environmental impact assessment was only 30 pages. Outside of a legal news organization, there has been scant reporting of these lawsuits and most media report that the construction is going forward.
It is clear that the renewables-first narrative has created an evident bias in media reporting on offshore wind energy projects. While journalists are acknowledging the cost increases, they are not asking the basic questions: Is wind energy economically viable? If wind energy producers need to receive significant subsidies to survive, how much more will consumers have to pay for electricity? If wind turbines are facing serious quality issues, how long are their productive lifespans and how much will maintenance costs be? What are the ecological consequences of offshore wind farms? These questions should have been asked.
In other words, journalists have failed in their responsibilities and are playing into the wind industry’s communications strategy. They are not holding the industry to the same level of scrutiny they impose on the fossil fuel or nuclear energy sectors. For example, groups like NPR constantly repeat the “Six trillion dollars each year for fossil fuel subsidies” line without going into detail that, except for a few oil exporting countries, most subsidies are to ensure that the very poor in developing countries can afford to cook their food. Another article in Vice used a little known think-tank report to argue that the cost of fossil fuel power plants have been grossly over-valued, making renewables, by comparison, far cheaper. If this argument had been seriously scrutinized rather than just relayed, we might begin to understand why offshore wind projects are losing so much money.
Instead, unfiltered media bias is left just blowing in the wind.
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