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Power Hungry by Robert Bryce

Once you've carpeted your tract of wilderness with turbines and gotten over any guilt you might feel about the thousands of birds you're about to kill, prepare to be underwhelmed and underpowered. Look at Texas, Mr. Bryce says: It ranks sixth in the world in total wind-power production capacity, and it has been hailed as a model for renewable energy and green jobs by Republicans and Democrats alike. And yet, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state's electricity grid, just "8.7 percent of the installed wind capability can be counted on as dependable capacity during the peak demand period." The wind may blow in Texas, but, sadly, it doesn't blow much when it is most needed—in summer. The net result is that just 1% of the state's reliable energy needs comes from wind.

If using a huge amount of real estate to generate a tiny amount of energy from an intermittent energy source sounds deranged, consider, too, that we haven't yet found the holy grail for storing wind-generated energy. Wind is either an instant energy snack or a famine. It must be used when it's there or immediately replaced when it isn't.

But if you are managing an energy grid, you have to meet constant demand or face blackouts, which means that you will have to have conventional power plants to back up the wind farms. As Jing Yang reported in The Wall Street Journal last year, this strategy is precisely the one that China is pursuing, adding in one province alone the coal-fired equivalent of Hungary. These plants, Mr. Bryce notes, are designed to run continuously and will in all likelihood "be run continuously in order to assure that the regional power grid doesn't go dark." The irony of wind power is that it "doesn't displace power plants, it only adds to them."

It is not for nothing, then, that the scientist and ur-environmentalist James Lovelock (the author of the Gaia theory of holistic planet-nurturing) now thinks that wind power and renewable energy are "rotten ideas." What is arguably worse are rotten ideas that no one is allowed to criticize: Last year, Britain's minister for climate change, Ed Miliband, declared that the British government had to make opposition to wind power "socially unacceptable." There are more than 200 groups opposed to wind farms in Britain on the grounds that the turbines disfigure the landscape, thrum like air-conditioning units and, when the sun sets, create an irritating flicker-light for miles.

"Power Hungry" is a bracing attempt to call this kind of revolution to account, literally, by asking us to look at the math and to face the numbers. It is unsentimental, unsparing and impassioned; and, if you'll excuse the pun, it is precisely the kind of journalism we need to hold truth to power.

Mr. Butterworth is editor of STATS.org and a columnist for Forbes.com.

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