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Streetwise Professor

February 11, 2013

Greendoggles, or Wind Blows (except when you need it)

Filed under: Climate Change,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 1:00 pm

Sunshine: The New Subprime.

Spain can no longer afford greendoggles:

The Spanish government’s latest bid to cut its growing debts to the country’s energy sector is expected to slash profits at renewable energy companies as Madrid continues to grapple with a €28bn deficit built up through years of subsidies.

Spain’s most recent reform to the energy sector will force renewable energy operators to choose between a fixed price or market price for their power – and remove a previous subsidy – while renewables subsidies will also be delinked from consumer price inflation and instead aligned with Spain’s core inflation measure.

Shares in Acciona, Spain’s second largest wind power operator, have tumbled almost 20 per cent, with Abengoa, Spain’s largest solar thermal power plant developer, also falling sharply since the changes were announced at the end of last week.

This story about the travails of the Utility Formerly Known as TXU doesn’t mention renewables-notably wind-but it should:

Energy Future Holdings Corp., the struggling Texas power company involved in a record leveraged buyout, could end up splitting as it faces significant choke points on debt and seeks counsel from Wall Street restructuring advisers.

The former TXU Corp. has been getting advice from big-name law firms and investment banks ahead of May, when it must start making cash payments on certain debt. In addition, the company faces nearly $4 billion in debt maturing in October 2014. The Dallas-based company was purchased by the private-equity firms and others in 2007 for $32 billion plus about $13 billion of debt.

After a series of complicated transactions over the past several years that rearranged its finances, the company now appears poised to start contemplating a major debt restructuring, be it through a bankruptcy filing or another means, according to a person close to the situation.

The article rightly notes that the collapse in natural gas prices has cratered generating margins (spark and dark spreads, and especially the later).  This is the main reason for EFH’s problems, but not the only reason.  The large increase in wind generation-which benefits quite nicely from  federal subsidies-has put downward pressure on power prices in Texas, and has led to negative prices for power with some regularity.  This is particularly important because Texas operates an energy-only market, with no capacity market, meaning that capital costs must be recouped from energy prices.  With wind subsidy-supressed prices, traditional generation has a hard time paying for itself.  As PUC Commissioner Donna Nelson said:

Federal incentives for renewable energy… have distorted the competitive wholesale market in ERCOT. Wind has been supported by a federal production tax credit that provides $22 per MWh of energy generated by a wind resource. With this substantial incentive, wind resources can actually bid negative prices into the market and still make a profit.

We’ve seen a number of days with a negative clearing price in the west zone of ERCOT where most of the wind resources are installed…. The market distortions caused by renewable energy incentives are one of the primary causes I believe of our current resource adequacy issue… [T]his distortion makes it difficult for other generation types to recover their cost and discourages investment in new generation.

The impact is greatest in the western part of the state, but wind weighs on prices throughout the state.  Except when it’s hot, because that’s when the wind doesn’t blow-but the power is particularly needed.  And wind also imposes substantial reliability challenges, requiring backup generation resources-which find it difficult to recoup costs due to prices that are often artificially low due to the wind subsidy.

The subsidies completely distort price signals, which in turn distort investment incentives and raise the serious risk of shortages of reliable generation resources that can operate hot or cold, rain or shine.

Other than all that stuff, wind is great.

But regulators are hell-bent on tipping the scales in favor of wind:

It’s no secret why FERC is likely to rule against the homeowners in Iowa and Minnesota. The Obama Administration’s green vision is to make wind and solar an ever-larger share of U.S. electricity production, regardless of costs. Think high-speed rail for the electric power network. The only way to make that happen without a political backlash is to spread the costs far and wide.

Wind and solar power are too expensive to compete with natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydropower without government help. The wind lobby already won an extension of its $12 billion production tax credit as part of the recent tax increase. More than half the states also have renewable energy standards forcing residents to purchase wind power. And now the greens want another subsidy for transmission lines.

Because wind makes such economic sense.  The fact that subsidies (and, in some places, the indoctrination of children) are required to support wind development tells you just how much economic sense it makes.  It is a greendoggle of the first order, and one that you might want to think about when the lights or AC go out, especially in Texas on a hot summer’s day.

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3 Comments »

  1. SWP, with this topic and Russia, I’d swear you were a comedian.

    I love this quote:
    “After a series of complicated transactions over the past several years that rearranged its finances, the company now appears poised to start contemplating a major debt restructuring, be it through a bankruptcy filing or another means, according to a person close to the situation.”

    Uh, it sounds like it’s saying, “Once they finally got their finances in order, they figured out they had no money.”

    Comment by Howard Roark — February 11, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

  2. @Howard. LOL. I’m not a comedian. I’m a miner of comedic gold! Many rich veins to tap.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 11, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

  3. http://www.ercot.com/content/gridinfo/generation/windintegration/2012/07/ERCOT%20Wind%20Integration%20Report%2007-31-12.pdf
    http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2011/ERCOT+Quick+Facts+-+Aug+2011.pdf

    66K MW peak load (and growing)
    10k MW installed wind capacity
    1.2k MW of wind across the peak

    hope you own a generac ercot will be a mess this summer

    Comment by Sako — February 11, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

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