Wind Power Blows Away Coal and Gas as Europe’s Cheapest Energy Source

A leaked EU study finds wind farms generate the least expensive electricity when air quality and climate-change costs are taken into account.

Wind turbines and tulip fields in North Holland, Netherlands. (Photo: Tu xa Ha Noi/Getty Images)

Oct 16, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The knock on renewable energy is its high price compared with fossil fuels. But a new European Commission analysis finds onshore wind power is cheaper than coal and gas when the “external cost” of fossil fuels to health and the environment is calculated, according to leaked documents obtained by The Guardian.

The Guardian reported that when those external costs are included, onshore wind farms generate 1 megawatt-hour of electricity at a price of 105 euros, compared with 164 euros for gas, 233 euros for coal, and 133 euros for nuclear power.

The European Wind Energy Association said that by factoring in air quality, climate change, and adverse health effects of energy sources, the report shows that the price of coal is more expensive than the highest retail electricity price in the EU’s 28 countries.

“This report highlights the true cost of Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels,” Justin Wilkes, EWEA’s deputy chief executive, said in a statement. “Renewables are regularly denigrated for being too expensive and a drain on the taxpayer. Not only does the commission’s report show the alarming cost of coal, but it also presents onshore wind as both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.”

The report found that energy production from solar power plants and offshore wind farms cost €125 MWh.

The European Photovoltaic Industry Association said the report is a wake-up call for policy makers.

“Despite decades of heavy subsidies, mature coal and nuclear energy technologies still rely on similar levels of public support as innovative solar energy is getting today,” Frauke Thies, EPIA policy director, said in a statement. “However, support to solar electricity is already coming down, in line with the rapid technology cost reduction, as opposed to coal and nuclear energy, which remain locked into subsidies as they have been for the last 40 years.”

The total cost of energy production from a particular fuel source has been difficult to pin down. One study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that the health impacts of oil, gas, and coal energy production cost the United States an extra $886.5 billion annually. In Europe, those costs have been pegged at $43 billion, according to the European Respiratory Society.

EU energy commissioner Günther H. Oettinger said the report is the “first step” in discovering the true cost of energy. “More research is needed, in particular on historical subsidies in the energy market in all EU member states and the EU overall,” he said.