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Fact check: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised costs for new wind energy projects

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/29/2022 Chris Mueller, USA TODAY
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The claim: The cost to produce wind energy hasn’t increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Wind energy accounted for almost half of all electricity generated by a renewable energy source in the U.S. last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The growth of wind as a source of energy in the country has happened largely over the last two decades, growing in that span from 0.2% to 9.2% of all electricity generated.

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Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its seventh month, has thrown global energy markets into turmoil, fueling concerns about the security and supply of energy worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency.

One social media post seized on this anxiety to tout the supposed benefits of wind power.

“Since the Russian invasion, the cost to produce wind energy has gone up $0.00,” reads a Sept. 19 Facebook post that was shared more than 800 times in eight days.

The facts are more complicated than that, though.

While the cost to maintain existing sources of wind power remains low, many countries have, in the wake of the fighting in Ukraine, taken steps to more quickly transition to renewable energy. Those efforts have driven up the cost of such projects, which were already being hindered by issues with supply chains and the rising prices of raw materials, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the claim for comment.

Ukraine war straining supply chains, driving up material prices

In March, when President Joe Biden announced a ban on the import of Russian oil, natural gas and coal in response to the Ukraine invasion, the White House released a statement emphasizing the need to transition to “a clean energy future” and “reduce our dependency on oil.”

But, according to the Wall Street Journal’s report, developers worry a faster transition won’t be possible, at least not in the near future. This is because many projects are being hit by “soaring post-invasion prices for key materials,” including aluminum and steel, along with higher transportation costs.

The prices for long-term contracts for wind-power purchases – used to finance new projects – went up last year in nearly every competitive power market in the U.S., the Journal reported. The fourth-quarter prices rose by 19% for wind when compared to the prior year, according to a report by LevelTen Energy, a renewable-energy marketplace. Solar rose by 12% as well.

The war in Ukraine has increased demand for renewable energy, but it’s difficult to say how significant of a role the conflict has played in driving up costs since other factors, including inflation, have contributed too, said Eric Lantz, wind analysis manager at National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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A report by the U.S. Department of Energy says “with supply chain pressures and rising materials prices, turbine prices generally increased in 2021,” though it also notes prices for new turbines have “dropped substantially” overall since 2008.

The higher costs apply mainly to the construction of new wind turbines because existing wind turbines cost relatively little to maintain, Michael Howland, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told USA TODAY. 

“There are some marginal costs, mostly associated with operation and maintenance, but these marginal costs are very small,” he said.

As a result, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine likely won’t have a significant effect on the cost to generate electricity from existing wind turbines, Howland said.

Our rating: Partly false

Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that the cost to produce wind energy hasn’t increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While it's true the cost to maintain existing wind turbines won't be significantly affected by the war, it has further strained supply chains and led to higher prices for materials, increasing the cost of new projects.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised costs for new wind energy projects

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