Wind opponents have lately seized upon subsidies as the newest bogeyman to scare us off wind power.

Here again, some perspective is helpful. There are, in fact, significant federal subsidies for both wind and solar (and, of course, for gas, coal, oil, nuclear and ethanol as well). In the case of wind and solar, these subsidies are designed to offset the high capital costs of installing a wind or solar project, which, in turn, lowers the long-term cost of the power they produce.

It’s important to understand that there are no guaranteed rates for wind or solar power (as there are in Europe). Wind projects must compete in the market against all other sources, like coal or natural gas — which, as I mentioned, themselves receive federal subsidies. (This is why wind won’t raise rates in Maine, as is often claimed.)

By lowering the cost of the project — and thereby the cost of the power the project produces — the subsidies actually end up benefiting the consumers of the power just like the huge federal subsidies to the Tennessee Valley Authority in the South and the great hydro projects in the West have made power cheaper in those regions for the past 80 years.

Opponents make a big deal that federal wind subsidies are greater than those for fossil fuels per kilowatt-hour produced (though the actual dollar subsidies for oil, gas and coal dwarf those for renewables). But this calculation doesn’t count the cost in terms of pollution and effect on human life of continuing to burn stuff and dump the waste into the air.

A National Academies of Science study several years ago, for example, estimated that just the environmental cost of burning coal was an average of 3.2 cents per kwh. (This doesn’t include climate-change impacts, by the way; this is costs like disease and premature death due to pollutants in the air.) The federal subsidy for wind? About 1 cent per kwh over the life of the project.

And remember why those subsidies are there in the first place. Policymakers the world over know that there are values to society — that’s all of us — of getting out of the combustion business. If we had to pay the true human, social and environmental costs of fossil fuels at the pump, wind would win; the subsidies simply level the playing field.

The opponents just don’t like wind — that’s why they hate the subsidies; and you know what? I’ll bet Prince Talal hates them, too.