Monday, July 03, 2006

UPC Wind misinforms

UPC, the company proposing 26 400-foot-high wind energy machines in Sheffield and Sutton [Vt.], took out a full-page ad in the July 1 Caledonian-Record (page B4). This was in reponse to the 48 people that were not employees of UPC who testified at the June 26 Public Service Board hearing in Sutton -- all of them describing the project's many negative impacts and its lack of significant benefits. UPC's ad quotes Abraham Lincoln that a dog still has four legs even if you call the tail a leg. They then proceed to argue that the tail of their dog is indeed a leg. But, as Bill Clinton used to say, that dog don't hunt.

1. The Sheffield/Sutton wind energy facility will not help Vermont meet its energy needs. One third of the time, it will produce no energy at all. Another third of the time, it will produce at a rate well below its already low annual average of 20-30% of capacity. The largely unpredictable variability is in response to the wind rather than user demand. It is therefore mostly useless for meeting our energy needs.

2. Wind energy does not make the air cleaner. Because it is so variable, it does not displace the use of other fuels. Because it adds to the balancing burden on other sources, wind energy may even cause more pollution. No promoter has been able to show any evidence of reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to wind energy on the grid.

3. Property values and the tourist economy will obviously be affected. Twenty-six 400-ft-high machines -- turning, strobe-lit, and wump-wumping night and day -- are hard to ignore. A significant proportion of people with a choice will obviously buy or visit elsewhere. Every effort the industry has made to design surveys to show otherwise has been easily deflated.

4. Noisier than you think. Noise is the most common complaint from neighbors of giant wind turbines. It is an unnatural noise, compounded by a resonant aspect that can rattle windows and make some people ill. The noise is usually worse at night. While denying its significance, wind developers try to pay neighbors to sign "forbearance easements" to squelch complaints.

5. Green credits don't mean anything. The logic of renewable energy credits is sound for a more reliable source of energy. But wind does not displace other sources, so the companies are taking advantage of the extra revenue stream without having to show any actual benefit in return.

There is no "New England 'green credits' program" as the UPC ad claims. Several states have renewable portfolio standards, whose requirements are met by showing green credits, but UPC can sell green credits, or tags, to anyone, anywhere.

Vermont is, however, part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is indeed a "cap and trade" system. If the Sheffield/Sutton facility would not be involved in it, as UPC and Washington Electric Co-op insist, that's because it would have no measurable effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Who gets the big subsidies? UPC cites only one minor source of the many subsidies for industrial-scale wind energy. The industry's own seminars describe how taxpayers can pay for two-thirds to three-fourths of the cost of erecting giant wind turbines. That's potentially several million dollars per machine. It is true that other energy sources are also heavily subsidized. Other sources, however, unlike big wind, provide useful energy.

7. UPC Wind Partners is a subsidiary of UPC Group, which is based in Italy. UPC Group was established by New Englanders, but in Italy.

This dog of a project doesn't even bark convincingly. The Sheffield/Sutton project is, like all industrial wind facilities, a boondoggle whose only success will be the transfer of public money to private investors. The promoters cannot show any evidence to back up their claim of reducing greenhouse gases and pollution. That is the empty hat they are desperate to fill with full-page ads proclaiming "the truth." But their arguments are as puffs of air and don't have a leg to stand on.

[published in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, July 8, 2006]

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont