Sunday, April 30, 2006

What are green tags?

Green tags were invented by Enron to be able to sell wind energy twice. First the actual energy is sold, then the packaging. The purchaser of green tags is buying an empty box.

And wind power investors are laughing all the way to their offshore bank accounts (letting drop a few pieces of their folding money to keep the locals happy so they can wave it, along with the jumbo-jet-sized turbine blades, in the face of the newcomers).

Not surprisingly, there turns out to be greater demand for the box -- it is certainly more reliable and a lot prettier -- than for the energy itself.

And for those who must meet renewable energy obligations or portfolio standards, they can hide their pollution in the "green" box, and that's good enough for the government and even for many groups that call themselves environmentalist!

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Maple Ridge Wind Farm "lease"

Here are some features from the lease that the Flat Rock Wind Power company draws up for owners of the land where it wants to erect giant wind turbines. The Maple Ridge facility on the Tug Hill plateau in Lewis County, N.Y., near Lowville, currently boasts 120 390-ft-high turbines and at least 75 more, possibly larger models, are planned. The lease is for 25 years with the option then of the lessee (the wind company) to extend it another 15.
3.3: Right to replace turbines with newer (larger) models, even at new locations as approved by lessor, who shall not "unreasonably" withhold, condition, or delay consent. Operations and improvements may be performed by sublessee or subcontractors of sublessee (making it all the more difficult to remedy violations).

4.1.1: Easement to allow "audio, visual, view, light, noise, vibration, air turbulence, wake, shadow flicker, electromagnetic, television reception, ice or other weather created hazards or other effect of any kind whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly" from the project and the leased property. [emphasis added] 5.10: Same for any improvements.

4.1.5: Seventy-five-feet-wide easement for transmission and communication lines.

4.2: Right to use access, utility, water, "or other easements, rights of way or licenses over lands in the general vicinity" of the leased property.

5.1.2: Right to change turbine and road locations up to 50 feet and underground transmission lines by 250 feet -- more by request, to which lessor must respond in 5 days or consent is assumed. If lessor has reasons for denying change, lessee is not required to address concerns if it would increase costs or decrease capture of wind.

20.1: Right to transfer ownership of project without lessor's approval.

34: "[L]evel of power production, the wind capacity of the property and the availability of the wind power facilities" and the lease itself must remain confidential.

37: Lessor or relative forbidden to interfere with flow of air over leased property by, e.g., planting trees or constructing buildings.

40: Requirement of lessor to waive all applicable setback laws and ordinances between leased and remaining part of property.
Many defenders of those who sign their land up for these facilities invoke "property rights" to justify their disregard for the concerns of neighbors. Other than the bald fact that it is not the landowner who writes the lease and essentially becomes a caretaker on his or her own property for 25 to 40 years, all of the above items, especially those from paragraphs 4.1.1, 37, and 40, make a mockery of the owner's property rights.

Another lease, with similar features, has been described previously. The Flat Rock company is also getting neighboring property owners to sign agreements, as excerpted here. The consequence of believing the wind company that there will be no reason to complain, because any problems you hear about are just dreamed up by newcomer NIMBYs trying to protect their views, and thus not questioning why then the wind company wants you to sign away your right to complain (see item 4.1.1 above), has been described here, too.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, anarchism

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Greens Tags

[press release]

Washington -- A coalition of giant supermarket chains and token small grocers, along with a nutritionist from a supermarkets-funded program at an otherwise little known academic institution, hailed the bipartisan agreement today by the state's legislature and governor to establish the marketing of grocers greens tags.

"A lot of overpaid lobbyists have billed for a lot of hours to make this bill a reality," a spokesman for one supermarket chain is imagined to have said. "It is crucial to our efforts to improve the diets of Americans."

Background

In the past, the effort to introduce leafy greens into diets has been stymied by the extra expense of a product that shrinks substantially when cooked, thus requiring so much more to supply a satisfying meal. A cycle of reluctance to buy enough and consequent disappointment with the shrunken result prevented the movement of greens from grocers' shelves at an adequate rate to remain profitable.

That all changed in the mid-1990s when Enron expanded into the wholesale grocery business. The company's "whiz-kid" accountants perceived that there were two parts in the cost of leafy greens. As food, their cost was comparable to other, more popular, items. The extra cost was for the nutritional attributes. Enron convinced the state of California to require grocers to sell a certain percentage of "healthy" foods, particularly leafy greens which could be quickly grown.

The "greens obligations" were calculated from the purchase of the extra-cost nutritional attributes, as represented by "grocers greens tags," accounted separately from the regular food part of the greens. Grocers greens tags are "grown" at the same time as the food itself, and thus the grocer could buy the greens both as food and as a benefit to the diet.

But what if a grocer's wholesaler did not have enough greens to sell? Since some grocers had more than enough greens to meet their greens obligations, they were allowed to sell, or to allow their wholesaler to sell, the excess greens tags to others. This very effectively promoted the growth of greens by creating a profitable market for their nutritional attributes apart from their value as food. This market also allowed grocers to meet their greens obligations, if not to their own customers then by helping to defray the costs of better nutrition for the customers of other grocers.

Today

The use of grocers greens tags is now commonplace, with brokers springing up across the country and many companies buying them for their cafeterias and vending machines. Even individuals can buy them to "offset" their bad diets. Today's announcement brings the total number of states that have established a greens tags system for a healthier America to 17.

"We can all eat better, even if we don't," an executive of one of the coalition's grocery chains is said to have said.

"It's the market at work -- everyone wins," an analyst from a bloated Wall Street investment company that happens to have substantial investments in the giant grocery business added. "With grocers greens tags, combined with greens obligations standards, venture capitalists are very excited by the lower risk and much larger returns."

The coalition also recognized the untiring efforts of many public interest groups such as Greens Pease International and the state's Public Interest Group.

A statement from Greens Pease in praise of the new bill echoed the business interests: "We can have our greens and eat them, too -- or not and say we did."

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why a 52-MW wind "farm" is worth only 4.3 MW

I have been asked to clarify the numbers from the "data" paragraph of the previous post, "Why is VPIRG hiding?".

Capacity factor: Searsburg started at about 24% and has now been around 21% for a few years. The national average as reported by facilities themselves to the Energy Information Agency of the DOE is 27%, but they apparently do not count out-of-commission turbines, so I think 25% is a fair estimate. Note that in the U.K., with the "best" wind resource in Europe, the capacity factor also is only 24% or so.

That's the easy one.

For most of the power curve between the cut-in wind speed of 9 mph and the rated wind speed of 30 mph, the power generation increases cubically in relation to the wind speed. That is, as the wind speed doubles, the power output increases eightfold.

Say the wind speeds are evenly distributed within that range, that is, it blows at 12 mph as often as at 24 mph and so on across the range. Because the turbine produces power at much lower rates at slow than at high wind speeds (one-eighth the power, e.g., at 12 mph than at 24 mph), such an even distribution of wind speeds would mean that the turbine is producing at lower rates much more often.

All this is to explain actual observations as shown in this graphic from German grid manager Eon Netz. The curve follows the total output (or infeed to the grid) of Eon Netz's wind plant and the number of hours that level was reached or surpassed. For example, the infeed was at least 2,000 MW during approximately 5,000 quarter-hours of the year and 1,000 MW during about 12,500 quarter-hours. Higher levels of infeed were seen during much fewer quarter-hours.


The heavy horizontal line shows the average infeed (which, as a percentage of the total installed capacity, represents the capacity factor, in this case 16.4%). That level was seen during about 12,500 quarter-hours, which is 35% of the year. The graph shows, therefore, that the average rate of production is seen only a third of the time. That is, only one third of the time the turbines produce at or above their average rate.

A higher capacity factor would simply raise straighten the curve somewhat; the average infeed, although higher, would still be seen only a third of the time.


This graph, from a Views of Scotland paper, shows the same thing even more clearly. Each bar shows how many hours of the year the infeed was in the specified range. The total heights of the first three columns represent two-thirds of the year but only one-fourth of the installed capacity. The capacity factor in Denmark is actually around 20% or less, so a rate of production at or above average was reached less than a third of the time.

That's the time the wind plant is reasonably productive. But that is not really how I got down to 4.3% effective capacity for UPC's proposed 52-MW facility in Sheffield and Sutton.

The "effective" capacity is a measure of how much other sources could be replaced by wind power for the supply system to remain reliable. It is also called "capacity credit." It is a much more speculative number, but study after study of the grid integration of intermittent, nondispatchable, and imprecisely predictable wind energy put it at about a third of the capacity factor.

The scenario is that even as, say, a 52-MW wind plant produces at an average of 13 MW, the grid cannot decommission or plan not to install a corresponding 13 MW but perhaps only a third of that. As more wind plant is added and therefore more often uses more of the rest of the system to balance it, that "credit" approaches zero (which the Irish Grid study I alluded to clearly states).

I'm a bit out of my depth here, but I would assume the capacity credit would be reflected in costs to utilities, which would be similarly unable to contract for less energy to an amount that is anywhere near the amount of wind power they may purchase. Thus, if Washington Electric buys UPC's production from 52 MW of turbines averaging 13 MW, it would be able to buy only 4.3 MW less from other sources.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont, environment, environmentalism

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why is VPIRG hiding?

It is no secret that VPIRG supports industrial-scale wind power development of Vermont's ridgelines. It has been at the forefront of arguing on behalf of the developers, even as it fights such heedless sprawl in every other issue they are involved in.

After the recommendation from the Public Service Board hearing officer to deny a permit to the four-turbine project in East Haven, the next project they are advocating for is a 26-turbine (each 399 feet high) development in Sheffield and Sutton. But the "group" sent out to rally the people in the developer's favor is called "Clean Power Vermont."

I looked up the group's internet domain (cleanpowervt.org) information some time ago and discovered that it was registered by VPIRG. The main organizer, Tyler Edgar, is an employee of VPIRG. (She was also the sole representative of an earlier group, "Clean Air Vermont," which held an "informational" meeting in Sutton before that town rejected the project by a margin of 6 to 1.) Joining her for the Sheffield push is Drew Hudson, field director of VPIRG. The domain information is now hidden, but the the web pages are still filled (at the time of this writing) with code referring to vpirg.org.

Although they may have been defeated in East Haven, VPIRG board members Dave Rapaport and Mathew Rubin (the developers) are now targeting the string of ridges between East Haven and Island Pond (town of Brighton) that overlook the protected "Champion" lands and the Nulhegan Basin, which has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the world's prime "geotourism" destinations. Obviously VPIRG/EMDC (Rubin & Rapaport's company) needs a favorable precedent to improve their chances of a permit and thus their fanatical -- and dishonest -- promotion of the Sheffield/Sutton installations.

Data: Italy-based UPC has applied to erect 26 two-megawatt (MW) turbines (Gamesa G87 models), each 399 feet high (requiring strobe lights day and night), their rotor blades each sweeping a vertical air space of 1.47 acres. The average output from this 52-MW facility can be expected to be only 25% of its rated capacity, or 13 MW. Because of the cubic relation of output to wind speed below the ideal of 30 mph, however, it would generate at or above that rate only a third of the time, as shown by infeed curves from Germany and Ireland. Its effective capacity, its actual contribution to grid capacity planning, would be about a third of that, or 4.3 MW, since it is nondispatchable, variable, and imprecisely predictable. (This figure of the effective capacity, or capacity credit, of large-scale wind power on the grid is taken from studies by New York, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Germany, all of them supportive of wind power development; the Irish and German studies also noticed that as more wind power is added to the system, presumably as its penetration approaches the excess capacity that can readily serve to balance its fluctuating infeed, the capacity credit of new turbines approaches zero.)

At 4.3 MW effective capacity, the output from the Sheffield/Sutton plant would represent about two-thirds of one percent of Vermont's current electricity needs. Clearly the negative impacts of such a massive and prominently intrusive facility far outweigh this meager possible benefit.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, Vermont, environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism

Friday, April 21, 2006

Greenpeace dishonest

"While you're paying close to $3.00 a gallon at the gas pump, Congress is secretly trying to kill big oil's competition, and only YOU can help us fight back."

That's from Greenpeace's recent appeal to join the fight against the admittedly sleazy effort in Congress to allow Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to kill the Cape Wind project on the shoals of Nantucket Sound.

First, it is bizarre to hear Greenpeace focusing their reason to back Cape Wind to a claim that it will reduce energy prices. What about the vaunted environmental benefits?

Second, it is pathetic to hear Greenpeace suggesting that wind power provides gasoline for our cars (let alone enough to affect the price).

There's nothing wrong with an honest and open debate -- in fact it is to be much preferred to back-room manipulation and bullying -- but this, along with the many other appeals from Cape Wind's promoters, is not it. It is bad enough when the hucksters investing in and developing these projects misrepresent them, which is (has to be) their normal mode of business. That "defenders of the environment" also throw their integrity overboard and engage in any deceitful means to push these projects is quite disheartening.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Support for wind energy declines in statewide poll

According to the latest poll commissioned by big wind flak Renewable Energy Vermont (press release, Feb. 2, 2006), "The number of Vermonters who would like to see more wind energy in Vermont increased to 43%, up from 30% in a 2002 statewide poll." Not mentioned is that the result of this question in the 2004 edition of the poll was 42% for wind. That is, support for wind energy has not increased.

Another deceit in the release of this year's poll was to combine answers to the question about wind turbines on ridges (where the industrialists insist on placing them; also note there were no supportive questions to assess the respondent's knowledge of the technology and the issues). Whereas in the previous polls, four answers besides "other" and "don't know" were reported (beautiful, acceptable, unacceptable, and ugly), this time "acceptable" -- a rather neutral answer, and therefore consistently representing the vast majority, who aren't affected by proposed projects -- was combined with "beautiful."

The fact is, the "beautiful" response declined from 2002 (11%) to 2004 (8%), as did the "acceptable" response slightly (68% to 66%). Again, the latest results are compared with the 2002 results, but only as the combined "beautiful/acceptable": from 79% in 2002 to 81% in 2006 (ignoring the drop to 74% in 2004). Because the individual responses aren't reported, it is evident that "beautiful" continued to decline.

In all three editions of the poll, the more reasonably combined "unacceptable/ugly" responses remained consistent at 16%. In 2004, this was twice the "beautiful" response, and it is probably more in the 2006 results. Again, this poll shows that a favorable view of wind power on mountain ridges continues to decline.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont, environment, environmentalism

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Big Thinker" scared of little questions

Shea Gunther, self-described "big thinker," continues to pettily limit the comments posted to his blog. I was contacted by "Rosa" after she saw a question of hers removed. Gunther's post was about Whole Foods pushing wind energy for Earth Day. Rosa asked if they are talking about buying actual energy (through one's utility) or just "green tags."

After the question's disappearance, she poked around to find out more and came across the description here of Gunther's censorship of "Rucio," even blocking his replies to a post and comments directly attacking him. Rosa added a comment there, too, asking, since Gunther wrote that he looked forward to the "antiwind nutjobs'" replies, why there weren't any. It was soon disappeared.

Gunther calls his hucksterism "eco-entrepreneurship." Since he keeps the comments section of his blog open only to replies that reinforce his view of himself, a more appropriate prefix would be "ego" or "echo." At the least, he should include a disclaimer that only comments that help promote his business (current caper: carbon offsets) are included.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday papers: Screw the people, screw the planet

Eileen McNamara tears at the Democrats in her Boston Globe column today:
The hapless Democrats, apparently mesmerized by rave reviews of the ["bogus 'universal' health insurance"] legislation in the clueless national press, got punked.
and
Democrats, as leery of being labeled "polarizing" as they are of being called "unpatriotic," have developed an irrational fear of rhetorical confrontation that is costing them credibility as well as elections. Voters are eager for bipartisan cooperation, not for blind cooption. They respect compromise, not capitulation. What the public witnessed last week in Massachusetts was Democratic complicity in a staged campaign event designed to promote the presidential ambitions of a Republican governor selling an unproven ability to work cooperatively with his ideological adversaries.
Romney vetoed portions of the bill, notably the requirement for employers to provide insurance or pay into a state fund, although the legislature is expected to override that veto. On the other hand, they may not want to jeopardize their standing in the "bipartisan problem-solving" club, even though it is Romney who is the outsider and the one jettisoning key aspects of the "agreement." Or maybe they know it's a sham bill, so they really don't care.

Meanwhile the Bush administration, with the cooperation of most Democrats in Congress, continues its attack on the poor, requiring Medicaid recipients to prove their U.S. citizenship starting July 1. It is meant to stop, As one compassionate conservative, Representative Charlie Norwood of Georgia, is quoted in the New York Times, the "theft of Medicaid benefits by illegal aliens." It is expected to save the government $220 million over five years. Annually, that's equivalent to the cost for seven minutes of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations.

Of final note, a commentary in the Times by Jamie Lincoln Kitman describes the hucksterism that has embraced hybrid automobiles (as it has so much else that might have been "green" but is now manipulated into meaninglessness to cater to the fads of consumerism).

He points out that a hybrid is best for city driving, with lots of starts and stops, and that many conventional cars have much better mileage than hybrids on the highway. Most egregious are hybrid SUVs, in which the electric motor simply adds a little boost to help haul around the massive vehicle and contributes almost nothing to fuel efficiency. In short, most hybrid vehicles are not any better than conventional vehicles, yet the owner of a hybrid but still gas-guzzling SUV can claim tax incentives and use preferred traffic lanes and parking spots while the owner of a truly fuel-efficient, but not hybrid, car is denied any such privilege.

environment, environmentalism, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The green tag scam

A haiku from comments at Grist Magazine:


Like indulgences

so too will the tags of green

be laughed at later


wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Wind power development like logging and mining

According to an Associated Press story yesterday, the Synergics company in Maryland is threatening to sue the state because environmental protection of rare and endangered species may cause their plan to erect seventeen 420-ft-high turbines on Backbone Mountain (Maryland's highest ridge) to be rejected. Their reasoning: there is logging and mining in the area, although apparently outside the state's environmental jurisdiction.

Instead of proving their green credentials by modifying the project to fit the law, Synergics simply threatens the state with legal action. After all, they've spent a lot of investors' money to develop a 40-MW project, and any less could mean some embarrassing losses, threatening Synergics' ability to raise money for future projects. The environment? What's that?

Note that such belligerence which belies the "green" mask is not unusual for wind developers. It was one of their faults in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, which recently passed strict guidelines regulating wind turbine erections. One of the developers there, Emerging Energies, after trying to slip their permit request in the day before a year-long moratorium began last year, stood before the Planning and Parks Supervisors at the last meeting of the ordinance commission and renewed his threat to sue them if they passed the ordinance as it was shaping up. The county attorney was actually so worried that he was urging board members to reject it -- until WINDCOWS members found out and raised the issue at a meeting and got him to admit that it was indeed a defensible ordinance and the behavior of the developers hardly argued in their favor. Another of the developers, Navitas, is in court to get an extension to a conditional use permit they already hold but which expires in December. That county attorney wrote a letter to the judge claiming that the board is in favor of extension. He was forced to admit that he wrote the letter on his own and that the board knew nothing about it and had never even met to discuss the issue.

Shenanigans -- not an interest in the environment or the neighbors -- characterize industrial wind power development. They are indeed Enron's heirs.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism

Friday, April 14, 2006

In praise of greyhounds

Greyhounds are the oldest breed of domesticated dog. As hunters, they are the eponym of the "sight hound" family, which includes afghans, borzois, Irish wolfhounds, and whippets. They can spot a rabbit from a mile away and, if trained to do so, have a good chance of catching it, since they can reach a running speed of 40 mph in two or three strides.

Alas, these graceful noble animals are now bred only to race for human betting. When they are around 18 months, they are tested for racing, and if fast enough go on to a full racing career. There they are raced every three or four days, until they are four years old or so or suffer an injury (broken legs and torn ligaments are common). Then they may be transfered to an adoption agency and if lucky retire to a home where they may experience love and companionship and comfort for the first time.

There is, obviously, a period of adjustment. The greyhound must adapt from a life in kennels with dozens of other dogs and a rigid, sometimes cruel, routine to a more relaxed though more complicated life in a home with perhaps more humans than dogs (not to mention stairs and windows and doors that they have to learn about). The greyhound is not used to the high level of attention and affection but quickly learns to enjoy it. They never had a chance to be puppies and are now free to be playful individuals.

They are incredibly smart and sensitive. They are already very well trained for the leash and to "go potty" outside. They must never be hit or yelled at (or laughed at). A firm word rarely has to be repeated more than a couple times. Because they run so fast, however, they must never be off a leash in an open area, and they can not be left on a tether, which could kill them if they ran to the end of it. Electric fences are useless against their speed. They need a decent-sized fenced area to run freely in. Watching them run for the sheer joy of it, and marveling at their astonishing speed, is one of the pleasures of bringing them into your home.

And so I urge people -- especially those who are not away from home all day -- to consider adopting a greyhound. They are large but very gentle. Some will go after your cats, but most ignore them. They don't bark. They smile (baring their teeth, which is a bit startling to see the first time) and bow down in affectionate greeting. They like to laze about, sometimes sprawling their whole glorious length, other times folding their lanky bodies into a compact ball when they sleep. They have astonishingly beautiful paws.

In January, we adopted a shy 2-1/2 year old female from Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. One by one, she worked us into her social circle. She quickly became a loved and loving part of the family. We plan to get another.


animal rights, Vermont

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Taking the wind from developers' sails

The County Board of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, after a year-long moratorium while viable guidelines for wind power development were hashed out, passed an ordinance last night regulating large wind turbines by a vote of 23-2.

Notable aspects limit the noise to 5 dB(A) above the ambient level, prohibit shadows to touch any part of neighboring property, and require the turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from neighboring property lines.

According to WINDCOWS, whose members worked long and hard for this ordinance, one of the big backers of the developers on the county board, who was chair of Planning and Parks, was voted out of office last week, replaced by a WINDCOWS member. Three other members were elected to town boards last year. Besides the group's clear mastery of the facts, these elections showed the public support for strong protection against industrial wind development.

The noise limit is significant. In Oregon, where the limit for rural areas was 10 dB(A) above the ambient level, the wind developers complained that they could not possibly meet that standard. Instead of sending them packing and preserving this modest protection from noise pollution, however, the state revised the law to satisfy the industry.

Congratulations, WINDCOWS and Manitowoc County!

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

NWW encourages funding to research impacts of commercial wind energy

[press release]

Submits Comments to House Appropriations Committee

Rowe, MA (April 11, 2006). National Wind Watch submitted comments to the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development calling for funding to be redirected away from wind energy research and development (R&D) and instead focused on the detrimental impacts of commercial wind energy installations and possible mitigation techniques. The subcommittee determines annual spending levels for programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).

National Wind Watch stressed in its comments that "Continued installation of wind turbines throughout our rural and mountainous landscapes without scientific, impartial review of the impacts of this industrialization, would have devastating effects on some of the most precious ecosystems in the world." Further, it stated that after decades of government subsidized research and implementation, it was time for the wind industry to start paying for much of its way, consistent with the maturation of the technology. "Any money now should go to research, once and for all, the impacts of these massive turbines on our wildlife, open spaces, property values, health and safety of residents living in the vicinity of turbines, and the quality of rural life." National Wind Watch recommended that, given the inherent and perceived conflict of interest, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory not hold responsibility for such research but only be permitted to participate. The document submitted to the subcommittee can be viewed at www.wind-watch.org/press-060411-doc.html. Similar comments will be submitted in the Senate.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The woolly world of green tags

On Alternet's April 5 Wiretap, Holly Beck posted an interview with Guster guitarist Adam Gardner about the band's impressive effort to minimize the carbon emissions and other impacts of their next tour, notably by running their bus on vegetable oil. But then there's this:
We're also offsetting each concert's power consumption. We've partnered with NativeEnergy, which is a Native American–owned wind power company, and they are assessing how many kilowatt-hours each concert is consuming. We'll then replenish the grid with that amount of clean power. So it's not like we're directly powering my electric guitar with a wind turbine it's an offset that happens afterwards."
How exactly is the electricity "offset"?

Say they use 1,000 kWh, which they (or the concert venues) buy from the local utilities. Then they buy 1,000 kWh of wind energy "green tags" (also called "renewable energy certificates") from Native Energy. But since they're not the ones using it, the actual 1,000 kWh of wind energy still goes to the grid. Native Energy sells it twice.

If Guster didn't buy the green tags, nothing would be different: the same 1,000 kWh of wind-generated electricity would have entered the grid, and Guster would have used the same 1,000 kWh of nonrenewable electricity. Where is the "offset"?

According to Native Energy, of Charlotte, Vermont (which was founded in August 2000 and has been majority-owned by the midwestern Intertribal Council on Utility Policy only since August 2005),
To get the extra revenues they need, some wind farms sell "Green Tags," which are a widely traded commodity that consists of the rights to claim the emissions reductions and other environmental benefits of green electricity. Green Tags became a commodity because people who want to buy green electricity often don't have it available to them. The industry [Enron, actually] developed Green Tags so everybody can achieve the same environmental benefits by buying Green Tags to offset the pollution caused by their consumption of electricity generated by fossil fuels. Environmentally, buying Green Tags (and ordinary electricity from your utility) is the same as buying green electricity. [emphasis added]

Compare Green Tags to green electricity ...
That comparison explains the imaginary separation of the energy from its attributes and gives lie to the claim emphasized above. If one dares to think clearly, they are obviously not separate entities. If the energy from wind turbine generators goes into the grid and reduces energy from other sources, then that alone is its environmental attribute. If the attribute -- the "green tag" -- is then sold separately, it is clearly meaningless.

Here's another way to look at it. If the energy from wind turbines is not purchased, then it is not contributing to the grid and therefore not affecting other sources. The turbines would have to shut down and there would be no ability to claim an environmental benefit. If, however, the energy is sold, then it is part of the mix on the grid and the producer can claim the benefit. If, however, the green tags aren't sold, there is no change in the effect on the grid, which depends only on whether the actual energy is sold. Similarly, if the green tags are indeed sold there is no extra benefit created on the grid.

Or put yet another way: You can sell the energy without the green tags, but not the other way around. The energy is the attribute. To sell the attribute in addition to the energy is a confidence game.

Native Energy goes even further -- selling 25 years of green tags from wind turbines that haven't even been built yet (and that if they are built will not necessarily generate as much electricity as the green tags already sold, let alone actually reduce carbon emitted from other sources):
Most Green Tag providers sell them as they are generated by existing generators, and will only commit to buy few year’s of Green Tags from the wind farm. We took a new approach, using Green Tags to help build new wind farms. We seek out wind farms under development that need to be sure of long-term Green Tag revenues to complete development. On behalf of our WindBuilders participants, we use our patent-pending business process to buy -- in advance -- all the Green Tags to be generated by the wind farms over their expected operating life -- usually 25 years. This provides critically important up-front financial support and so helps get these wind farms up and running. ... Each of our WindBuilders participants buys a share of the wind farm’s Green Tags on this same long-term basis. That way your purchase helps finance new wind farms, and so helps create new environmental benefits.
They're selling shares in future wind power facilities but without the worry of ever having to return the investment. The final step in the "patent-pending" charade is in the clear explanation that the "buyer" doesn't even get anything:
Clean Air–Cool Planet has agreed with NativeEnergy to accept all the Green Tags purchased by WindBuilders members. Also, Clean Air–Cool Planet promises to you that they will "retire" your green tags, which means that they will never be sold to someone who would otherwise buy more green tags or who would use them instead of reducing their own emissions.
The wind turbine owners are clearly able to get away with selling the "attributes" twice, but any more would clearly be a bit much. The good people at Native Energy very honestly take your money and then have a third party certify that what you bought is now nonexistent.

Which it was all along.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont, environment, environmentalism, sustainability, green energy, green living, green business, carbon offset, ecoanarchism

Friday, April 07, 2006

Massachusetts criminalizes the uninsured

Dear Senator Welch,*

I was astonished to hear of your interest in the new Massachusetts health insurance legislation, which essentially simply makes it illegal to be uninsured. It does not address the problems of our employment-based profit-driven system which wastes billions to deny care instead of providing it.

Every other country in the world considers health care a basic service like police and fire protection. Here, by a quirk of post-World War II history, it is not a right but beholden to employer beneficence. Massachusetts has enshrined the cruel greed and inefficiencies of our present system. It is not a "bipartisan compromise" but a craven sell-off.

Americans have had enough. They overwhelmingly want single-payer health care. We want to go to a doctor when we're sick, not to an accountant or tax office. We want to answer questions about our symptoms, not about whether we rent or own or what kind of car we drive.

The Vermont legislature, under your leadership, passed a much more worthy universal coverage bill last year. Unfortunately, under the threat of the governor's veto, it has been taken apart and watered down. Instead of making the governor's rejection the issue, you have made tiny -- almost irrelevant -- steps and compromise the goal. The result is that all Democrats have to offer is the same package of nonsolutions that Republicans support. This may be necessary to compete for donations from the moneyed interests, but it is not the way to win votes from the people. It only reinforces the feeling that there is in fact only one party that has little interest in most of the people it ostensibly serves.

Perhaps the report of your positive statements about the Massachusetts plan was inaccurate. I hope so.

*Peter Welch is the majority leader of the Vermont Senate. He is running for the U.S. House to replace Bernie Sanders who is running for the U.S. Senate to replace Jim Jeffords (who is retiring).

Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Enron's heirs

Another blogger advertises the conjunction of green (ecomoney! we put the "eco" in the "economy"! or is it the "con"? o my!). In his new blog, Paul Conley writes about green tags by which consumers may imagine that they "offset" their own filth. Like medieval indulgences, they allow the marketers to get rich but change nothing, only adding their own cynical scheme to the general morass. (Let us pause here to remember that Enron invented the scam of "green tags" to sell the production from wind turbines twice.)

Conley imagines a whole merchandising nightmare inspired by the "TerraPass" decal. An honest sticker might say, "Ask me about my imaginary friend who doesn't pollute." The medium between you and that imaginary friend, however, does pollute -- and takes your money, too.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Monday, April 03, 2006

The developer squirms

The chairman of the three-member Public Service Board of Vermont, who will consider the recommendation of hearing officer Kurt Janson to deny permission to Mathew Rubin and Dave Rapaport to erect four industrial wind turbines on East Mountain in East Haven, has recused himself, presumably because in his earlier position with the Department of Public Service he had promoted the project. That leaves two members to decide, and if only one of them accepts the recommendation the project is dead. Janson's recommendation, as quoted from his introduction in a story by Carla Occaso in today's Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, is
"that the Public Service Board deny a Certificate of Public Good for the proposed project," mainly, he writes, because it would be located in the "heart of tens of thousands of undeveloped, conserved lands."
The story continues with the developer's flustered response:
David Rapaport, vice president for East Haven Windfarm, said he hopes to convince the board to reject Janson's findings because they are "in error in certain key respects," primarily because it "does not properly balance the benefits of the project against those impacts," according to comments submitted by East Haven Windfarm officials on March 27. Contrary to Janson's findings, Rapaport said, the wind farm would not unduly interfere with the experience of users of land surrounding the site and, because it would have minimal impact, "the project will not unreasonably or unnecessarily endanger public investment."
Did you follow that? "Janson did not fully consider the benefits, and anyway the impacts can be disregarded." The thing is, Janson very clearly stated that the benefits are important. If he improperly weighed them, it was in that assumption that they are at all significant. In the matter of negative impacts, Janson also clearly stated that the developers have demonstrated an arrogant disinterest in the environmental concerns, something Rapaport doesn't seem to be making any effort to remedy.

One more hearing is scheduled for April 11.

wind power, wind energy, Vermont, environment, environmentalism

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Vibroacoustic disease and wind turbines

From Calvin Luther Martin, Malone, N.Y.:

Mariana Alves-Pereira, Dept. of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, New University of Lisbon, Caparica, Portugal, has for many years been part of a team of physicians and scientists studying the pathophysiology of low-frequency noise and infrasound on humans. She is Assistant Coordinator of the Vibroacoustic Disease Project.

Alves-Pereira and colleagues have been doing epidemiologic studies of airline pilots and technicians and other people who are chronically exposed to low-frequency noise and infrasound. The effects are grim: cardiovascular, respiratory, neurologic, and renal pathology and symptoms, which they call vibroacoustic disease.

Alves-Pereira, in discussion with physicians Amanda Harry in the U.K. and Nina Pierpont in the U.S., is now looking into the low-frequency noise and infrasound produced by industrial wind turbines, to determine whether they, too, can cause such vibroacoustic disease (VAD). Alves-Pereira's initial assessment, based on noise measurements taken inside and outside the homes of wind turbine neighbors, is that turbines are indeed a likely cause of VAD.

It was Alves-Pereira's initial research, published in numerous scientific journals, which prompted the French National Academy of Medicine, earlier this month (March 2006), to call on the French government to stop all wind turbine construction within 1.5 km of people's homes. You should understand that VAD is well established in the clinical literature; it is not conjectured. It has been amply documented and is readily detected by a variety of diagnostic tests.

The question remains: Do wind turbines also produce VAD in people living nearby? Again, France's National Academy of Medicine was sufficiently persuaded by the evidence that it called for an immediate minimum 1.5 km (approx. 1 mile) setback of all pending and future industrial windmills from residences. In conversations with Drs. Pierpont and Harry, Alves-Pereira indicates that she is very concerned about the possible role of turbines as a source of VAD.

[update: Alves-Pereira and her colleague Nuna Castelo Branco issued a press release on March 31, 2007, describing the results of their studies demonstrating "that wind turbines in the proximity of residential areas produce acoustical environments that can lead to the development of VAD in nearby home-dwellers." Read it at National Wind Watch.]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism