Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wind industry decries "delegitimization"

The industrial wind industry is a lot like the state of Israel. Both began in an idealistic spirit of creating an vibrant alternative. Both soon came to antagonize their neighbors. As uncomfortable facts about their operations became undeniable, both have retreated to an aggressive self-righteous bravado and emphasize their important economic contributions: rural jobs and nanotechnology. Both rely on demonization of an imagined enemy behind all criticism: the coal lobby or Iran. Both can only answer their critics by calling them names: Nimby, climate science denier, antisemite.

Both have delegitimized themselves. The game is over.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sheffield wind energy plant

From the Burlington Free Press, here is a photo of the substation construction from the 16-turbine 40-megawatt Sheffield facility on ridgelines overlooking Sutton, Vermont.


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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Deep Green Meaning of Fukushima

Don Fitz writes at Counterpunch (click the title of this post for the entire piece):

Humanity must decrease its use of energy. The decrease must be a lot (not a little bit) and it must happen soon. A failure to do so will lay the foundation for the destruction of human life by some combination of climate change and radiation. ... There is also a deeper green meaning: The limits of economic growth have long since passed and we need to design a world with considerably less stuff. ...

Claims that society must choose between fossil fuels and nukes are 100% false

Pretending to care about climate change, utility companies say that we must have more nukes to avoid increasing CO2 levels. Hansen and Monbiot parrot corporate propaganda when they present the false dichotomy: nukes or fossil fuels.

Their tunnel vision on climate change interferes with their ability to perceive global warming and nuclear power as different manifestations of the same problem. ... The deep green connection between radiation and climate change is that they are both part of the lockstep march toward economic growth. The question for both Hansen and Monbiot is what humanity will do when uranium ore is exhausted but the drive toward growth intensifies.

Coal, oil, natural gas and uranium will run out at some time in the future. None of them can ever be the basis of a sustainable economy. The issue is not whether society will or will not have to do without non-renewables — the only issue is whether humanity will stop using them prior to destroying the biological web of Life or whether humanity is forced to stop using them, either because it takes more energy to extract them than they yield or because our descendants have lost the mental or physical ability to process them.

Solar and wind offer no alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power

In a growth economy, solar and wind cannot replace fossil fuels and/or nukes, which they must depend on for their own creation and for making up energy short-falls. As Ted Trainer and others have clearly demonstrated, solar and wind power are subject to conditions like how much sunshine and wind exist at a given time. An industry which is geometrically expanding must be drawn to fossil fuel and nukes because they are not subject to weather fluctuations and they can produce enormous quantities of energy for manufacture.

Weather variability means that solar and wind power have a greater need to store energy than non-renewables. This means solar and wind lose even more energy during storage and retrieval. They also require considerable energy and resource extraction to produce associated technologies such as transmission lines and batteries. These are not green attributes.

During the opening of his seminal exposé of renewable energy, Trainer points to turf where solar and wind proponents dare not tread: The issue is not merely whether solar and wind can provide for the industrial needs of a modern economy — it is ridiculous to suggest that they could provide energy needs of a global economy which is 60 times its current size. Trainer calculates that bringing all the world up to consumptive standards of the overdeveloped countries, maintaining a 3% annual GDP growth rate, and reaching a population of 9.4 billion would require a 6000% increase in the economy between 2007 and 2070.

The mechanical impossibility of infinite solar and wind power leads to a deeper green problem: They reflect the same fetish on things as do non-renewables. Switching from one fetish to another in no way rejects the thingification of human existence. It is this worship of objects which is the core of the problem.

Failure to challenge the endless manufacture of artificial needs and the continual shrinkage of the durability of commodities means that no combination of nukes, fossil fuel, solar, wind, and other energy sources can ever satisfy bottomless greed. Seeking to replace human caring, sharing and community with object glorification will always result in feelings of emptiness and craving for more and more objects. Object addiction can never be satiated — even if those objects are “green.”

Stan Cox notes that a huge expansion of fossil fuel use would be necessary if solar and wind were to increase enough to replace nukes. Creating this solar and wind infrastructure would result in massive emissions of CO2. Thus, in a growth economy, renewables are no more separable from non-renewables than climate change is separable from radiation.

Recent increases in solar and wind power has resulted in lawsuits to protect native lands and sensitive species. [16] How many more valleys must be transformed into ugly wind farms and how many more deserts must be covered with solar collectors just to enable landfills of discarded junk to expand to the moon?

Why grow?

The ideology of growth is the bedrock of nuclear power. Growth requires the expansion of energy. As Robert Bryce demonstrates, “America’s energy consumption has grown in direct proportion to its economic growth.” Between 1913 and 2005, the 300-fold increase in oil imports was paralleled by a 300-fold increase in US economic output.

As energy sources have gone from wood to coal to oil to nukes, there has been a steady increase in the total amount of energy available. During most of this progression economic growth has meant an expansion of goods which people need. By the end of World War II this was no longer the case as there was enough to provide basic needs for everyone.

More than ever before, production for need gave way to production for militarism, for obscene wealth, for throw-away goods and for marketing to take precedence over utility. Nuclear power became the cornerstone of both militarism and the seemingly limitless energy necessary for planned obsolescence. Nuclear plants were born as a physical manifestation of social relationships underlying growth without need. ...

Is anti-growth feasible?

“Anti-growth” means that people will have better lives if society produces fewer things that are useless and dangerous. It assumes that the total quantity of things needed to make everyone’s lives better is vastly less that the total quantity of current negative production.

“Anti-growth” can be contrasted to “de-growth,” which has become synonymous with trying to change the economy by tiptoeing through the tulips. The phrase “anti-growth” aims to dismiss two myths: (a) the belief that a decrease in production requires people to suffer; and (b) the belief that lifestyle changes can substitute for social action. (Though altering individual lifestyles is important to show that a new and different world is possible, it does little to bring about the scale of needed changes.)

The corporate line on reversing growth is that it would bring agony worse than nuclear radiation and is therefore impossible. Sadly, many progressives (including environmentalists, anti-war activists and even “Marxists”) swallow the line.

Let’s not confuse an increase in provision of basic needs like housing, clothing and education with overall economic growth. Reducing unnecessary and destructive production (such as military spending) can be done at the same time as increasing preventive medical care. Reducing the advertising of food, packaging of food, long-range transportation of food and animal protein can occur simultaneously with increasing healthy food. Nobody’s quality of life is going to deteriorate because they have a simple coffee pot that lasts for 75–100 years rather than one with a mini-computer designed to fall apart in six months.

To reiterate: The economy can shrink while the amount of necessary goods expands. Anti-growth is not too complex to fathom. The idea that we should make more good stuff and less bad stuff is so simple that anyone except an economist can understand it.

Unfortunately, many advocating a smaller economy shoot themselves in the foot by rejecting anti-corporate struggle. ...

A radical rethinking

... The survival of humanity is at not only odds with right wing politicians and “free market” economists who preach growth by engorging the rich. Human existence is simultaneously threatened by “liberal” politicians and Keynesian economists who promote growth by governmental intervention. Preserving a livable environment is likewise at odds with “environmentalists” who advocate growth via purchasing green gadgets. “Socialists” and wooden “Marxists” walk less than a shining path when they demand a planned economy for the purpose of “unleashing the capitalists fetters on production” (i.e., unlimited growth). Planetary extermination under workers’ control does not fulfill dreams of Karl Marx.

In the wake of Fukushima many scream that we must abandon nukes as rapidly as possible. Yes, yes, and yes. Join their screams and demand a halt in the production of new nukes and a rapid shut down of those that exist!

We must do the almost the same for fossil fuels, with a rapid reduction to 90% of current levels, then 80%, and so on until we level off at perhaps 10% of where we are at now. If and only if this reduction is made can solar, wind and geothermal (along with a very judicious use of fossil fuels and biofuels) meet energy needs in a sane society.

But all of us, especially environmentalists, must abandon the illusion that solar, wind and geothermal can be a source of infinite economic growth. And all of us, especially social justice activists, trade unionists and socialists, must abandon any misplaced belief that a massive reduction of energy requires any sacrifice in the quality of life. We must affirm if we change our values, change our society and change our economy, we can have great lives by focusing on people rather than the eternal accumulation of objects.

‘Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society

Searching for a Miracle

Post Carbon Institute & International Forum on Globalization - September 2009 [read the full report: »Download the PDF (2.61 MB)]:

Overview

This report is intended as a non-technical examination of a basic question: Can any combination of known energy sources successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100? In the end, we are left with the disturbing conclusion that all known energy sources are subject to strict limits of one kind or another. Conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear are either at or nearing the limits of their ability to grow in annual supply, and will dwindle as the decades proceed—but in any case they are unacceptably hazardous to the environment. And contrary to the hopes of many, there is no clear practical scenario by which we can replace the energy from today’s conventional sources with sufficient energy from alternative sources to sustain industrial society at its present scale of operations. To achieve such a transition would require (1) a vast financial investment beyond society’s practical abilities, (2) a very long time—too long in practical terms—for build-out, and (3) significant sacrifices in terms of energy quality and reliability.

Perhaps the most significant limit to future energy supplies is the “net energy” factor—the requirement that energy systems yield more energy than is invested in their construction and operation. There is a strong likelihood that future energy systems, both conventional and alternative, will have higher energy input costs than those that powered industrial societies during the last century.We will come back to this point repeatedly.

The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.

***

The world’s current energy regime is unsustainable. This is the recent, explicit conclusion of the International Energy Agency1, and it is also the substance of a wide and growing public consensus ranging across the political spectrum. One broad segment of this consensus is concerned about the climate and the other environmental impacts of society’s reliance on fossil fuels.The other is mainly troubled by questions regarding the security of future supplies of these fuels—which, as they deplete, are increasingly concentrated in only a few countries.

To say that our current energy regime is unsustainable means that it cannot continue and must therefore be replaced with something else.However, replacing the energy infrastructure of modern industrial societies will be no trivial matter. Decades have been spent building the current oil-coal-gas infrastructure, and trillions of dollars invested. Moreover, if the transition from current energy sources to alternatives is wrongly managed, the consequences could be severe: there is an undeniable connection between per-capita levels of energy consumption and economic well-being.2 A failure to supply sufficient energy, or energy of sufficient quality, could undermine the future welfare of humanity, while a failure to quickly make the transition away from fossil fuels could imperil the Earth’s vital ecosystems.

Nonetheless, it remains a commonly held assumption that alternative energy sources capable of substituting for conventional fossil fuels are readily available—whether fossil (tar sands or oil shale), nuclear, or a long list of renewables—and ready to come on-line in a bigger way. All that is necessary, according to this view, is to invest sufficiently in them, and life will go on essentially as it is.

But is this really the case? Each energy source has highly specific characteristics. In fact, it has been the characteristics of our present energy sources (principally oil, coal, and natural gas) that have enabled the building of a modern society with high mobility, large population, and high economic growth rates. Can alternative energy sources perpetuate this kind of society? Alas, we think not.

While it is possible to point to innumerable successful alternative energy production installations within modern societies (ranging from small home-scale photovoltaic systems to large “farms” of three-megawatt wind turbines), it is not possible to point to more than a very few examples of an entire modern industrial nation obtaining the bulk of its energy from sources other than oil, coal, and natural gas. One such rare example is Sweden, which gets most of its energy from nuclear and hydropower. Another is Iceland, which benefits from unusually large domestic geothermal resources, not found in most other countries. Even in these two cases, the situation is more complex than it appears.The construction of the infrastructure for these power plants mostly relied on fossil fuels for the mining of the ores and raw materials, materials processing, transportation, manufacturing of components, the mining of uranium, construction energy, and so on. Thus for most of the world, a meaningful energy transition is still more theory than reality. But if current primary energy sources are unsustainable, this implies a daunting problem. The transition to alternative sources must occur, or the world will lack sufficient energy to maintain basic services for its 6.8 billion people (and counting).

Thus it is vitally important that energy alternatives be evaluated thoroughly according to relevant criteria, and that a staged plan be formulated and funded for a systemic societal transition away from oil, coal, and natural gas and toward the alternative energy sources deemed most fully capable of supplying the kind of economic benefits we have been accustomed to from conventional fossil fuels.

By now, it is possible to assemble a bookshelf filled with reports from nonprofit environmental organizations and books from energy analysts, dating from the early 1970s to the present, all attempting to illuminate alternative energy transition pathways for the United States and the world as a whole.These plans and proposals vary in breadth and quality, and especially in their success at clearly identifying the factors that are limiting specific alternative energy sources from being able to adequately replace conventional fossil fuels.

It is a central purpose of this document to systematically review key limiting factors that are often left out of such analyses.We will begin that process in the next section. Following that, we will go further into depth on one key criterion: net energy, or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI).This measure focuses on the key question: All things considered, how much more energy does a system produce than is required to develop and operate that system? What is the ratio of energy in versus energy out? Some energy “sources” can be shown to produce little or no net energy. Others are only minimally positive.

Unfortunately, as we shall see in more detail below, research on EROEI continues to suffer from lack of standard measurement practices, and its use and implications remain widely misunderstood. Nevertheless, for the purposes of large-scale and long-range planning, net energy may be the most vital criterion for evaluating energy sources, as it so clearly reveals the tradeoffs involved in any shift to new energy sources.

This report is not intended to serve as a final authoritative, comprehensive analysis of available energy options, nor as a plan for a nation-wide or global transition from fossil fuels to alternatives. While such analyses and plans are needed, they will require institutional resources and ongoing reassessment to be of value.The goal here is simply to identify and explain the primary criteria that should be used in such analyses and plans, with special emphasis on net energy, and to offer a cursory evaluation of currently available energy sources, using those criteria.This will provide a general, preliminary sense of whether alternative sources are up to the job of replacing fossil fuels; and if they are not, we can begin to explore what might be the fall-back strategy of governments and the other responsible institutions of modern society.

As we will see, the fundamental disturbing conclusion of the report is that there is little likelihood that either conventional fossil fuels or alternative energy sources can reliably be counted on to provide the amount and quality of energy that will be needed to sustain economic growth—or even current levels of economic activity—during the remainder of the current century.

This preliminary conclusion in turn suggests that a sensible transition energy plan will have to emphasize energy conservation above all. It also raises questions about the sustainability of growth per se, both in terms of human population numbers and economic activity.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Denmark: More CO2 emissions with more wind

Some time ago, I created the following graph, juxtaposing annual Danish wind energy production and total CO2 emissions from 1996 to 2006. The CO2 emissions are on a reverse scale so that as they decrease the line would parallel an increase in wind production. But as can be seen, while wind production rose dramatically, CO2 emissions remained essentially flat.



A related graph in the latest annual Energy Statistics report from Denmark (p. 37) shows two different measures of CO2 emissions just in electricity generation (below). The blue line is CO2 emissions per fuel unit, which steadily declines as natural gas replaced oil and combined heat and power is increasingly used. But in the later 1990s the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated (the red line) starts to decrease at a slower rate, dramatically so after 1999.



This indicates that more fuel is being burned, or being burned less efficiently, per unit of electricity produced since the 1990s. And that phenomenon corresponds with the build-up of wind energy, as shown in the graph below, from page 9 of the same report.



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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Heinrich Biber violin and basso continuo sonata in F major

The Amphion Consort: Jennifer Bennett on violin and Yair Avidor on theorbo.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Black shorts for the English countryside

Turnips, not turbines!

—Sir Roderick Spode (according to Rosemary Brian [click title])


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Monday, June 13, 2011

Windfarm War

In episode 4 of the recent BBC2 series Windfarm Wars, one John Vincent (apparently of Pershore in Worcestershire) speaks at the new appeal hearing against the West Devon Borough Council's denial of planning permission for the Den Brook wind energy facility. Alas, you must imagine the scene, because BBC allows only U.K. residents to watch their shows and then only for a week. Also, for that reason, some of the dialog and narration in the following may be confusing as to who is speaking.
Mr [John] Vincent, are you a supporter or an objector?

I'm a supporter.

Right.

Perhaps it's the word "developer" which creates the sort of animosity which will lead to the level of aggressive protest, to bring us to new debate, and these developers are actually caring scientists and engineers, wanting to help us and our world with clean energy.

To the point - now, this debate is supposedly based on what? Important new evidence? Do you know what the important new evidence was? It was an error. I asked a scientist, "How will this error in the sound figures affect the local populace?" "It is unmeasurable scientifically. It's inaudible to any creature." Yet to many people here today, it's an excuse to abuse our taxpayer in order to thrust forward a small group's own protests. It in no way reflects the will of the majority of people who would never believe that they would have to protest FOR wind. "Who would protest against it?" they might well ask.

Rather than try and persuade people who were already persuaded, the best thing is to talk to the people who I think don't understand the situation, so I made my mind up that I would have a quiet word with them, so I turned round and introduced myself to them and told them what I'd done and it just developed into something really quite bizarre.

And he knows Rachel [the developer's rep].

As soon as we got talking about it, he said, "Do you mind if I go over and bring the acousticians over from the developers?" I said, "No, great."


I'm stunned to see people objecting.

I generally agree with you, but there are specific times when these problems can arise, under certain conditions. So normally if you're standing a kilometre away, 800 metres or any distance, you can't hear them?

Absolutely. More than likely the case.

We have identified from the data that Rachel has provided us that there are specific conditions, atmospheric conditions that apply to the Den Brook area...

We would disagree with that identification. We've analysed our data as well.

If you can prove us wrong, that's fine, but you're refusing to respond to us.

We have responded in evidence.

You won't address amplitude modulation.

We have our meteorological witness...

Rachel, I got a letter from your solicitor, saying you will not be addressing amplitude modulation and you won't be addressing that in the noise conditions. It's like a denial that this stuff happens.

So the High Court case costs how much? How much has it cost you?

It's cost me a fortune. It's cost me £70,000 personally.

Couldn't you have spent that money on double glazing?

If double glazing sorted the issue...

When I stand by one of these turbines, I can't hear anything. Can I just finish?

There is a problem out there. I've been there. I've experienced it.

It can be irritating and noisy, so a great solution would be to put it somewhere quiet where it won't upset too many people. They've found that place, haven't they?

Just a minute. What are you saying?

I've just said, "Sod you, there aren't many people around it. Go ahead."

If it was going to affect thousands of people...

You are joking!

What makes you think you're so important? You've got to be joking. I don't believe you're so important.

You believe that all the people who live near windfarms aren't important, they're sacrificial?

I believe some things are good on this planet and some things are bad. A bit of noise pollution from a wind turbine... People live near motorways, they live in cities. They live in blocks of flats. You've got a lovely, ideal life set in the heart of Devon in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Enjoy it and stop whinging. The only people here today were from near Little Whinging or whatever it's called. Not all the people in the rest of the planet saying, "Build us some renewable energy."
I imagine the poor man had to be shot with a tranquilizer dart and is now held safely in a cage somewhere.

Further on in the same episode, the developer, Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, represented throughout by Rachel Ruffle, reveals their concern about "amplitude modulation', the characteristic pulsing noise from large wind turbines, presumably caused by the different air conditions at the top and bottom of the blades' sweep area:
As promised, the following Monday, RES put in their response to Mike's team's AM noise condition.

They argue that a condition is unnecessary as excessive AM is rare and it's not recommended in ETSU guidelines.

They also say stable atmospheric conditions at the appeal site are rare too, and in their view, conditioning AM would cause profound damage to the UK wind industry.
In other words, AM won't occur, but if you place conditions to prevent it, the wind industry will collapse.

Or in yet other words, AM is obviously a very serious problem, and there is no way to avoid it.

And the industry's message for those who will be adversely affected (in amenity at least and likely in health as well)?

Call in John Vincent.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wind energy to offset emissions from cows

Cows belch and fart methane, a gas with 25 times the greenhouse effect as carbon dioxide. It was calculated elsewhere that in Vermont, installing 1 megawatt of wind power would have the equivalent effect on greenhouse gas emissions as removing 0.4 of a cow from the state, that the effect of the 145 MW of approved new wind projects on four ridgelines would be like removing 58 cows.

So how much wind power would have to be erected to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of all 150,000 of Vermont's cows?

375,000 MW. 125,000 turbines the size of the 21 planned for Lowell Mountain.

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

Sweden's Lesson for Real Sustainability

Firmin DeBrabander, Chair of Humanistic Studies at Maryland Institute College of Art, writes at Counterpunch:

What if electric cars made pollution worse, not better? What if they increased greenhouse gas emissions instead of decreasing them? Preposterous you say? Well, consider what's happened in Sweden.

Through generous subsidies, Sweden aggressively pushed its citizens to trade in their cars for energy efficient replacements (hybrids, clean diesel vehicles, cars that run on ethanol). Sweden has been so successful in this initiative that it leads the world in per capita sales of 'green cars.' To everyone's surprise, however, greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden's transportation sector are up.

Or perhaps we should not be so surprised after all. What do you expect when you put people in cars they feel good about driving (or at least less guilty), which are also cheap to buy and run? Naturally, they drive them more. So much more, in fact, that they obliterate energy gains made by increased fuel efficiency.

We need to pay attention to this as GM and Nissan roll out their new green cars to great fanfare. The Chevy Volt, a hybrid with a lithium-ion battery, can go 35 miles on electric power alone (after charging over night, for example), and GM brags on its website that if you limit your daily driving to that distance, you can "commute gas-free for an average of $1.50 a day." The Volt's price is listed at a very reasonable $33K (if you qualify for the maximum $7500 in tax credits). The fully electric Nissan Leaf is advertized for an even more reasonable $26K (with qualifying tax credits, naturally). What a deal—and it's good for you, too, the carmakers want you to know. As GM helpfully points out on its website, "Electricity is a cleaner source of power."

[Ed:  Electricity, however, is primarily generated by burning coal. Electric cars only shift the emissions from car to power plant.]

Sweden is a model of sustainability innovation, while the US is the most voracious consumer on the planet. Based on Sweden's experience with green cars, it's daunting to imagine their possible impact here. Who can doubt that they'll likely inspire Americans to make longer commutes to work, live even further out in the exurbs, bringing development, blacktop and increased emissions with them?

In its current state, the green revolution is largely devoted to the effort to provide consumers with the products they have always loved, but now in affordable energy efficient versions. The thinking seems to be that through this gradual exchange, we can reduce our collective carbon footprint. Clearly, however, this approach is doomed if we don't reform our absurd consumption habits, which are so out-of-whack that they risk undoing any environmental gains we might make. Indeed, we are such ardent, addicted consumers that we take efficiency gains as license to consumer even more!

We need to address consumption fast because—news alert—the current consumer class on earth barely amounts to 1 billion people (if that), but 2 billion and counting eagerly wait in the wings.

American industry hungrily targets the rising Chinese consumer class. For the sake of the planet, we better hope it doesn't get its way. Consider: China currently has a car ownership rate approximately one-sixth that of the US. If China achieves car ownership rates comparable to the US, that would put an additional 800 million cars on the road. And that's just China. Even if we somehow succeeded in making China's fleet super efficient, it would still be more than the planet can handle.

Of course, cars are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese consumer dreams. They will also want more electronics, clothes, meat, processed foods—bigger houses. In short, we can bet that the rising Chinese middle class will want something close to what we have. And why shouldn't they? We have been showcasing our middle class comfort worldwide for years through our vast media exports. Everyone is betting, hoping—assuming?—that technology will eventually help us deliver the American dream worldwide with no environmental impact. But clearly, we may run out of planet by the time that day comes. Even the American dream in an 'energy efficient format' is likely too much for the earth to handle.

If this is chilling—and it should be—you might wonder, what are our options? Justice demands that we cannot prevent, much less discourage the growing global consumer class from having the consumer goods we currently enjoy. Real change starts with us then, and I'm afraid to say, radical change is in order. We must figure out a way to consume less, which means driving less, shopping less, eating less meat (which the UN estimates is responsible for a fifth of all greenhouse gases), and conserving food and energy. This means essentially rethinking our suburban-sprawling, fast-food-gorging, shopaholic society. We must model for the world the changes we hope everyone will make to ensure a sustainable future.

It's time to be courageous and think big about altering our lifestyle, values and future. The powers that be are reluctant to rock the boat with consumers, and have decided that leaving consumption habits intact as much as possible is the preferable option. They'd rather get us into electric cars, rather than out of our cars altogether. Well, we need more than half measures at this point. As Sweden proves, unless other more fundamental changes are made to our engrained consumption habits, half measures only dig us deeper in the hole.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wind energy and cows in Vermont

Dear Governor Shumlin —

I just heard about your recognition of Global Wind (Power) Day: June 15. This was on the same day that I was prompted to compare Vermont wind energy's potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions with that of the roughly 150,000 cows in Vermont.

Granted that the global wind industry is lucrative for NRG Systems and Northern Power Systems among others, but considering the huge impact of erecting wind turbines on Vermont's ridgelines, is the potential environmental benefit worth it?

The Public Service Board has approved 145 MW of new wind projects in Vermont (in Sheffield, Milton, Readsboro, and Lowell). At a capacity factor of 25%, they would be expected to produce (and thereby theoretically displace) 317,550 MWh per year, or less than 5% of Vermont's total electricity production (or just over 5% of the state's total demand).

That in itself is a rather low number, considering the substantial impacts of these facilities. The potential environmental benefit, however, is even smaller when it is remembered that Vermont is ranked by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as 51st in CO₂ emissions from electricity generation.

The EIA estimates Vermont's CO₂ emissions from electricity generation to be about 10 million kg annually, or 1,430 g/MWh.

Now for the cows: An average cow is estimated to emit about 275 kg of methane gas annually, and methane has 25 times the greenhouse gas effect of CO₂. Along with its exhalations of CO₂, the CO₂-equivalent emissions from one cow is therefore about 8,000 kg annually.

Conclusion: 145 MW of wind in Vermont will theoretically save just over 450,000 kg of CO₂ emissions, which is the equivalent of removing 56 cows out of the state (even fewer if their manure is factored in).

Nobody can pretend that the severe alteration of ridgeline ecosystems, habitat destruction and fragmentation, direct harm to wildlife, and aesthetic vandalism that are a necessary part of these projects are truly balanced by such inconsequential benefits.

Formula:  1 MW installed wind capacity in Vermont = 0.4 cow

Tweet:  145MW of new wind power in Vermont will have GHG equivalent of removing 58 cows.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

How many cows is wind energy equal to?

Estimates of methane (CH₄) gas emissions from cows (via belching and farting, not the methane contained in their manure) vary widely, but they generally range between 500 and 1,000 grams/day.

Cows also exhale carbon dioxide (CO₂): about 2,000-4,000 g/d.

Methane is considered to be a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO₂, about 25 times. So a single cow emits 14,500-29,000 g CO₂-equivalent/d.

In Vermont, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity generation emits an average of about 27,500,000 g CO₂/d, having the same greenhouse gas effect of 950-1,900 cows.

There are about 150,000 cows in Vermont. Therefore, they produce 80-160 times as much greenhouse gas as the state's electricity production.



In the spirit of the wind industry's totting up equivalences for their turbines' production of electricity (never mind that they fail to show such actual reductions), what is the cow-equivalence of wind turbines in Vermont? (Wayne Gulden in Ontario is the source of this idea.)

Vermont's 10 billion g/y CO₂ emissions from electricity generation is from about 7,000,000 MWh, i.e., 1,430 g/MWh.

At a (generous) 25% capacity factor, a 1-MW wind turbine produces 2,190 MWh/y, therefore theoretically (ignoring the inefficiencies of the grid in coping with wind's variable feed) displacing 3,131,700 g CO₂/y. One cow produces 5,292,500-10,585,000 g CO₂e/y.

In Vermont, therefore, 1 MW of installed wind capacity is theoretically equivalent to 0.25-0.5 cows, or about 0.4 — even less if the cows' manure were factored in.

The 40-MW project in Sheffield will be "equivalent" to removing 16 cows from the state.

The 30-MW Searsburg expansion in Readsboro will be "equivalent" to removing 12 cows.

The 10-MW Georgia Mountain project in Milton will be "equivalent" to removing 4 cows.

The 63-MW Lowell Mountain project will be "equivalent" to removing 25 cows.

That's 145 MW of new giant wind projects, for the greenhouse gas equivalence of removing about 58 cows from the state. In other words, giant wind turbines in Vermont — despite substantial destruction of mountain ecosystems, fragmentation of habitat, direct harm to wildlife, and vandalism of fabled mountain views — will have virtually no effect on the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

Update: Tweet:  129MW of wind power in Vermont has GHG equivalent of removing 47 cows from state.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Wind energy development for the challenged

In June, the New England Wind Forum, a "Wind Powering America Project" of the U.S. Department of Energy Wind and Water Power Program, interviewed a few people involved in wind energy development in the region about the challenges faced by the industry.

Patrick Quinlan, former associate director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, describes the overarching issue as the collision of global benefits versus local impacts, a question of eschewing wind energy for its intrusive alteration of the landscape or accept it for the generalized societal benefits. Among the examples of this conflict from different state government departments to local governments to involved residents is this: "From opponents we hear concerns for birds and bats interactions, while we hear from proponents about the benefits of reduced mercury pollution and acidification of habitats."

While this sounds like a balanced approach seeking to reconcile global benefits and local impacts, one side relies on anproven premise: that there are in fact global, or even merely statewide, benefits to building giant wind turbines in as yet undisturbed landscapes. There is no argument that the impacts of such development are significant — not only to the landscape, but also to the animals, including humans, living in it. But the benefits at best remain theoretical. In reality, after decades of experience, the effects of such a diffuse, intermittent, and variable source of energy as wind on the larger pattern of energy use remain doubtful.

Treating wind as if it has a proven record of having something to offer necessarily leads to dishonest processes of reconciliation. The game is rigged from the start.

Sue Jones, president of Community Energy Partners and lead facilitator for the Maine Wind Working Group, is similarly trapped in a fantasy, as revealed by her statement, "Experience from Europe and elsewhere tells us that it will take 10-14 years of education and experience living with wind turbines before it becomes generally acceptable." In fact, the opposite is true. Regions with more experience of industrial wind know the problems, especially as the towers and facilities continue to metastasize. Denmark, for example, now has very strict rules that, along with fierce local opposition, have effectively ended onshore development.

It would seem that she is actually hoping to get as much wind erected as possible before, as in Denmark, it becomes truly impossible. Although she speaks about educating people, her plans rely on their general inexperience and keeping them ignorant.

Only Kenneth Payne, administrator of the State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, approaches reality in dealing with wind energy development: "Right now the image of 'wind energy' is loaded with symbolic value. Call to mind the image of a wind turbine in an advertisement in a periodical — does that image speak to how people actually live in our region? The transition from symbolic value to practical value is critical." And it is the practical value that is still a matter of debate.

On the matter of impacts, Dave Lamont, director for regulated utility planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service, is candid:
Regarding "how" to deploy wind energy, impacts of siting are the most critical issues. These siting issues most often boil down to visual impacts, noise impacts, and habitat impacts. Because of their size and the fact that in New England wind resources are found mostly on ridgelines, turbines are generally located in visually prominent places. This creates aesthetic issues for those in the surrounding area. While there are some areas with exposures that allow the turbines to be only partially visible from most locations, many sites have strong visibility from many locations. There are limited mitigation measures available — painting the turbines a color that blends in or selecting a lighting system that is radar activated. These measures help but don't hide the turbines.

The second critical issue is noise impacts. This seems to be an evolving issue for which there is a shortage of good information. While the higher-pitched sounds are muffled by distance and the rustling of the wind, it seems that low pitch and frequency noises from the larger rotating parts are also present. There can be some mitigation with insulation, but is that sufficient?

Finally, habitat seems to be a critical issue for ridge-top wind projects. Higher elevations contain a more fragile ecosystem, where it is possible that access roads may traverse through bear habitat, and turbines may extend into migration routes. Due to the limited history of development in these high-elevation areas, much less is known about the impacts of construction here. This makes those in charge of managing this habitat more cautious about approving projects with such potential impacts.
But missing still is any questioning that these impacts can be balanced in analysis by meaningful benefits.

Dave Ljunquist, associate director of project development at the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, gets back to bashing objectors as solely emotional without experience or facts. He asserts that resistance is based on what people "have heard or what they are afraid might be the case", i.e., experience and facts. Promoters like himself, on the other hand, defy experience and facts to assert only meaningless numbers and personally denigrate those who raise well founded questions. Like Sue Jones, he also supports "public education programs to familiarize the general population with the realities of wind turbine projects", by which he means more aggressive public relations programs, since the realities of wind turbine projects are precisely what drive opposition.

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

Ignoring the obvious: wind sucks

In a short article in the June 2011 North American Windpower about the Goodhue County wind project in Minnesota, Angela Beniwal quotes Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings judge Kathleen Sheehy, who ruled that the county's rules for wind facilities should not be applied, that
there is no scientific support in peer-reviewed literature for the proposition that wind turbines cause any adverse health effects in humans.
That is a meaningless statement, since there is also no scientific support in peer-reviewed literature (i.e., original epidemiological research) for the proposition that wind turbines do not cause any adverse health effects.

Therefore, the consistent direct testimony from around the world must stand as strong evidence that there are indeed adverse health effects for many people who live near giant wind turbines.

What Judge Sheehy really said was:
I know that some people get sick from wind turbines, and the county rules would do a lot to protect them. But my job is to add an official state government "fuck you" to that of the developers.
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Also in the same issue, another item notes "Rising Temps Won't Affect Production", describing an analysis of how rising temperatures might affect wind energy over the nest 30-50 years.

Unspoken is the necessary converse: Rising wind energy production won't affect global warming.

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