Sunday, August 28, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch, replies (larger roman type) to Robert Freehling, research director of Local Power, Oakland, California (smaller italic type) ...

Subject: RE: [Fwd: rfk jr + on wind energy]
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2011 19:15:25 -0700
From: rfreeh

... Wind Watch, the principle source of anti-wind material in this thread, opposes all wind power and refuses to support any form of renewable power. See this quote from their FAQ webpage:

“What do you support?

National Wind Watch supports an open and honest debate about our energy use and the costs and benefits of all methods of generation, efficient use, and conservation. NWW supports continuing research and development of new energy sources. NWW supports the protection of rural communities and wild places threatened by fruitless industrial development. The mission of National Wind Watch is to provide the information needed for proper debate about industrial wind power, particularly that which isn't provided by government agencies or the industry and its supporters.” http://www.wind-watch.org/faq-aboutus.php

In other words the only things that Wind Watch supports are “debate” and “research and development”. They cannot name one source of renewable energy that they support, even on their own FAQ page when they ask themselves this question. On this same FAQ page, Wind Watch acknowledges climate change and the destructive character of our current energy use.

Wind Watch's mission is to provide information about industrial wind, not to endorse any other energy source, renewable or otherwise. It is true that many opponents of industrial wind are skeptical about other renewables as well. It is also true that most support decentralized solar and geothermal. But Wind Watch's mission is to serve all opponents of industrial wind, no matter their views on other forms of energy.

They are the archetype of the NIMBY organization, yet they deny that they are NIMBY’s because they don’t like the negative implication of that label. In reality, they are planet destroyers claiming the garb of being pro-environment. They twist the facts to their case, and make statements removed from the full context. For instance, they try to minimize the contribution of wind to getting rid of coal, based upon the argument that “wind power does not and cannot contribute significantly to our electricity needs.” (wind-watch.org (http://wind-watch.org/) faq page)

The negative implication of "Nimby" derives from hypocrisy in one's opposition. Wind Watch supports such "Nimby"s in their local battles, but not their suggestion that industrial wind development is more appropriate elsewhere. Wind Watch advocates for local opposition because it is more more meaningful to fight to protect your own back yard, and most opponents — because they have been compelled to learn about what will be affecting their back yards — recognize that industrial wind development is not appropriate anywhere else as well.

In other words, most opponents are indeed fighting locally — that's called civic engagement — but without the hypocrisy implied by the "Nimby" pejorative.

Similarly, it is ridiculous to call such people "planet destroyers" who are fighting, after learning and weighing the costs and benefits of industrial wind development, to protect their part of the planet from large-scale industrial development.

What they fail to mention is that they personally want to do everything in their power to insure that wind never contributes significantly to our electricity needs.

This would be a more valid criticism if we did not already have the experience of Europe to learn from. Large-scale wind, even to the extent that Denmark boasts of, has not appeared to reduce coal use. It is the nature of wind energy that ensures that it can never contribute significantly to our electricity needs.

They also do not mention that wind is by far the most successful and fastest growing source of renewable energy. And that wind is on track to become one of the world’s major sources of energy within the next two decades. And that is why it is so important for opponents of renewable energy to take down wind above all.

This year worldwide installed wind power grew past 200 Gigawatts, with about 40 Gigawatts of new wind going in every year. By 2015 the rate of installation is forecast to increase to over 80 Gigawatts per year, with cumulative capacity reaching 500 Gigawatts. Total installed wind capacity should reach one Terawatt (trillion watts) sometime in the early to mid 2020s.

News on global wind capacity: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/08/world-wind-market-record-installations-but-growth-rates-still-falling

Success in building wind turbines is not success in replacing other sources of energy. In fact, there was virtually no new coal capacity built in the U.S. for 20 years, until wind energy started to be developed in a big way. Similarly, natural gas keeps pace with wind, because it is necessary to add for dealing with wind's variability.

For scale: one Terawatt is the capacity of all the generation in the US combined, and the total world electric generation capacity is today about 4.5 Terawatts.

One Terawatt of wind will generate more electricity than all the coal plants in the US combined. Wind infrastructure has the fastest payback for embodied energy and carbon used in its construction of any energy source currently being used; and when generating electricity it consumes no fuel and emits zero carbon or other greenhouse gases. Thus, to say that hundreds of Gigawatts or a Terawatt of wind cannot contribute significantly to our electricity needs, and cannot reduce pollution and help protect the climate, is beyond absurd.

If there is already 200 GW of wind capacity installed, surely its contribution to meeting electricity demand, reducing pollution, and protecting the climate should be detectable.

I became involved with this issue in 2003 when I sought out information about what a small wind facility bordering where I lived at the time would entail. While I was concerned about the impact of such constructions on a wild ridgeline, I had no reason to be skeptical about the benefits. But I started to notice that the promises of wind were always in the future or expressed in theoretical equivalencies. There were no actual data showing benefits that justify the industrialization of any rural or wild place. There still aren't.

As comments about wind only being commercially viable due to “subsidies from taxpayers” in the form of tax credits, this is at best a half truth. The wind tax credit is about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour and it is only paid for the first ten years of a wind plant’s operation. Since wind turbines have an economic life of 20 years, this tax credit is only about 1 cent per kilowatt-hour when averaged over the life of the plant. This credit is paid for every kilowatt-hour generated, and thus is performance and value based.

Very few wind turbines last 20 years. Ten years is in fact a more realistic span for their useful life. Many don't make it that long. Besides the production tax credit, wind developers enjoy 5-year double-declining depreciation and in many places a forced market, not only of actual energy generated but also of "green tags", or renewable energy credits, a lucrative secondary market invented by Enron.

Again, however, generation of energy by a wind turbine does not necessarily translate to comparable reduction of fossil fuel use or carbon or other emissions.

This compares with solar power, which gets a 30% tax credit upfront. An investment credit established as a percentage of the initial cost of the solar plant means that the more the solar plant costs the higher the value of the tax credit. It also means that the solar plant gets the credit irrespective of how much electricity it generates. Thus, the wind power—unlike solar— has to actually earn its tax credits.

As part of the recent economic stimulus package, wind developers also have had the option of taking a 30% tax credit up front, or a 30% cash grant, instead of the 2.2-cents/kWh production tax credit.

In general, wind power tax credits are not “paid for” by taxpayers, they are simply taxes not collected by the federal government. In the case of wind, the infrastructure would mostly otherwise not get built; thus there is little or no real “revenue loss”. However, there are US congressional rules that require the credits to be offset by other adjustments to the budget.

On the other side of the balance, there will be significant tax revenues gained by the commercial activity of manufacturing, constructing and operating a wind plant. The California Energy Commission’s most recent in-depth report on cost of electricity generation shows that wind plants would pay, over the full life of the plant, about 8/10ths of a cent per kilowatt-hour in “ad valorum” expenses; i.e., property taxes. The report also shows that a wind plant will pay four times the amount of property tax per kilowatt-hour than a natural gas combined cycle baseload plant.

CEC Cost of Generation report (Table 6 on pdf p. 46 = document p. 28): http://www.energy.ca.gov/2009publications/CEC-200-2009-017/CEC-200-2009-017-SF.PDF

If wind worked, this would be a valid — and unnecessary — argument. Since wind does not show measurable benefits to the environment, and in fact shows significant adverse impacts to the environment, proponents are reduced to presenting it as a (very inefficient) works program.

The message to rural towns throughout the country, like that from any predatory capitalist in a third-world country, boils down to: "Give us your mountain/fields and we'll give you a shiny new firetruck."

The new local tax revenue from a wind plant offsets the federal tax revenue lost due to the Production Tax Credit. Thus, the federal government’s Wind Production Tax Credit helps local government raise more taxes by stimulating local economic activity in renewable energy. Other tax revenues will be created by employment and business activity of the wind plant, both direct and indirect. The result is that there is little to no net cost to taxpayers.

Again, that's no doubt what Exxon and GE and Florida Power & Light say to rationalize their nonpayment of income tax. And this critique does not consider the simple passing on to ratepayers the costs to utilities of integrating wind.

As for the ultimate NIMBY group Wind Watch’s claim that wind power is not “competitive” without tax credits, the RETI data base shows wind projects with cost of energy averaging about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour—with all tax benefits stripped away, and the CEC Cost of Generation report shows new natural gas combined cycle plants generating electricity at a levelized cost of about 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. If tax benefits are factored in, then the cost is lower. Both natural gas and wind power vary in cost over a wide range, and thus wind projects can generate electricity at a similar cost of energy as a new natural gas plant, when both plants are compared over their full lifecycle. It is noteworthy that the CEC’s cost estimate for natural gas power does not include any cost for carbon, and thus does not capture the externalized burden of climate change.

RETI database of potential renewable energy powerplants and cost of energy from them: http://www.energy.ca.gov/reti/documents/phase2B/CREZ_name_and_number.xls

Externalized costs are indeed important to consider. Wind has them, too, including a complete dependence on petroleum products, steel, concrete, and rare earth metals. But again, these are accounting games. Wind does not appear to measurably reduce the impacts of other sources; it just adds its own.

The email thread also points to an article and video from KATU.com in Portland citing a staffer from Bonneville Power Administration that wind does not provide any carbon benefit. Taken out of context that might seem an embarrassment for wind. However, Bonneville is quite different from most electric power providers in the US in its carbon profile, since its primary source of energy is from hydropower which has no carbon emissions. If you actually read the article it paraphrases a secondary source— Todd Wynn— from the Cascade Policy Institute who is paraphrasing a statement allegedly made to his think tank by an unspecified staffer from Bonneville. But the actual quote from Wynn is quite specific:

“So when the wind blows, the dams stop generating electricity, and when the wind stops, the dams continue to generate electricity,” said Wynn. “So, in fact, wind power is just offsetting another renewable energy source. It’s not necessarily offsetting any fossil fuel generation.” http://www.katu.com/news/local/87439577.html

In other words, zero carbon wind power is displacing zero carbon hydropower in Bonneville’s service territory. Of course, if you start with a source of power that has no carbon emissions, then adding wind will have no carbon benefit. By cherry picking such cases as Bonneville, wind can be made to look bad to those who don’t have any information to make a reasonable judgment. It would be far more valid to look at how adding wind affects carbon emissions in the US as a whole, which gets about 70 percent of its electricity from the greenhouse gas emitting sources of coal and natural gas. The US electricity supply does not look anything like Bonneville’s.

Thus, this Bonneville case is an idiotic argument against wind. Sorry, but there is no kinder word for it.

But it is a very good argument against wind in the BPA control area. And it is a good example of how the claims made for wind by its salespeople and lobbyists don't quite hold up in the real world.

There are so many misleading statements in this thread of emails and articles, that it would be very time consuming to disprove them all. I am only picking some key issues to provide a sense of the scale of misrepresentation. The most amazing, is that Marin critics of the oil, gas and coal industry would first accuse MEA and wind developers of being pro-nuclear and pro-fossil fuel, and then include a full article by Robert Bryce (see below in thread)—one of his attack pieces on wind.

Bryce throws in “everything but the kitchen sink” in his attempt to “refute” wind power, piling bits of “evidence” taken out of context, to “prove” that wind a) causes noise, b) costs too much, c) does not reduce carbon emissions, and d) kills bats and birds. Some of these have a loose connection to reality. The wind industry is not, after all, spotless, and has significant problems which we have a duty to press wind developers to address. However, several major problems caused by our current reliance on coal, nuclear and natural gas electric power- causing catastrophic climate change, killing tens of thousands of people per year from air pollution, nuclear proliferation and radioactivity, and global energy wars— are not among the problems caused by wind, to put the discussion in the correct perspective.

(Briefly, again, there is a leap from noting the problems of our current energy use to claiming wind as a solution — that is a form of both ad populum and non sequitur logical fallacies. But we are not arguing about the existing problems; we are arguing about wind's usefulness.)

The low frequency whooshing noise from the rotating blades can be a problem for some people who live near large wind turbines. The facilities should probably be generally located at a good distance from people, and especially so for those who are sensitive to this sound. On the other hand, there are many noises that people accept as part of daily life that probably do not have worse effect than wind, such as the sound of cars and trucks on freeways and streets, construction equipment, the repeated humming and buzzing of electrical appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators and transformers, the ground shaking and squealing sounds of railroads and light rail, etc. But the one that gets singled out for major action is, of course, windmills.

It is callous to disregard the continuing reports of people suffering ill effects from wind turbine noise. Noise regulations exist — often already inadequate — for noises we have had experience with. The unique sounds generated by giant wind turbine blades moving through different layers of air at tip speeds approaching 200 mph — and their physiological and psychological effects, from loss of sleep and stress to "wind turbine syndrome" — are still being researched and are clearly not adequately regulated.

As for cost, Bryce discusses the variable price of natural gas as the “determining factor” for whether wind power is competitive. However, he is misinformed, as apparently is his favorite source for information on wind cost and aesthetics: Texas fossil fuel billionaire T. Boone Pickens. At this point in time, natural gas is not the main expense for new natural gas plants in the US. Fuel may be the big expense for legacy plants that have paid down their initial investment, but not for new plants. Natural gas fuel becomes the main expense only when power plants operate in “base load” mode—running at steady output 24/7. Coal and nuclear plants operate that way, but most natural gas plants do not. When natural gas plants operate at fractional capacity, then the major cost is not the fuel, but the power plant. And while natural gas fuel prices are relatively moderate in 2011, natural gas power plants have skyrocketed in cost. Indeed, all new conventional power plants—coal, natural gas and nuclear power, have gone up dramatically in cost over the past decade. This is reflected by the Power Capital Costs Index, which reached 219 based upon a 100 starting index in 2000, meaning that a power plant built in North America in 2011 would cost more than double what it did in the year 2000. http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/ElectricPower/6253299

A natural gas plant built today and operating at, say, only 23 percent capacity, would produce electricity at about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. This assumes the current cheap price for natural gas that Bryce proposes--$4.50 per million btu. Most modern wind plants can beat this cost of natural gas electricity—even without any tax subsidies. With tax benefits and offering lower early year prices in a escalating price contract, the first year price of wind may be as low as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Take away the tax credit and the first year price on a similar contract might go up to 5 or 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Fixed price contracts might be 8 or 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is cheaper than any other new form of electric generation, including nuclear or coal.

Again, these are arguments as if there is a choice. Since a complete non-wind grid needs to be in place for times when the wind is not blowing sufficiently (or blowing too hard, or not in the right direction), you have to pay for both. So the comparison needs to be between wind plus gas versus gas alone.

... [Robert Bryce on Cape Wind costs] ...

Bryce’s analysis of the cost of natural gas power is closely related to his misrepresentation of the carbon benefits of wind. When modern “combined cycle” natural gas plants operate as base load—steady 24/7 at full output—they can reach efficiencies near 50%. Bryce argues that wind pulls natural gas plant out of operating as efficient base load to operating at part load to compensate for wind power. In partial or variable load, the natural gas plants may only operate at 35% or less efficiency, meaning the plant burns more fuel to generate each kilowatt-hour of electricity than when operating as a base load plant. Thus, if wind changed natural gas plant operations from base load to partial and variable load, the efficiency loss would increase fuel use and offset much of the carbon benefit of wind.

This assumes, however, that current natural gas plants generally operate in base load. That turns out to be quite incorrect for the general fleet of gas plants in the US. The vast majority of base load power in this country comes from coal and nuclear power, and to much a lesser extent from hydro and natural gas. In general, natural gas is used as a flexible resource mostly operating in partial and variable load—meaning it is already operating at lower efficiency in the vast majority of cases. This can easily be demonstrated with data about operations of US natural gas plants.

The US Government reports that as of 2009 there was 459,000 Megawatts of nameplate natural gas capacity. http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat1p2.html Those plants generated 920 Billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity. http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/txt/ptb0802a.html If 459,000 Megawatts of power plants operated 24/7 year round, they would generate .459 × 8760 = 4020 Billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity. In other words, natural gas plants only operated about 920/4020 = 22.8% of their capacity. That means that natural gas plants in the US overall do not typically operate in highly efficient base load, but rather operate at their least efficient mode— the same as they would do for backing up wind.

In other words, Bryce’s argument that wind power reduces the efficiency of natural gas plants is highly misleading, since natural gas plants already operate at relatively low efficiency, and in this context wind power will make relatively little difference.

But the goal is to replace coal, i.e., base load. That could be done with very efficient combined-cycle gas turbines, effectively reducing carbon emissions by three-fourths. If wind is part of that effort, then half as efficient open-cycle gas turbines would have to be used, since CCGT isn't able to respond quickly enough to wind's variability. So the question is, again, what is the carbon effect of wind plus OCGT versus CCGT alone? Many analysts have found it to be no better and in some cases worse.

This also means that Bryce’s argument for “cheap” natural gas power— based on the current low fuel price— is wrong, since the low capacity utilization of natural gas plants means that the power costs are mostly driven by the cost of the power plant, not the cost of natural gas.

Bryce brings back another round of “bait and switch” comparisons on carbon benefit of wind power. He says:

“The American Wind Energy Association insists that the wind business ‘could avoid 825 million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030.’ (http://www.awea.org/_cs_upload/learnabout/publications/4136_1.pdf) That 825 million tons sounds like a lot. It’s not. In 2010, global carbon dioxide emissions totaled 33.1 billion tons. Thus, if the US went on a wind energy binge, and installed thousands of turbines in every available location, doing so might reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.5%. And that calculation assumes that global carbon dioxide emissions will stay flat over the next two decades. They won’t.”

It is a clever trick to make 825 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions avoided by wind power disappear into insignificance. This is actually a double bait and switch. First, if you go to the linked article, this savings claim is NOT from the American Wind Energy Association— it is a scenario from the US Department of Energy. The scenario is that 20% of US electricity comes from wind by 2030, which is equivalent to taking 140 million cars off the road and offsetting 20% to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. Not a trivial accomplishment. The second bait and switch is that Bryce compares the US wind scenario against global carbon reduction. This assumes that only the United States is installing wind, which is very far from the truth, and it compares apples to oranges. US wind power should be compared to US carbon emissions or you will make incorrect inferences about the result.

These criticisms are valid. But Bryce doesn't need to make 825 million tons look insignificant. That avoided CO₂ is already an imaginary projection based on theoretical equivalences, not real-world data.

Bryce goes on to the “bird and bat” argument. He cherry picks a study about bird kills at Altamont, considered by most wind experts as just about the worst case scenario for wind. Indeed, some wind advocates think that wind power should never have been developed at Altamont, as— in addition to being questionable environmentally— it is not a particularly good wind site.

Nevertheless, wind turbines do kill lots of birds and bats. Of course, so do many other things, such as power lines, buildings, cats, chemicals, and catastrophic climate change. It has been estimated that the average turbine kills about 2 to 3 birds per year. Getting all US electricity from wind would take about 1 million turbines that are 1.5 megawatts in size. That might kill about 2 to 3 million birds per year— assuming we got all of our electricity from wind, which no one expects ever to happen.

By comparison, communication towers are estimated at present to kill between 4 million and 50 million birds per year, and electric power lines may kill anywhere from hundreds of thousands to 175 million birds per year. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr191/Asilomar/pdfs/1051-1064.pdf

And cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds per year, and more than a billion small mammals—including rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks— according to the American Bird Conservancy. http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/index.html

All this is not to minimize the very real problem with birds and bats.

Actually, it obviously is meant to minimize the problem by comparisons irrelevant to the issue of wind's additional impacts.

Wind turbines do threaten certain specific species, such as raptors and certain types of bats. However, Bryce again goes out of his way to present selective data that skews the results against wind. He mentions that “In 2008, a study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency (http://www.altamontsrc.org/alt_doc/m30_apwra_monitoring_report_exec_sum.pdf) estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks – as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the MBTA – are being killed every year by the wind turbines located at Altamont Pass, California.”

True enough, but he leaves out the most important finding of the study—the new “Diablo” turbines killed between 60% and 80% less birds than the old “Non-Diablo” ones. This means that the high level of bird kills at Altamont is a mostly legacy problem that can be greatly reduced with modern wind technology. Bryce is absolutely silent on this aspect of the Altamont study. Table ES3: http://www.altamontsrc.org/alt_doc/m30_apwra_monitoring_report_exec_sum.pdf

A reduction of an appalling death rate remains unacceptable. If bird mortality were no longer a problem, then why is the AWEA fighting new Fish and Wildlife guidelines that would make them comply with migratory bird treaties and eagle protection laws? Besides the 3,500 to 5,000 raptors estimated by ecologist Shawn Smallwood being killed annually at Altamont, other facilities also continue to report thousands of bird and bat deaths, e.g., at Wolfe Island, Ontario, and Maple Ridge, New York.

This takes us back to the question about why Bryce is chasing wind with a hatchet. What is his agenda?

Bryce, in his banner energy policy book “Power Hungry”, supports a vision very different than what anti-wind environmentalists claim to believe:

“The United States has built a $14-trillion-per-year economy based on hydrocarbons: coal, oil, and natural gas. We cannot— and will not— quit using carbon-based fuels for this simple reason: they provide the power that we crave. Nine out of every ten units of energy we consume come from hydrocarbons.

Power Hungry proves that what we want isn’t energy at all— it’s power. Bryce masterfully deciphers essential terms like power density, energy density, joules, watts, and horsepower to illuminate the differences between political rhetoric and reality. Then he methodically details how the United States can lead the global transition to a cleaner, lower-carbon future by embracing the fuels of the future, a future that can be summarized as N2N: natural gas to nuclear. The United States sits atop galaxies of natural gas, enough to last a hundred years. By using that gas in parallel with new nuclear technologies, America can boost its economy while benefiting the environment.” http://www.manhattan-institute.org/power_hungry/

Bryce also hates energy efficiency, and explains why in his book:

“He goes on to eviscerate the notion that the United States wastes huge amounts of energy. Indeed, the facts show that over the past three decades the United States has been among the world’s best at reducing its energy intensity, carbon intensity, and per-capita energy use.”http://www.manhattan-institute.org/power_hungry/

In other words, Bryce opposes the entire green agenda. Bryce is a big believer in nuclear and natural gas power— explicitly. He defends these sources as cheap and necessary, and in this context attacks solar, wind and even energy efficiency. Bryce is a key policy guy at the Manhattan Institute, an institution described in Sourcewatch:

The *Manhattan Institute* (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey who later became President Ronald Reagan's CIA director.

The Manhattan Institute is "focused on promoting free-market principles whose mission is to 'develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.'"

"The Manhattan Institute concerns itself with such things as 'welfare reform' (dismantling social programs), 'faith-based initiatives' (blurring the distinction between church and state), and 'education reform' (destroying public education)," Kurt Nimmo wrote October 10, 2002, in CounterPunch. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Manhattan_Institute_for_Policy_Research

The Manhattan Institute, when it is not trying to destroy the environment and social programs, also likes to promote global energy wars. Perhaps its most famous contribution to public discourse was from David Frum, who left the institute to become a Bush speechwriter and coined the term “Axis of Evil”, a key concept that helped push the US into several international conflicts. The Manhattan Institute is big on “market competition”, also hard right style, which explains why it is so important to make the case that wind is dependent on welfare subsidies and “can’t compete” on the free market. Because if wind is lower cost without subsidies, Bryce and the other pro-fossil fuel and pro-nuclear folks decisively lose the battle on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Then they have to decide between dirty fuel and conservative principle.

So, if MEA and the wind developers are guilty of promoting wind and renewable energy, those who oppose wind are clearly siding with the authors of global energy wars, nuclear and fossil fuels.

Like Earth First, who have consistently recognized the predatory nature of industrial wind and led protests against construction of a facility in the mountains of Maine? Or the Zapatistas in Mexico supporting the Zapoteco farmers of the Isthmus of Tehuantapec against the theft of their land for a giant Spanish wind energy facility (the Zapotecos have written about "the imposition of neoliberal megacorporations destroying nature and our cultures")? Or the Adivasis of India, who are against being evicted from their forests so they can be mowed down for giant wind turbines? Or the diverse group of protesters camping out in northwest Denmark determined to save one of their last large forests from clearance for a giant wind turbine "test facility"? Or the anticapitalist antiwar Bread and Puppet Theater, who have been fighting big wind on Vermont's mountains? Or the established environmental advocate who lives off-grid and is leading the fight against industrial wind in Vermont?

Or do all supporters of wind power share the world view of all other supporters, such as T. Boone ("Swift Boater") Pickens; wind pioneers George W. Bush and Kenneth Lay of Enron (Bush was keynote speaker at the American Wind Energy Association convention in 2010); AWEA's own CEO, Denise Bode, former natural gas and petroleum lobbyist; anti-environment Christian fundamentalist Rick Perry; anti–environmental regulation lobbyist Frank Maisano of Bracewell-Giuliani, the spokesman for mid-Atlantic wind developers; nuclear plant builder and war profiteer GE, the country's biggest manufacturer of wind turbines (after buying Enron's wind division)? Or indeed, nuclear giant Electricit√© de France?

In fact, all of these supporters of wind are featured at Sourcewatch.org, and Counterpunch regularly reproduces Robert Bryce's work and has published an article by Nina Pierpont about wind turbine syndrome.

It is true that conventional energy companies are developing renewable energy projects, since many people in the energy industry see the writing on the wall. As Helen points out: “Wind developers are also oil and gas developers, they are one and the same.”

Well, the evidence shows that the opposite is true too: the wind opponents are supporters of oil, gas, coal and nuclear— they are one and the same. For, among renewable energy sources, wind is the closest to seriously challenge or displace fossil fuels in a big way. Strike down wind and you will set back renewable energy by 5 to 10 years. Of course, Bryce and Wind-Watch do not just want to get in the way of wind; their efforts also create roadblocks to other sources of renewable energy as well.

After the ad populum, non sequitur, red herring, and ad hominem efforts, now it's time for the straw man, or paper tiger. Robert Bryce does not represent all, or even most, opponents of wind. From that misrepresentation it is an unsupported leap to claim that "wind opponents are supporters of oil, gas, coal and nuclear" and "create roadblocks to other sources of renewable energy as well". Would Freehling similarly claim that opponents of big hydro are against other renewables? Rather than creating roadblocks, fighting the harm and waste of resources caused by industrial-scale wind is to the benefit of other renewables, such as decentralized small-scale vertical-axis wind. It would be more reasonable to argue that industrial wind itself has set back the cause of renewable energy with its aggressive encroachments on rural and wild land and habitats.

There is no choice about the fact that we are all— people who take pro-wind and anti-wind positions alike— enmeshed in a world controlled by conventional energy resources. But there is a big difference which side of this paradox you are on. Those who oppose wind because oil and gas interests are involved will leave us addicted to fossil and nuclear fuel, with no alternative energy source. That is not smart.

It was argued earlier that association with fossil fuel and nuclear interests adversely colored at least one writer's opposition to wind. But now it appears to be acceptable for wind proponents to consort with big energy. Clearly paradox, or real-world complexity, is allowed only for those who agree with Robert Freehling. Those with differing views must remain a caricature.

But to his final assertion, big wind is indeed big energy, and there is no sign that wind seriously threatens fossil fuels or nuclear. There is no justification for its novel impacts if it can not meaningfully diminish existing impacts from other sources of energy. At best, it might help drive the replacement of coal or even nuclear with natural gas (as required for back-up), but it would require less efficient gas turbines to be built than would be possible without wind. And then there's fracking.

To be pro-wind requires being pro–natural gas. Can we say therefore that to be pro-wind means to be pro-fracking? And to be pro-fracking is to be pro-Halliburton, and to be pro-Halliburton is to be pro-war ... (and former Halliburton division and war contractor Kellogg Brown & Root used to boast of being "in the vanguard of the development of offshore wind power in the UK" and still notes, "KBR has established itself as a key provider of services for the indispensable wind farm industry")?

Which side are you on, indeed.

~Robert

~~Eric R.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

10 short reasons to not be excited about wind power

In answer to a recent speech by Lester Brown, as reported in National Geographic's Energy Blog, a correspondent sends these 10 succinct reasons why wind power is undesirable:

1. It can not meaningfully replace more reliable sources, currently fueled by hydro, fossil fuels, or nuclear. Because wind is intermittent, highly variable, and nondispatchable, the rest of the grid must continue to operate as if it is not there. Large-scale batteries are very far from practicality and would provide only short-term mitigation of variability.

2. It can not meaningfully reduce carbon emissions. In addition to the reasons in (1), wind forces the grid to operate less efficiently, like switching from highway to city driving.

3. It requires huge machines spread over huge areas. Even "good" wind is a diffuse resource to capture.

4. It subjects rural and wild land to industrial development. For the reasons in (3), that's where the space is, and besides the turbines themselves, heavy-duty roads, transfer stations, and high-voltage transmission lines are needed.

5. It destroys, degrades, and fragments wildlife habitat. Again, This is for the reasons in (3) and (4).

6. It is a particular threat to migratory birds, raptors, and bats. These animals already use the wind, and the giant turbine blades are a direct physical danger or force the animals to detour or go elsewhere.

7. Its giant turbine blades create a disturbing thumping or deep swishing noise as they pass through different layers of air. The noises from large wind turbines make many people sick, and other animals are likely affected similarly.

8. It requires blasting on mountain ridges to create level platforms of 2-3 acres or more and wide slow-turning roads.

9. It adversely affects water headlands and runoff when built on mountain ridges. This is not only by the construction (blasting and compacting) of the roads and platforms, but also by the clearance of vegetation for them, as well as for the transfer stations and transmission lines.

10. It's ugly. Industrial wind turbines are now typically well over 400 feet tall and easily dominate the landscape, especially when the blades are turning. And a single facility consists of a lot more than 1, from dozens on mountain ridges to hundreds in the prairies, spread over miles.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Populism Shopulism

After the 2000 election fiasco, I wrote "The election between them [Gore and Bush] came down to which brand of false populism you fall for more easily. So it is not surprising the vote was split right down the middle. ... The most corrupt candidate won [or rather literally 'took the prize']."

Huey Long (a true populist) once said, "They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."

That remains quite evidently true today, and one might add in the same spirit that the only difference between our two parties at the national level is in their campaign messages. Which lies do you prefer to believe?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nope, no government programs for me

Percentages of government social program beneficiaries who report that they “have not used a government social program”:

529 or Coverdell:  64.3%
Home Mortgage Interest Deduction:  60.0%
Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit:  59.6%
Student Loans:  53.3%
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit:  51.7%
Earned Income Tax Credit:  47.1%
Social Security—Retirement & Survivors:  44.1%
Pell Grants:  43.1%
Unemployment Insurance:  43.0%
Veterans Benefits (other than GI Bill):  41.7%
GI Bill:  40.3%
Medicare:  39.8%
Head Start:  37.2%
Social Security Disability:  28.7%
SSI—Supplemental Security Income:  28.2%
Medicaid:  27.8%
Welfare/Public Assistance:  27.4%
Government Subsidized Housing:  27.4%
Food Stamps:  25.4%

Source: Social and Governmental Issues and Participation Study, 2008. Survey conducted by Survey Research Institute, Cornell University. Principal Investigator, Suzanne Mettler.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Human Pretzel

"I am proud to have voted against this bill but I would have been just as proud to have voted in favor of it if my vote was needed to pass something that I am against."

—Peter Welch, U.S. Representative, Vermont

[thanks to Snarky Boy for catching this from the radio]

Vermont

No adverse wind turbine effects within 10 km radius!

Alec Salt, a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine who has discovered interesting things about the inner ear's response to low-frequency noise, notes at Wind Concerns Ontario that reports finding no significant ill effects of wind turbines on health or property values all appear to use an cutoff of 5 or 10 kilometers or 5 miles.

It is obvious that with such a cutoff, you are guaranteed to dilute any effect by including a vastly larger number of people and property at greater distances from the wind turbines. Salt puts some hypothetical numbers to that fact, which I here adapt.

First, let us say that a wind facility is 12.6 square kilometers in area (3,105 acres), which as a circle would have a radius of 2 km.

The area within 1 km of the facility would then be the area of a 3-km-radius circle minus 12.6 km², i.e., 15.7 km².

The area would be 37.7 km² within 2 km, 66.0 km² within 5 km, and 301.6 km² within 10 km.

If we then assume that the residential density is consistent throughout these areas, it is clear that there would be 4.2 times more families within 5 km than within 1 km of the facility, and 19.2 times more within 10 km.

Particularly with health effects, where not everyone is affected or affected to the same degree, a significant proportion of affected individuals becomes minuscule in the larger pool: If, say, 10% of the people within 1 km become ill after the wind turbines begin operating (in fact, it appears that the rate is much greater), that becomes only half of one percent of the people living within 10 km (ignoring for now anybody becoming ill farther than 1 km away).

Problem solved!

Also, as a commenter to the Wind Concerns Ontario noted, the physical effects of wind turbines fall off exponentially with distance, further ensuring a dilution to insignificance with a larger distance.

In contrast, if you compare that rate of 10% within 1 km with, say, a 1% rate farther than 2 km, it is very clear that the risk of adverse health effects is increased tenfold by living within 1 km of a wind facility compared with living greater than 2 km from it. But such studies have yet to be done.