Thursday, January 18, 2018

Shortsighted and dangerous

Olaf Errwigge writes in The Commons in response to Michael Bosworth, “Which price do we pay? Keeping additional industrial-scale wind power out of our region is shortsighted and dangerous. Is there any middle ground?”:

Bosworth’s earnest appeal first requires that his premises be examined. Is wind energy actually “economically efficient” or “acutely needed”? Is the price actually just “some soil disturbance, some bird mortality”? Does it actually bring “significant benefits”?

Wind is a diffuse, intermittent, and highly variable resource, so there is no way that it can be economically efficient or have only moderate adverse impacts, because massive machines over vast (rural and wild) areas are required to collect any meaningful amount. The Windham Regional Commission Energy Plan clearly notes the unavoidable habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as many other environmental impacts:
“Wind turbine placement can be difficult and controversial because of natural resource impacts, aesthetics, noise, and the need for placement at elevations of 2,500-3,300 feet, locations in Vermont that tend to be sensitive with thin soils and steep slopes. The windiest areas in the region are most often on the higher-elevation ridgelines that are sensitive habitats for plants and wildlife, and are the source of the region’s most pristine headwaters. In areas where road access does not exist, new permanent roads must be built to service the wind facility. Other potentially negative environmental impacts include bird and bat mortality, habitat disruption and fragmentation, erosion, pollution from facility maintenance, turbine noise, and visual flicker.

“Given the nature of utility-scale wind development, which involves considerable blasting, road building, and other permanent alterations of the landscape and surface hydrology, it is deemed to be incompatible with the two aforementioned land use designations [ie, Resource Lands and Productive Rural Lands].”
And benefits? Its intermittency and high variability require that wind be 100% backed up by other sources. Wind serves as only a feel-good add-on to an electrical system that has to be able to work without it anyway, ready to kick in when the wind drops, and standing by to continuously balance its erratic feed. Those other sources do so at a cost to their own efficiency.

In short, the benefits of large-scale wind power are virtually nil, and the adverse impacts are substantial. It is certainly not "shortsighted and dangerous" to recognize that reality and to discourage such a destructive and unhelpful form of energy development.