June 6, 2004

Misconceptions about wind

A letter by Peter Sterling of Worcester to the local rag (also to this one) claims that an earlier letter saying that wind turbines require extensive power lines and create an ice-throw hazard is perpetuating myths.

Like the aesthetics of the jumbo-jet sized blades on giant towers rising from formerly wild mountain ridges, "extensive" is a matter of opinion. But also like the installation of power plants on the ridges, where you ought to have a damn good reason for forcing their presence on everyone, whatever their aesthetic values, another power line is another power line. If it doesn't do any good, we shouldn't have to see it go in. In fact, the smallness of the single though long transmission line that will be needed from the East Haven project to the Burke Mountain substation is proof of the small amount of electricity expected to be generated. That line is likely to be supplying more power to the facility than it will be taking away.

Sterling spends most of his letter pointing out that the "demonstration" project is on private land, so the concerns of its impact on the Champion lands are irrelevant. I hope he is not really so unrespectful of his neighbors.

But even so -- getting back to the ice throw "myth" -- if the blades will be hurling ice far and wide, then the facility's bordering a public recreation area is indeed relevant. The following is from a letter by John Zimmerman, Enxco's area representative, sent to an American Wind Energy Association discussion list in January 2000, describing his experience at the facility in Searsburg.
... [T]he danger from ice being release from rotor blades overhead is real ... When there is heavy rime ice build up on the blades and the machines are running you instinctually want to stay away. They roar loudly and sound scarey. Probably you would feel safe within the .5 mile danger zone however.

One time we found a piece near the base of the turbines that was pretty impressive. Three adults jumping on it couldn't break. It looked to be 5 or 6 inches thick, 3 feet wide and about 5 feet long. Probably weighed several hundred pounds. We couldn't lift it. There were a couple of other pieces nearby but we wondered where the rest of the pieces went.

In the winter, icing is a real danger and GMP therefore restricts public access to the site(s).
The turbines proposed for East Haven have much larger blades and are on much higher towers than the ones at Searsburg, so the danger would be even greater. This should be considered as well by all the snowmobilers that Mathew Rubin has courted by promising to open the area for them. They certainly won't be bothered by the noise, but they may take exception to large blocks of ice hurling down on them.

Sterling closes, of course, with a threat: If you oppose the East Haven project, you must be for global warming. Something like 1% of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions comes from generating the electricity we use. In the worst electricity environment, mitigation by wind turbines is minuscule. Here, the effect on global warming would be zero. With that being the case, their installation would add to Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions.