October 31, 2004

A quote for the conscientious

But I don't answer to inevitabilities, and neither do you. I don't answer to the economy. I don't answer to tradition and I don't answer to Everyone. For me, it comes down to a question of whether I am a man or just a consumer. Whether to reason or just to rationalize. Whether to heed my conscience or my every craving, to assert my free will or just my will. Whether to side with the powerful and comfortable or with the weak, afflicted, and forgotten.

--Matthew Scully, Dominion

October 30, 2004

Aren't wind turbines wonderful!

The claim by Enxco's David Steeb (see previous post) that a 5,000-acre power plant of 120 330-ft-high spinning turbines is necessary to preserving the rural character of Kittitas County in Washington reminds me just how magically wonderful this technology is. In fact, we in the U.S. probably need to start recognizing its crucial role in providing affordable health care and prescription drugs as well as improving our schools (by bribes to municipal councils in the latter case, by the desire to transform "unproductive" wilderness into a source of tax revenue in the former).

First of all, the turbines will reverse global warming, potentially displacing a tiny fraction of fossil-fuel-generated electricity even as that generation and consumption become cleaner and more efficient and energy use for heating and transport continues to rise.

They will end war and poverty, too, as we move so dramatically move away from fossil fuels to "free" wind power as just described.

They will increase tourism to wilderness areas, because people who try to escape the industrial world for a weekend will be glad to be reminded that they can't.

They create jobs, as long as they keep getting built. Former trail guides and country innkeepers will be pleased with new careers in road building, foundation digging, and cement hauling -- moving into the future instead of sitting stuck in a fantasy of the past. One of them may get to rent their house to a maintenance engineer.

They are phenomenally beautiful, bringing tears to the eyes of many sensitive souls, such as American writer Annie Dillard. They manifest the presence of the wind in a way swaying trees and fluttering leaves never could. They bring high (300-440 feet high!) culture to the rural masses. They are awe-inspiring symbols of our imperial might, our ability and right to dominate nature. They are like prehistoric stone circles, sleek new henges rising as testament to our self-love.

They save farmers and ranchers from having to break up and sell their land, and if their neighbors got into the game as well they would have a little money to help them move instead of just complaining about being left holding a bag of shite.

They are profitable, because governments around the world make sure they are. What better use of public money than to make things appear better?

They make us feel so good and proud and right, because so many of the problems in the world are solved by the fantastic schemes that make them possible.

The people love them, which is why local input must be minimized: The central government has read the company materials and already knows you want them.

They don't kill birds -- that's a total lie! Anyway, not many, a few dozen per turbine each year. A skyscraper out in those fields or on that mountain top would kill a lot more! And who really cares about all those bats? And global warming and acid rain and all that is killing even more!, which is exactly what building these massive wind towers is meant to stop (see first point, above).

They're very quiet, only making noise when the wind blows.

Above all, the market, with government's help and the visionary collaboration of global environmental groups, says they work. The dot-com bubble is gone, so industrial wind power is the new cool investment.

Bottom line: Are you so uncool that you would "protect" rural and wilderness areas during this rare convergence of forces that makes it possible to turn them into real money makers? Play or bray!

Had I the concordant wiseheads of Messrs Gregory and Lyons alongside of Dr Tarpey's and I dorsay the reverend Mr Mac Dougall's, but I, poor ass, am but as their fourpart tinckler's dunkey. -- Finnegans Wake

October 28, 2004

Enxco says wind turbine noise a problem 22% of time

David Steeb, of the 120-turbine, 5,237-acre Desert Claim wind power project proposed in Kittitas County, Washington, said at a public hearing Tuesday that noise would indeed be a problem 22% of the time (avge. 5-1/4 hours a day).

One wonders where he got that figure, which is suspiciously similar to the expected actual output of the facility.

He said that when the wind blows enough to make the turbine blades turn it also makes other noise to mask the machine's. Wind promoters claim, however, in answer to the charge that a site isn't really that windy to rely on it as a source of electricity, that up at the top of the tower it's a lot windier. So a lot of the time when the turbines are doing their thing, the wind isn't whipping things up around your house. Result (as if rustling leaves (or bare twigs in the winter) could mask the whumping of 120 turbines): turbine noise.

Steeb also pleaded that his massive power plant was essential to preserving the county's rural character. The planning commission unanimously rejected the proposal. Congratulations, citizens of Kittitas County!

October 25, 2004

Phasing out nuclear power in Germany

Late last year, Germany announced the closing of their Stade nuclear reactor, the first of its total of 19 reactors that it plans to permanently shut down as they come to the end of their operating life.

Nuclear power provides over 30% of Germany's electricity and does not officially contribute to global warming (its huge emission of water vapor isn't counted, only the absence of carbon dioxide and the other officially recognized greenhouse gases), so replacing that energy source is a major challenge. Germany is aggressively pushing conservation and efficiency as well as renewable-energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass.

Although no news article or official statement says anything like it, advocates of utility-scale wind point to Germany's huge installed capacity (one third of the world's total) as the reason Stade was able to be shut down.

Ignoring the more significant changes in Germany's energy use patterns, let us suppose the claim was indeed so. The 672-MW Stade plant represented just over 3% of Germany's total nuclear-powered capacity (less than 1% of their total electricity use). When it was closed down, Germany had about 14,000 MW of wind-power capacity installed. To close down the rest, they would need 430,000 MW more!

Dangerous as nuclear power is, replacing 19 such facilities with several hundred thousand 300-400-foot-high wind towers is not an attractive alternative.

October 23, 2004

Large wind projects in Vermont

Here is an outline of the current industrial-scale wind projects targeted for Vermont. Note the huge leap in size from the existing Searsburg facility that we are all urged to go see and love and love as well the new very much larger facilities being planned.

size data provided:
number of towers × rated capacity of each turbine = capacity of facility
height = hub height + blade length (r); area swept by blades of each turbine (πr2) = x acre(s)


Searsburg (1996) -- Enxco & Green Mountain Power
  • 11 × 555-KW = 6 MW
  • 198' = 132' + 66'; 12,868 ft2 = 0.30 acre


Searsburg expansion -- Enxco & Green Mountain Power
  • 20-30 × 1.5-MW = 30-45 MW
  • 340' = 213' + 127'; 50,273 ft2 = 1.16 acres

East Mountain (East Haven) -- Mathew Rubin
  • 50 × 1.5-MW = 75 MW
    (4 × 1.5-MW = 6 MW demonstration project currently in permitting process)
  • 335' = 220' + 115'; 41,548 ft2 = 0.96 acre

Glebe Mountain (Londonderry) -- Catamount Energy
  • 27 × 1.5-MW = 48.6 MW
  • 387' = 256' (78 m) + 131' (40 m); 5,027 m2 = 1.24 acres

Lowell Mountain -- Enxco & Vermont Public Power Supply Authority
  • 12-26 × 1.5-MW = 18-39 MW
  • 328' = 212' (64.7 m) + 116' (35.25 m); 3,904 m2 = 0.96 acre

Hardscrabble Mountain (Sheffield) -- UPC Wind Partners
  • total 30 MW (per American Wind Energy Association)
  • 3 × 131' (40 m) measurement towers approved by Public Service Board, 1 currrently erected

Mt. Equinox (Manchester) -- Endless Energy
  • 5 × 1.5-MW = 7.5 MW
  • 330' = 200' + 130'; 53,093 ft2 = 1.22 acres


Hoosac Range (Florida & Monroe, Mass.) -- Enxco
  • 20 × 1.5-MW = 30 MW
  • 340' = 213' + 127'; 50,273 ft2 = 1.16 acres

Gardner Mountain (Lyman, N.H.) -- UPC Wind Partners
  • 20 turbines
  • 158' measurement tower proposed

October 22, 2004

Is VPIRG lying?

"Section 248 includes the exact same criteria for reviewing a projects impact on the environment and aesthetics as Act 250. Only, unlike Act 250, Section 248 puts the onus on the developer to PROVE his or her project wont harm the environment, as opposed to forcing citizens to pursue a costly legal process as Act 250 now does."

-- Andrew Hudson
Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) field director
personal communication

In Vermont, Act 250 is the environmental review law, and Section 248 describes the review process for energy-generating facilities. Section 248 relies on a legalistic process before the public service board, who must determine if the project "will promote the general good of the state." That is, local concerns may be trumped by a perceived statewide need or the mere desire of a powerful entity. In contrast to Drew Hudson's claim, it is very difficult -- and costly -- for citizens to be involved in the Section 248 process. Only one public hearing is called for.

It is, again in opposition to Hudson's statement, Act 250 that requires the developer to prove that a project won't harm the environment, either natural or human. Section 248 relies on others to present information about negative impact. But even then, the public service board (Section 248) looks at the effect on the state as a whole, easily dismissing local concerns, whereas Act 250 requires regional environmental boards to examine precisely the local impact of a project. Act 250 facilitates heavy citizen involvement.

When asked if he might have inadvertently gotten the two processes backwards in his description, Hudson did not reply. Of course, the misleading statement makes sense as part of VPIRG's campaign against subjecting utility-scale wind power facilities to Act 250 review. How else can an "environmentalist" group argue against the state's environmental law, except by claiming that the utility-review law is actually better? How else can one-time environmentalists who are now active corporate lobbyists live with themselves, except by calling industrial development of wild mountaintops "environmental" and the state environmental law "anti-democratic"? In short, replace reality with a lie -- an all too common predilection these days.

(An earlier post describes VPIRG's desire to build power plants on state-protected land. And another describes VPIRG's proposal to double what even the developers plan for the state.

October 21, 2004

Environmentally friendly wind power lobbyists -- not!

The American Wind Energy Association's PAC has donated to the campaign of California representative Richard Pombo, who as one of Congress's most anti-environmentalist members is also supported by oil and gas companies, mining interests, factory farmers, paper companies, etc. Pombo's support for the wind industry is an effort to exempt them from federal environmental laws (see earlier posts here and here). The green mask of the AWEA has slipped off to reveal the ruthless industrialists they really represent.

Energy units

Here is a primer on the units one tends to encounter in researching energy issues.

The watt (W) is a measure of electrical power. (Power is the rate of doing work or producing or expending energy.) One watt is equal to 1 joule (J) per second.

The joule is a measure of energy, or the ability or capacity to do work. Other measures of energy are
  • kilowatt-hour (KW-h), a thousand watts of power produced or used for one hour, equivalent to 3.6 MJ.

    One PJ = 277.78 TW-h.

    When a 1-MW [maximum rate of energy generation] wind turbine produces at 25% of that capacity as averaged over a year, its annual output is

    1 MW × 0.25 × 365 days × 24 hours = 2,190 MW-h.

  • British thermal unit (Btu), equivalent to 1,054.8 J or 0.293 W-h.

    Quadrillion Btu = 1.055 PJ = 293 TW-h.

  • million tonne oil equivalent (mtoe), equivalent to 41,868 MJ or 11,630 KW-h.
The metric system prefixes:
K means kilo, a thousand, or 103
M means mega, a million, or 106
G means giga, a billion, or 109
T means tera, a trillion, or 1012
P means peta, a quadrillion, or 1015
E means exa, a thousand times more than peta, or 1018

Wind plays role

Garret Mott of Buel's Gore recommends, in a letter in today's Burlington Free Press,
'a visit to Searsburg [Vermont's existing power facility of 11 550-KW wind turbines] for all those naysayers. The sight of the wind turbines slowly revolving along the ridgeline prompted a friend (who, before seeing them was prepared to hate them) to describe the turbines as "elegant." Would these doubters rather see the proliferation of power lines? Many people in towns along the proposed VELCO corridor don't seem to be in favor of new lines. Would the "environmentalists" that oppose wind power rather see the ground fog along the Long Trail become even more acid than the current "dill pickle" acidity?'
1. The Searsburg blades, when they are working at all, rotate "slowly" at 29 rpm. The speed at the tips of the blades, however, is 137 mph, which, for starters, isn't at all bird or bat friendly.

2. The 8-year-old Searsburg turbine assemblies are less than 200 feet high. The towers are 132 feet, and each blade is 66 feet. They do not require lights, and the blades of each turbine sweep an area of air less than a third of an acre. There are 11 towers. This does not give a proper idea of the impact of new projects. The proposed expansion of Searsburg itself, for example, is typical, involving 20-30 340-foot-high assemblies, their 127-foot blades each chopping more than an acre of air. All of the new projects must be lit at night.

3. Every new wind-power facility will need new transmission lines, and in some cases a new substation, to connect it with the grid. Because once in a while the facility actually feeds electricity into the grid near its rated capacity, the power lines must be able to handle that rare occurrence. They must therefore be much bigger than would otherwise be necessary for the actual average feed of less than 25% of the facility's rating. The line from the substation might also need to be upgraded to handle that occasional surge, as well as the backbone lines should the developers be allowed to fulfill all of their plans.

4. Very little of Vermont's electricity comes from natural gas, almost none from oil, and none at all from coal. Even if wind-powered generating facilities were able to provide large amounts of our electricity (which they can't), they would not reduce atmospheric acidity one bit.

The play in which industrial-scale wind has a role ought to be farce but alas is likely to succeed as tragedy.

October 20, 2004

Oil in "clean green" wind turbines

Of course there has to be some oil for the blade control systems (pitch, yaw, and braking) and the turbine gears, but how much, before it's hard to keep calling it "clean and green"?

In the "Spillage Prevention and Control" section of the Kittitas Valley (Washington) Wind Power Project Application (available here), the expected maximum quantities are described for each of the 1.5-MW turbines planned:
  • cooling fluid (glycol & water) for the generator, 50 gallons
  • lubricating oil for the gears, 105 gallons
  • hydraulic oil for the blade control systems, 85 gallons
  • mineral oil to cool the transformer at the base of each turbine, 500 gallons
In addition, the transformers (1 or 2) at the substation connecting the facility to the grid will each contain up to 12,000 gallons of mineral oil. All of these fluids have to be periodically replaced. Several 50-gallon drums of replacement oils, and of waste oils, will be stored at the site.

Planners in Valencia, Spain, admit the likelihood of spills as well as the dripping and flinging off of these and other fluids (see here). Older transformers may also contain PCBs.

Can you say NIMBY?

A story in today's Burlington Free Press ("Winds of controversy blow in Shelburne," by Matt Crawford) describes the wealthy Vermont community of Shelburne's opposition to a small wind turbine that Jon Fishman wants to put up at his home.
'At the heart of the Shelburne discussion is how a 116-foot-high wind tower that resident Jon Fishman wants to build on his secluded Quaker Smith Point property will fit in with the surrounding lakeshore scenery.

'Fishman, the drummer of the defunct rock band Phish, wants to build a 10-kilowatt turbine to provide electricity to his home. He says one big reason he splurged on the 18-acre lot on the Lake Champlain shore is because it's perfectly suited for renewable energy like wind and solar power.

'Shelburne town officials and neighbors have raised flags of concern about Fishman's vision for a turbine.'
One of the troubled citizens is Bruce Lisman, who is building a house about a mile away. Lisman is a director of Vermont's largest utility, Central Vermont Public Service, whose subsidiary Catamount Energy is involved in large wind projects throughout the U.S. and in Europe, including the 27-turbine 48,600-kilowatt project proposed for Glebe Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont.

Residents around Glebe Mountain oppose the installation of the 387-foot-high turbines, each 131-foot blade chopping one and a quarter acres of air, along with the lights and noise, clearing of forest, new roads, concrete foundations, transformers, and power lines required. By the time the developers actually apply for a permit, they will possibly have upgraded their plan to even larger models. The opponents of thus industrializing our ridgelines are derided as NIMBYs, concerned only with keeping their views pristine. Their concern for the wild mountain habitat is mocked as shortsighted because global warming and acid rain do even more damage (though even the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits that wind power has little to contribute towards mitigating those problems). Supporters of the project even call the giant industrial assemblies beautiful and question the aesthetic development of its opponents (see, e.g., the earlier post "Wind turbines = Nazi flag"; also see earlier post about the NIMBY charge).

Now Bruce Lisman "is uncomfortable about what a wind turbine on the shores of Lake Champlain would look like" -- a single home-sized turbine with 11-foot blades. Like George Bush's argument that we have to send people to Iraq to be killed so we don't get killed here, Lisman's magical thinking seems to be that we need to build giant power plants on far-away (from him) ridges so he doesn't have to see even one puny turbine anywhere near his back yard.


October 19, 2004

Coke versus Pepsi: It's all in the head

A new study shows there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, only marketing. Studying brain activity scans, the choice between Coke and Pepsi was found to be primarily cultural. As Peter Diamondstone, Liberty Union candidate for Vermont governor, recently remarked on Vermont Public Radio's "Switchboard," the Democrats and Republicans are the good cop/bad cop faces of our single-party corporatist government, which one is which being the "choice" allowed each voter.

They don't like it, but there are other choices, Ralph Nader for one.

October 17, 2004

The myths of wind power

Promoters of industrial-scale wind power often provide lists of criticisms which they helpfully dispatch as "myths." In fact, the myth making is in their answers to these charges. Here, for example, is the "top 5" list at the Greenpeace-sponsored Yes2Wind web site, all of them well documented valid complaints.
1. Wind turbines spoil the landscape
2. Wind turbines kill lots of birds
3. Tourists hate wind farms
4. Wind turbines are noisy
5. Wind power isn't reliable

1. Obviously they spoil the landscape. They are huge man-made erections. Even if you think they are beautiful kinetic sculptures, you don't have the right to fill natural landscapes with them.

2. They kill bats, too. And their noise and vibration drives away animals on the ground, not to mention people and animals in nearby homes and farms. Remember that a viable wind "farm" requires dozens of turbines, each requiring about 50 acres of space, its blades chopping over an acre of air at well over 100 mph. At night they must be lit.

3. Hate may be an extreme word, but tourists sure don't love them. Nobody who makes a long trip to enjoy some unspoiled nature is going to be thrilled to see a wind farm instead. Even if they think it's "cool," they are likely to seek a different vacation spot next time. Several visitor centers at wind plants in the U.K. have already closed for lack of business.

4. The state of Oregon changed their noise regulations because wind power facilities couldn't be built in rural areas. Now the rules say that if it's not a disturbing level of noise in the city then it isn't disturbing in the country, either. Except, of course, it still is.

5. As long as you make sure the sustained wind speed at the nearest wind plant is above 30 mph when you turn on your computer, it will indeed be a good source of energy. If it goes above 60, though, quick, turn it off, because the turbine has to shut down. If it dips below 30, better have the backup power going, because the power generated falls off exponentially.

Cape Wind turbines will be over 400 feet high

Two articles in today's Boston Globe talk about the Cape Wind project proposed for 24 square miles between Cape Cod and Nantucket. They provide different figures for the size of the towers in question, however.

Beth Daley's article about the Army Corps of Engineering report currently being reviewed cites the "246-foot turbines." Eileen McNamara's commentary about the short-lived effort in the joint armed services committee to halt off-shore development until federal guidelines are in place describes "130 turbines, 147 feet tall."

246 feet is in fact only the likely hub height, and 147 feet is apparently a typographical error and should be 417 feet. Though none of this information is on their web site, the Cape Wind proposal involves 3.6-MW turbines from GE, whose rotors sweep a diameter of 341 feet (104 meters), an area of 2.1 acres. With a blade radius of 171 feet, the total height will therefore be 417 feet.

October 15, 2004

The Arithmetic of Renewable Energy

A recent paper has calculated how much new generating capacity would be required to convert the U.K.'s transport sector -- responsible for a third of the country's energy use -- to hydrogen manufactured from non-carbon fuel sources. Their conclusion is startling: 100,000 wind towers or 100 nuclear plants.

The wind towers if sited off shore would completely encircle the country in a 10-km-deep band. On shore, they would require a land area larger than that of Wales.

Their calculations assume the use of 3-MW turbines and a capacity factor of 50%. In fact, 30% is a generous figure for the capacity factor (it is what the British and American Wind Energy Associations use), and on-shore turbines are typically 1-1.5 MW in size, in rare cases approaching 2 MW. Larger turbines would be intolerable in most locations.

Further, they calculate from a density of 12 MW rated capacity per square kilometer, which is the figure from a pro-wind study prepared for Greenpeace. The giant installation proposed for the western Scottish island of Lewis has a density of 5 MW/km2, and the huge facility proposed between Cape Cod and Nantucket island in the U.S. has a density of 6.7 MW/km2.

So, roughly, we need to double these authors' conclusions to account for more realistic performance, double them again on shore for more typical turbine size, and double once more for actual installation density: over 800,000 towers, covering fully 80% of the land in the U.K., or 400,000 off-shore towers completely encircling the country in a band 36 km deep.

(The original paper, by Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics, University of Warwick, and Jim Oswald, Energy Consultant, Coventry, is available as a 20-KB PDF by clicking the title of this post.)

October 13, 2004

Progressives as Pawns

Cannon Fodder for Kerry's War on Nader

"The progressives and peace activists who are helping to stop Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo don't realize it but they are being used by people who represent the corporate interests, especially the military-industrial complex, of the two major parties," writes Conn.

The two-pronged attack -- to keep Nader off ballots and to attack him as a tool of the Republicans -- was planned during the Democratic convention. The Ballot Project's initial funding came from former Monsanto CEO and genetic-engineering proponent Robert Shapiro. It was started by Democratic insider lawyer William C. Oldaker, whose clients include the Bituminous Coal Association, Delta Air, Corning Glass, Equifax, and Neuralstem Biopharmaceuticals. The effort is being run in Ohio by Ken Starr's firm Kirkland and Ellis, defense attorneys for tobacco giant Brown and Williamson and General Motors. It is being run in Pennsylvania by Republican law firm Reed Smith, a favorite of the banking (29 of the 30 largest), drug (9 of the 10 largest), and advertising industries. They have battled Nader over advertising to children.

Conn points out that not only haven't journalists questioned the motives behind these and other firms committing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pro bono work to this effort, they haven't noted the complete silence from civil liberties groups who would normally oppose such activity.

United Progressives for Victory was started by Oldaker to handle the second prong of attack. The organizations use the same office space in Washington, at public relations firm Robert Brandon and Associates. Robert Brandon is a generous supporter of Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, yet progressives unquestioningly sign on to his accusations that Nader is funded by Republicans to divide them. In fact, the Center for Responsive Politics has concluded that no more than 4% of Nader's monetary support comes from Republicans.

Another spokesman for both anti-Nader campaigns is former Monsanto official Toby Moffett, now lobbyist for the Cayman Islands, Turkey, Morocco, defense contractors Raytheon and Northup Grumman, and McDermott International, a Houston oil drilling firm interested in asbestos liability immunity. Moffett was instrumental in getting British company De La Rue the contract to print Iraqi money and passports.

"Anyone who reviews the published client lists (and glowing self-promotion) on the Livingston or The National Groups web sites will discover the anti-Nader crusade by The Ballot Project and United Progressives, designed and orchestrated by the Democrats, is also a very natural extension of both Oldaker's and Moffet's clients' desires to maintain and extend their corporate influence in either a new Kerry or a second Bush administration. ... Hatred of the progressive agenda and persistent public meddling by Ralph Nader in corporate matters also could be said to create a happy coincidence of self-interest between corporate clients with their attorneys' legal wars against Nader in the courts and in the press."

That progressives sit by silently or even sign on to these projects is despicable indeed.

October 12, 2004

Cherish the Squirrels

New York Times, October 10, 2004:

To the Editor,

If the residents of Ville Platte, La. ("If Town Clears Out, It Must Be Squirrel Season," front page, Oct. 3), stopped shooting squirrels long enough to observe them, they would see that squirrels are creatures with complex lives of their own.

We have squirrels at our house and have witnessed a mother squirrel raising her young. She teaches them to climb slippery trees and steep rooftops. If she senses danger, she will carry her young to safety.

She spends lots of time hunting and gathering food and soft things with which to feather their winter nest.

It is sad to read of cruel behavior toward these small and beautiful creatures, which are merely struggling to survive, as we all are.

Burlington Electric Supports Wind

To the editor, Burlington Free Press:

Patty Richards [director of resource planning for the Burlington Electric Department] (My Turn, October 12) claims that wind produces electricity 80% of the time. This is contradicted by the record at Searsburg, which produces electricity barely 60% of the time, according to audits by the Electric Power Research Institute. In Germany, grid manager Eon Netz reports that two thirds of the time, wind facilities are generating less than their annual average annual output.

Average output in Vermont is likely to be no more than 25%. Only one third of the time will a wind facility be producing at that level or above. To suggest, as Richards does, that Searsburg's fitful generation of less than 0.2% of Vermont's electricity "has increased reliability" is simply ludicrous.

Richards describes how the grid responds to a customer's turning on a light switch. Unfortunately, the wind does not cooperate in this scheme. Output from wind facilities is dramatically erratic and rarely corresponds to actual demand for electricity. Denmark's wind installations generate electricity equivalent to 20% of their consumption, but most of it has to be exported because the extra power isn't generated when it's actually needed.

It is true that in balance wind doesn't produce pollution when making electricity. Much of the time, however, wind turbines are not making electricity, yet they continue to draw power from the more polluting sources that are still working. And because of the unstable output, more reliable and more polluting backup generation has to be dedicated to cover for it.

Because of wind's low output and almost useless contribution, it is misleading to say that wind towers on the mountain ridges will stop the acid rain and global warming that threatens them. Wind towers -- with their acres of clearance, huge foundations, transformers, roads, and power lines -- represent only another form of destruction. They do nothing to mitigate acid rain or global warming.

Only a tiny fraction of Vermont's electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, none from coal. Even if wind could make a significant contribution, Richards' insistence that it would stay in Vermont therefore contradicts her threat that without wind the mountains will die.

About 200 MW of capacity would be required to match the output of Burlington's McNeil plant, which provides less than 8% of Vermont's electricity from a visually discreet location. That is three times more than the wind resource recognized as available for development. Richards' description of "wind turbines spinning gracefully in a few spots along our hill tops" either underscores their negligible contribution or is a lie.

So it comes, as Richards admits, down to a question of aesthetics. Hurling empty threats about global warming and acid rain and fossil and nuclear fuel dependence, knowing that wind power does nothing to alleviate those problems, she accuses opponents of using fear tactics! She asserts that wind turbines are visually appealing and only someone ignorant of the poisons in our air would oppose them.

Considering that the installation of wind turbines on our "hill" tops brings its own environmental and quality-of-life problems and that they will do nothing about pollutants from other sources, the aesthetics of the 330-foot-high erections are obvious: They are expensive, intrusive, destructive of rare habitat, and useless.

October 10, 2004

A Poem

Deliver Me, O Wind

by Annie Dullard

I'm glad that I have lived to see
Wind towers more lovely than a tree
Arrayed by dozens in the sea --
The tears of joy run free.

What better use of tired land,
The postcard pictures getting bland,
Than turning weary trees to sand
And making money to beat the band?

October 7, 2004

The wind in Texas

To the editor, The New Republic:

Martin Peretz ("Evil Lesser," October 11) cites George W. Bush's promotion of "one of the largest and most productive programs of wind farms in the country," which "actually diminishes our dependency on Middle Eastern oil."

The wind power projects in Texas are indeed large and heavily subsidized (Bush just renewed their major tax break), second in capacity to California. Yet the expanses of giant windmills generated only 0.85% of the state's total electricity in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The amount actually used is much less, because wind speed (their fuel) rarely corresponds with consumer demand.

Almost all of Texas's electricity is generated from natural gas and coal. Oil generates only 0.4%. Wind power has therefore diminished their dependency on oil for electricity by about 3 one-thousandths of a percent. Electricity, of course, represents only a fraction of total energy use (for transport, heat, etc.), which wind power doesn't affect at all.

October 5, 2004

Wind power creates a job!

Here are some excerpts from the story linked to in the title, which is about "windsmiths" -- the people who maintain wind turbines.
Roughly 100 windsmiths, mostly men, work at the various wind energy companies in Tehachapi.

CalWind Resources has 10 windsmiths on staff to service its 350 turbines. Oak Creek Energy has six to maintain its 100 turbines.
There are more than 4,600 turbines in the Tehachapi area. That's an average of 1 maintenance job per 46 turbines. CalWind's ratio is 1 per 35, and Oak Creek's 1 per 17. Typical wind "farms" are within this range, so they are unlikely to "create" more than 1 or 2 jobs each, despite the promises of the developers.

More items of note from the article:
"Turbines break every day," ... [operations manager at CalWind Resources Ed] Bullard said. ...

Bullard agreed with [windsmith Clayton] Swan that the most challenging part of working in the field is dealing with the elements, especially in the winter, when huge ice formations build up on turbine blades.

If those chunks fall, Bullard said, some of them could kill you.

October 4, 2004

FPL Energy to leave Kansas Flint Hills alone

Florida Power & Light has wanted to turn the continent's last unspoiled expanse of tallgrass prairie into a power plant of 1,000 400-foot-high wind turbines. Faced with broad opposition, they have been forced to look elsewhere.

October 2, 2004

Global warming and wind power

The primary argument of most advocates of wind power is that it will reduce the emission of "greenhouse" gases (particularly carbon dioxide (CO2)) that cause global warming. A few opponents of the proposed giant wind-power facilities therefore deny or diminish the possibility of a human contribution to climate change. There still remain the undeniable pollution from burning fossil fuels and the environmental and social costs of drilling and mining and transport, but it is global warming that is the crisis driving most support for industrial wind power. Every ill effect of wind-turbine installations is countered that it would be much worse if we let global warming continue. It is assumed to be unarguably obvious that wind power reduces CO2 and other emissions. They mock the argument that conservation and efficiency are much more effective. And anyone who denies global warming or our role in it is referred to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Does the IPCC support wind power?

In the paper, "Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2001: Mitigation. A Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," they state, "Hundreds of technologies and practices for end-use energy efficiency in buildings, transport and manufacturing industries account for more than half of this potential [greenhouse gas emission reductions in the 2010 to 2020 timeframe]" (p. 5).

In Table SPM.1 (p. 7), energy supply and conversion represent only 7%-19% of potential emission reductions by 2020. That category includes fuel switching to natural gas and nuclear, CO2 capture and storage, and improved power station efficiencies as well as renewables. Efficiency improvements in building, transport, and industry account for 51%-92%.

Tables from the full report show wind's small contribution: potentially mitigating 2.0%-4.3% of projected carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2020, or about 0.7%-1.4% of carbon from all energy use. Its actual contribution is projected to be much less, i.e., theoretically reducing atmospheric CO2 by less than 5 1,000ths of a percent.

That projected amount of wind power represents up to more than a million megawatts of installed capacity, more than 20 times the amount already connected (and causing trouble) worldwide. It also requires the construction of an equal amount of dedicated backup generators to cover the fluctuations of wind-generated power and hundreds of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines, particularly as the preferred sites for wind facilities are far from areas of high demand.

That's a lot of environmental destruction for almost nothing. The push for wind power is a distraction from seriously addressing the problems of our energy use.