October 12, 2004

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.