December 1, 2004

Dear Alan Chartock

I regret having to add to your pile of e-mails concerning wind power, but I must point out a mistake in your last "I, Publius" column, where you write that "unsightly windmills ... are necessary when substituting wind power for conventional oil energy."

Oil is used for less than 2.5% of the US's electricity generation. Granted, Massachusetts is the nation's fourth largest user of oil for electricity, oil being used for over 16% of its own electricity generation and representing over 7% of the national total.

Most of it (83% nationally), however, is used in older plants that supply base load because they can not respond quickly to fluctuations in demand (or supply). The presence of intermittent wind-generated power would not affect the use of these plants.

The rest is used in combustion engines that provide extra power at times of exceptionally high demand. They are expensive to run but can respond quickly not only to demand spikes but also to sudden drops in supply. The former case would not be alleviated by the presence of wind power (peak demand does not correspond with peak wind-power production), and the latter case would actually become more frequent if wind power became a significant source. That is, more windmills would likely require an increase in the use of oil.

It is not just the unsightliness of potentially thousands of giant wind turbines in New England, scarring many of the most beautiful and wild locations remaining to us, that inspires environmentalist opposition. More importantly, it's wind power's utter uselessness for anything other than generating profit and letting people think they are "green."