February 16, 2005

Bill McKibben is tired of looking at trees

To the Editor, New York Times:

Bill McKibben ("Tilting at Windmills," op-ed, Feb. 16) criticizes opponents to industrial wind power projects as concerned only with local effects (i.e., the destruction of a landscape -- strange criticism from an environmentalist!). He himself, however, ignores the big picture.

For example, he states that Denmark gets almost 25% of their electricity from the wind. In fact, they are able to use only a small fraction of it. The grid operator in western Denmark had to dump 84% of its wind production in 2003. Whatever the actual figure, a salient fact is that, despite being saturated with giant wind towers, Denmark's CO2 emissions have not gone down.

McKibben also cites Germany's commitment to wind-generated power. A government study was recently leaked to Der Spiegel concluding that the elusive goal of CO2 reduction could be achieved much more cheaply (and without industrializing more landscapes) by simply installing filters on existing coal plants.

Here in the U.S., the Energy Information Agency estimates that if the recently renewed renewable energy production tax credit is extended, 42,000 1.5-megawatt wind turbines would be constructed by 2025. They would produce only 2-3% of our electricity and occupy a total area potentially larger than Connecticut.

Less than a third of the fossil fuels we consume goes to generating electricity, further diminishing the small positive impact wind power might have. More people switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or trading in gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs -- any number of efforts to increase conservation and efficiency -- would easily surpass the possible benefit of tens of thousands of giant wind turbines. The Adirondacks, along with countless other areas targeted by wind developers, could remain "forever wild" a little longer.

Enron was a big investor in wind power (their wind assets are now owned by GE), because it is indeed "business as usual," letting us think we're doing something about our energy problems when in fact we are not. Persuading us to hand over common lands in the name of a greater good, when in fact the only result is profit for the developers. The benefits McKibben describes are wishful thinking only, demanding no change at all in our habits of consumption. His claims are supported by sales brochures from the wind industry but not by the facts of actual experience or good sense.