April 18, 2005

Wind turbines no help to Vermonters

Today's Burlington (Vt.) Free Press includes an opinion piece by Barbara Grimes, general manager of Burlington Electric Dept.
As it stands now, Vermont imports electricity worth about $200 million each year. These are hard-earned Vermont dollars that go out of the state's economy and benefit wealthy people far away.
Turbine manufacturer GE is not local and Vestas is in Denmark, Enxco (Searsburg expansion, Readsboro, Lowell) is based in France, UPC (Hardscrabble in Sheffield) in Italy, Endless Energy (Equinox in Manchester) is from Maine, and the local companies behind industrial wind development are already in the power business, already raking in plenty of our electricity dollars. Their desire for more is not a compelling argument.

(Grimes mocks the mention of Halliburton as an "interesting little scare tactic" -- it must have touched a nerve. The fact is. Halliburton's subsidiary KBR, the division which is also profiteering shamelessly in Iraq, is "in the vanguard of the development of offshore wind power in the UK" (according to their web site), working in close partnership with the above-mentioned Vestas.)
Wind turbines properly placed in ideal wind spots so that we can produce our own energy in an environmentally and economically sound manner while providing good jobs for Vermonters is about as close to Vermont values as anything I can imagine. We believe in appropriately sited wind generation, which does not mean a continuous row from one end of the state to the other. That's just another ridiculous scare tactic designed to frighten the general public.
David Blittersdorf of anemometer company NRG wants to see 50% of the state's electricity generated by wind. That would require precisely the endless string of towers that Grimes dismisses as "scare tactic." Even VPIRG's goal of 20% would require hundreds of turbines (see below). It would also require violating a lot of heretofore protected land. The facts and goals of the industry itself are quite enough to scare the public.
The reality is Vermont already has wind energy and the view is not ruined and tourism hasn't suffered. I really wish people who say they are opposed to any and all wind turbines in the mountains would go and take a look at the wind farm at Searsburg, owned and operated by Green Mountain Power. Though the new ones would be taller, people would still get a sense of how turbines really do fit into the landscape. The wind power from Searsburg enters the grid and provides electricity for Vermonters in a clean and renewable manner.
Searsburg's towers are indeed much smaller. Significantly, they don't require safety lighting. Each tower in new developments is a couple stories higher than the whole assembly of one of Searsburg's machines. The blades reach 1 2/3 higher and chop through an acre of air -- more than 3 times those of Searsburg and correspondingly more noisy. Searsburg's 11 turbines, with a capacity equivalent to the 4 turbines proposed for East Haven, produce power equal to 0.2% of Vermont's electricity use, and it is less every year. To get to 20% would therefore require at least 400 giant new turbine assemblies; 50% would require 1,000 of them, costing about $2 million each and requiring new roads, substations, and high-voltage transmission lines. This is hardly a sustainable solution. It certainly does not protect the environment (each foundation, for example, would likely have to be blasted into the mountain rock and then requires many tons of concrete and steel). And because wind-based production doesn't coincide with demand, it wouldn't even provide much electricity that we would actually use (e.g., western Denmark had to dump 84% of its wind production in 2003).
Wind energy cuts our need of having to import power from outside the state. It cuts our reliance on others, and clearly puts the reliance back on ourselves, while supporting our economy and protecting our environment. If this doesn't reflect Vermont values, I'm not sure what does.
So, with little more argument than that she wants to see more wind turbines built, she closes with the old values bullying. She had laid the groundwork earlier by mentioning she's a "native" Vermonter, implying that all "real" Vermonters think exactly as she does and everyone else ought to shut the hell up. She evokes the "working landscape" unique to Vermont, though it is a feature of all places where humans dwell. New Jersey has a working landscape. What is unique to Vermont are the wild mountain tops for which Vermonters old and new have worked for a hundred years to restore and preserve. The desire to violate that with not manured hay fields but collections of 330-foot-high steel and composite wind turbines -- for very little benefit other than profits for a few -- reveals an appalling set of values, wherever they come from.

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