May 14, 2005


The Appalachian range in the mid-Atlantic states is being aggressively targeted for industrial wind development. The Allegheny Ridge alone, in the border areas of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, is under assault by plans for at least 1,000 giant turbines. U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Warner of Virginia have introduced the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005. Here are some excerpts from Alexander's May 13 speech.
Our legislation provides for local authorities to be notified and have a role in the approval of the siting of tens of thousands of massive wind turbines that will be built in America under current policies. It also ensures that the federal government does not subsidize the building of these windmills -- which are usually taller than a football field is long - within 20 miles of a military base or a highly scenic location, such as a national park or offshore. ...

One part of our energy debate will be about wind power, which is the subject of our legislation today. This is because several of our colleagues have proposed something called a Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, which would require power companies to produce 10 percent of all their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. These renewable sources are wind, hydro, solar, geothermal and biomass. ...

It is important for our colleagues to know that a Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS is all about wind. ... Experts agree that the bottom line is that a requirement that electric companies produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy, if it could be achieved at all, would mean that about 70 percent of the increase would come from wind. In other words, we would go from producing about 1 percent of our electricity from wind to 7 or 8 percent.

Testimony before our Energy Committee and most other sources suggest that to produce this much wind energy in the United States could require building more than 100,000 of new, massive wind turbines. We have less than 7,000 such windmills in the U.S. today, with the largest number in Texas and California.

Testimony also indicated that, even without the RPS, if Congress continues its sustained generous subsidy for wind production for the next 10 years, it will guarantee that the U.S. has about 100,000 of these windmills by 2025. According to the Treasury Department, this wind subsidy, if renewed each year for the next five years, would reimburse wind investors for 25 percent of the cost of wind production and cost taxpayers $3.7 billion over those 5 years. General Electric Wind, one of the largest manufacturers of wind turbines, has experienced a 500 percent growth in its wind business this year due to the renewal of the wind production tax credit last year.

I want to make sure that my colleagues know that there are serious questions about how much relying on wind power will raise the cost of electricity, questions about whether there are better ways to spend $3.7 billion in support of clean energy, questions about whether wind even produces the amount of energy that is claimed. My studies suggest that at a time when American needs large amounts of low-cost reliable power, wind produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power. We need lower prices; wind power raises prices. We will have an opportunity in our debates and further hearings to examine these questions.

But the legislation we offer today is about a different question: the siting of 100,000 of these massive machines.

The idea of windmills conjures up pleasant images -- of Holland and tulips, of rural America with windmill blades slowly turning, pumping water at the farm well. My grandparents had such a windmill at their well pump. That was back before rural electrification.

But the windmills we are talking about today are not your grandmother’s windmills.

Each one is typically [over] 100 yards tall, two stories taller than the Stature of Liberty, taller than a football field is long.

These windmills are wider than a 747 jumbo jet.

Their rotor blades turn at [well over] 100 miles per hour.

These towers and their flashing red lights can be seen from more than 25 miles away.

Their noise can be heard from up to a half mile away. It is a thumping and swishing sound. It has been described by residents that are unhappy with the noise as sounding like a brick wrapped in a towel tumbling in a clothes drier on a perpetual basis.

These windmills produce very little power since they only operate when the wind blows enough or doesn’t blow too much, so they are usually placed in large wind farms covering huge amounts of land.

As an example, if the Congress ordered electric companies to build 10 percent of their power from renewable energy -- which as we have said, has to be mostly wind -- and if we renew the current subsidy each year, by the year 2025, my state of Tennessee would have at least 1,700 windmills, which would cover land almost equal to two times the size of the city of Knoxville.

If Virginia were to produce 10 percent of its power from wind and the subsidies continue, it would probably need more than 1,700 windmills. These windmills would take up enough land to equal the land mass of three cities the size of Richmond, Virginia.

In North Carolina, to supply 10 percent of electricity from wind if the subsidies continue, it would take up the landmass of the Research Triangle -- the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area.

According to testimony before our committee, in Tennessee and Virginia, these windmills would work best and perhaps only work at all along ridge tops.

So, if present policies are continued, we could expect to see hundreds of football field sized towers with flashing red lights atop the blue ridges of Virginia, above the Shenandoah Valley, along the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, on top of Signal Mountain, and on top of Lookout Mountain and Roan Mountain in Tennessee and down the Tennessee River Gorge, which the city of Chattanooga has just spent 25 years protecting and now calls itself the scenic city. ...

What will this do to our tourism industry? Will 10 million visitors a year who come to enjoy the Great Smokies really want to come see ridge tops decorated with flashing red lights and 100-yard tall windmills?

What happens to electric rates when the federal subsidy disappears?

Who will take down these massive structures if we decide we don’t like them or if they don’t work?

Who is making the money on all this?

Why are some of European countries who pioneered wind farms now slowing down or even stopping their construction in some places?

Clearly there are more sensible ways to provide clean energy than spending $3.7 billion of taxpayers’ money to destroy the American landscape. ...

While we are debating the wisdom of wind policies, these massive turbines are being built across America, 6,700 of them so far, 29 of them in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority recently announced it had signed a 20-year contract with a group of investors from Chicago to build 18 huge windmills atop a 3,300 foot ridge on Buffalo Mountain in East Tennessee.

So the purpose of our legislation is to give citizens the opportunity to have some say in where these massive structures are located in their communities and to make sure that the Congress does not subsidize the destruction of the American landscape near our national parks or other highly scenic areas or build such tall structures dangerously close to our military bases.

First, the bill ensures that local authorities are notified and have a role in the approval of new windmills to be built in their areas of jurisdiction. This means that at the same time a proposed windmill is filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC would notify the local authority with zoning jurisdiction. ...

Second, our legislation provides protection to highly scenic areas and to military bases. It does so my eliminating tax subsidies for any windmill within 20 miles of a World Heritage Area (which includes many national parks), a military base or offshore.

Under the bill, placement of a windmill within 20 miles of such a site shall also require the completion of an environmental impact statement. Further, any windmill that is to be constructed within 20 miles of a neighboring state’s border may be vetoed by that neighboring state. In other words, if the neighboring state can see it, and don’t want it, they can veto it.

I believe that during our debates we will find there are better ways to produce a low-cost, reliable supply of American energy than by spending $3.7 billion over the next 5 years requiring power companies to produce energy from giant windmills that raise electric rates, only work when the wind blows, and destroy the American landscape. ...

In the United States of America, Mr. President, the wholesale destruction of the American landscape is not an incidental concern. The Great American Outdoors is an essential part of the American character. Italy has its art. Egypt has its pyramids. England has its history. And we have the Great American Outdoors.

While we debate the merits of so much subsidy and reliance on wind power, we should at the same time protect our national parks, our shorelines and other highly scenic areas, and we should give American citizens the opportunity to protect their communities and landscapes before it is too late.
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