June 30, 2005

FPL steals Enxco's wind

Researchers from Eltra (one of Denmark's two grid managers) recently found that turbines can decrease the productivity of downwind turbines as far as 5 km (3.1 km) away, thus limiting how much energy can be extracted in large facilities.

Now comes news from Dickey County in North Dakota that landowners who had signed up for exploitation by Enxco are complaining that FPL Energy has swooped in next door and may make the Enxco-committed land less windy. Hah.

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For the good of the Sultan

A comment added to Sam Smith's article, "Eminent domain means the eminent get the domain":

In "Beds in the East," the third novel of Anthony Burgess's Malayan trilogy, a bequest of $20,000 for the public good is used by the Sultan to buy a new Cadillac: "The highest good is the Sultan's good."

Just so, the Supreme Court has now clearly defined "public use" as private use: The highest good is the developer's good.

The whole Bill of Rights codifies protection of the few from the power of the many and the mighty. But the government now is openly a frontman for business, clearing the way of little people and constructing the legal charade for capitalist pillaging and clearance of the inconvenient. It is ironic that it was the most right-wing members of the Court who opposed this establishment of "lo stato corporativo," i.e., fascism.

As Sam points out about the many great urban development failures and follies, thinking of the "highest good" is easily abused and compensation is rarely "just." Without regard for dissent and opposition, a developer's dream becomes part of that mythical city on a hill, glittering in all its delusional glory (and promise of cash flow).

Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe bulldozes whole neighborhoods where the poor might support his opponents. George Bush in the U.S. dismisses his war's destruction of individuals and families as noble sacrifice for "a cause greater than themselves." Environmentalists, flattered by official attention and drunk with corporate partnerships, fight against the regulations and local opposition they themselves once championed but now find in the way of their dream of giant wind turbines (that can't even be shown to work) on every wild mountain ridge and rural open space. And liberals hail the right of the state to bulldoze homes that stand in the way of what they deem progress: waterfront condos for the wealthy few as a solution to the economic troubles of the many. Profits -- not homes -- as "public use."

Business wants it, so we must need it. As Billy Graham once said, there's nothing more inspiring to the poor heathen than driving through their neighborhoods in a big white Cadillac. The highest good is the Sultan's good.

June 27, 2005

"Hemp for Victory"

"On June 23, 2005, Congressman [Ron] Paul [R-TX] introduced HR 3037, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. The bill requires the federal government to respect state laws (already five of them) allowing the growing of industrial hemp. Immediately, Congressmen Peter Stark (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) co-sponsored the legislation. ...

"Please urge your members of Congress to support HR 3037. Free our farmers and you, the consumers, to move toward a more sustainable economy.

"Visit woodconsumption.org, votehemp.org and NAIHC.org for more information."

[Also see "Hemp."]

June 22, 2005

"Bush Administration Increasingly Isolated on Venezuela"

Economist Mark Weisbrot describes the absurd stand of the Bush administration against Venezuela's democracy:
For anyone who has been to Venezuela, it's easy to see why no one wants to take Washington's side in this grievance. A few weeks ago I passed by a 22-story government building in downtown Caracas, and saw about 200 students blocking the exits in a protest against the government. Trapped inside past quitting time were thousands of employees, including several cabinet-level ministers. A few police stood by calmly, not interfering. This went on for hours. There were no injuries or arrests. I thought of what would happen if people tried this in Washington D.C. There would be tear gas, pepper spray, heads cracked, and mass arrests. Some would get felony charges. The protest would be over in 10 minutes.
Of course, the real problem the Bush pirates have with the source of a third of our oil is:
The Venezuelan economy is booming, millions of poor people have access to health care and subsidized food for the first time, and President Chavez' approval ratings have soared to more than 70 percent -- according to opposition pollsters."
Remember, if you don't want your gas money to go to petty tyrants in the middle east or texas, if you would rather have it go to the greater good of our neighbors, buy from Citgo, which is -- for now -- a Venezuelan company.

June 21, 2005

The myths of wind power ...

An article in the June 10 Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.) describes the controversy of industrial wind facilities, using a tour of the Searsburg, Vt., turbines led by Enxco representative Martha Staskus as the framework. Here are a couple of comments about some things Staskus said.
One of the myths about wind power, says Staskus, is that it's unreliable. On the contrary, she says, the turbines at Searsburg are on line over 90 percent of the time and need little maintenance or oversight. "It's a very efficient operation," she says.
Being "on line," or available, is a lot different than generating power. (And even during this tour, 2 of the 11 turbines were down for repairs, and 1 was turned off for the safety of the visitors.) Searsburg's turbines average about 89% availability but they generate electricity -- even the slightest trickle -- just over 60% of the time, according to a report by the Electric Power Research Institute.

In addition, Searsburg's output has decreased every year since beginning operation. It was down to 20.4% of its capacity in 2003, producing less than 11,000 MW-h, an average generation rate of 1.25 MW. The average residential customer of Green Mountain Power uses 7.5 MW-h annually (an average load of 0.85 KW), so Searsburg's output is equivalent to the use of less than 1,500 "homes." But two-thirds of the time, because the generation rate falls off sharply below the ideal wind speed, output is much less, and almost 40% -- two-fifths -- of the time it is zero. That is, they are very rarely providing power for any homes, much less the nonresidential needs of the grid. Further, when the wind picks up, for example, at night, is not necessarily when people need extra electricity.
But Staskus cites the most important benefit of wind: clean power. Searsburg produces enough electricity to light 2,000 homes annually, and in doing so displaces about 60 tons of sulfur dioxide and 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted by fossil-fuel plants, according to statistics provided by enXco.
In Vermont, the emissions argument is especially weak, because more than two-thirds of our electricity is emissions free (hydro and nuclear -- the latter, however, with its own serious problems) and none is from coal, the main cause of acid rain. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Vermont's annual emissions from electricity production in 2002 were 17,000 tons of CO2, 141,000 tons of NOx, and no SO2 at all. Searsburg's output is equivalent to 0.2% of Vermont's electricity consumption. So, pretending that 1 MW of wind power displaces 1 MW of nonwind power, that means Searsburg "saves" 282 tons of NOx (and no SO2) and 34 tons of CO2. According to the EPA, that's equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 2 cars. The U.S. as a whole emitted over 6 billion tons of CO2 in 2002.

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June 20, 2005

Migrating birds forced to lengthen migration to avoid wind turbines

New Scientist has reported the results of a recently published study of a goose and a duck species flying in the area of the wind facility off shore from Nysted, Denmark. The results show that almost all of them avoid the turbines. The industry and their apologists have naturally leapt on it as vindication, but here are some qualifying remarks from the paper (Desholm & Kahlert, Avian collision risk at offshore wind farm, Biology Letters, early online publication, 2005).
"... data collection was conducted only in calm winds (less than 10 m/s) and no-precipitation situations."
Considering that the 2.3-MW Bonus turbines don't start turning until the wind is 6 m/s, how much of the time were they actually turning? It is much easier to avoid a large blade that is still than one whose tip is moving at 164 mph (82.4-m rotor diameter at 17 rpm).
"... data collected during twilight were excluded from the analysis."
Twilight is a particularly confusing time for assessing visual cues. The stated reason for excluding it is "to compare situations with good and poor visibility only," but at night the turbines are clearly lit and this comparison could be done without throwing out the twilight data, which might be crucial to an honest assessment of the facility's impact on the birds.
"During the initial operation, frequent visits of maintenance vessels may have influenced the avian avoidance response to the sweeping turbines in an uncertain way. Before solid conclusions can be reached, complementary studies at other sites are needed to confirm these findings, to include possible habituation behaviour over the years to come, and to cover other focal species such as divers (Gavia sp.) and common scoter (Melanitta nigra)."
This study was done in "autumn" of 2003 (the paper is not more specific and does not even specify how many days and nights of observation are included). But the facility was not completed until the end of November and began to generate electricity in December (except for 10 of the 72 turbines, which had begun operation in July and for all we know may have been among the 12 that were out of range of this study). It seems likely that the facility was not fully active during the study.

The researchers compare their results with an earlier study of the same area before construction began, but describing the lower percentage of birds flying through the turbine array as due to "operation" rather than construction seems quite inaccurate.

In addition, as countries desperate to salvage their misguided commitments to large-scale wind power look to build more of them off shore, the cumulative effect of facility after facility that must be dodged must be considered.

Also, I was unable to find any data on the actual output from the Nysted facility (let alone how often it corresponded to an actual need on the grid), which is central to the question of whether it is worth even the slightest risk to birds (and marine mammals -- see the recent story about dead baby seals at the Scroby Sands wind facility off the U.K. shore), not to mention the very high cost not only of manufacture and construction but also of maintenance and integration in the grid.

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June 16, 2005

Adopt a megacorporation

An opinion piece in today's Rutland (Vt.) Herald by Jeff Wolfe of Global Resource Options boasts that General Electric, Goldman-Sachs, and British Petroleum now characterize the players in renewable energy, particularly large-scale wind. He then makes a plea that they badly need our money to succeed. Shouldn't we be demanding money from them?

((((( )))))

On the opening of the 39 turbines at Cefn Croes (originally an Enron project), developer Falck Renewables of Italy says the visual impact is minimal. Scroll down to the June 10 post, The destruction of Cefn Croes, to see the decimation and intrusion that they won't acknowledge.

The developer also "estimates" that the facility will save 4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over its 25-year lifetime. That's 160,000 tonnes each year, 0.1% of the U.K.'s total. You'd think you'd get a bit more for £50 million and the wreckage of a landscape. And that estimate is quite inflated, based on a very high capacity factor and an assumption that only coal burning would be displaced. Wind power is just as likely to displace easily dispatchable hydropower, and frequent ramping up and down of coal plants in response to the wind actually increases their emissions. Above all it ignores the likelihood that current production will itself be made cleaner in coming years.

In fact, £50 million could be much more effectively spent in that cleaning effort, which would bring a real decrease in emissions -- without violating another landscape.

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June 10, 2005

Carbon emissions still rising in Denmark

The National Environmental Research Institute, a part of the Danish Ministry of the Environment, reports (click the title of this post) that Denmark is committed under the Kyoto Accord to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to 21% below 1990 levels. But, as they also report, almost as a footnote, by 2003 emissions had instead increased 6.2%.

This is the (non)achievement of about 3,000 MW of wind power capacity for 5.3 million people, about 1 MW for every 1,700 people. [Look at this map showing how saturated that country is by giant wind turbines.] In Vermont, that would be 353 MW, 59 times the existing Searsburg plant. In New York, that would be 11,176 MW. For the whole U.S., 170,588 MW, taking up over 13,000 square miles. But U.S. per-capita energy consumption is twice that of Denmark's, so these numbers would have to be doubled. And greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise.

Thanks to Mark Duchamp for this reference.

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The destruction of Cefn Croes

Even if you are already convinced that the impact of constructing sprawling wind "farms" in wild places is far from benign, you should look at the photographs documenting the destruction of Cefn Croes in Wales: www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~hills/cc/gallery/index.htm.

Here are before and after views from the same location:

Here is another view of the now alien landscape, razed of trees and intercut by wide roads:

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June 9, 2005

Renewable power demands a sacrifice

[A sacrifice would be to reduce our energy consumption. The call for imposing sprawling new power plants on rural populations is not a sacrifice -- it's an imperious act of violence.]

To the editor, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle:

If Bob Siegel [Rochester regional energy chair for the Sierra Club] (essay, June 9) argues that we need to dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions, why does he talk about wind power? Most of our CO2 comes from transportation. The very small possible contribution to our electricity supply from industrial wind won't make even a dent in our emissions.

His dismissal of criticisms is similarly misguided. New technology has not reduced bird kills (but may have increased bat kills). Land use -- at about 50 acres per installed megawatt, 200 acres per expected average megawatt produced -- is far from minimal. Noise, too, is not insignificant: Oregon had to change their noise regulations so that wind facilities could be built in rural areas. The noise of the 120-foot blades turning is not "equivalent to a summer breeze" -- it is more like continuous thunder, "a train that never arrives."

Nor is their impact on the environment benign. Siegel describes simply unbolting the tower and carting it away. He doesn't mention the huge steel-reinforced concrete foundation or the damage, such as erosion and habitat fragmentation, already done by the wide roads needed for construction (and later for dismantling) and the clearing of forest. [See the destruction of Cefn Croes in Wales.]

It is true that wind turbines will not produce smog or nuclear waste or use water or add to climate change. It is also true, however, that wind turbines will not reduce those problems. Because the wind can't be called up or called off in response to demand fluctuations, nonwind plants will still be operating as much as before -- but less efficiently (i.e., with greater emissions) as they also have to respond to the fluctuations of the wind.

Siegel's response to the crisis he describes is not one to be proud of. His "large, graceful machines" where once was unindustrialized rural landscape and wild forest will stand as monuments to folly not foresight.

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June 6, 2005

Windfarm killing seals in U.K.

As reported today in the Daily Mirror:
Staff at the wildlife hospital at Winterton, Norfolk, say hundreds of seals on Scroby Sands off Great Yarmouth have been so disturbed by the 300-foot turbines there that it is affecting their breeding.

Many pups are born dead or abandoned by frightened mums. Jaime Allison, a biologist at the hospital, said: "A definite pattern is emerging. It's hard not to conclude the wind farm is responsible."
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June 4, 2005


The belief that industrial wind turbines will clean up the planet and free us from mideast oil and central asian gas is just like George W. Bush's pitch that he invaded, destroyed, and occupies Iraq to spread democracy. Only a sucker would buy such obvious bunkum.

June 3, 2005

Wind turbines as productive as Hoover Dam!

Patty Richards, resource planning director of the Burlington Electric Dept. (BED), wrote in the Fair Wind Vt. discussion list, in response to a May 31 op-ed piece against the easy but misguided acceptance of industrial wind power as "green" in the Burlington Free Press by Hugh Kemper:
If we used that kind of thinking the Hoover dam would never have been built. It too only has a 27% CF.
She cc'd two BED colleagues, communications coordinator Mary Sullivan and customer and energy services director Tom Buckley. It is a surprising comment from someone who should know something about electricity generation and the grid, because the capacity factor of hydropower dams is primarily due to human control -- they are deliberately not used all the time, because they are ideal for quickly switching on when demand rises. This is the opposite situation from wind facilities, whose capacity factor is completely due to variable winds. Even their low average output is not often useful, as the occasional surges of production are unlikely to coincide with an actual need on the grid. If thus speak the "experts" (even to each other, i.e., with no need to fudge the facts) it's no wonder we so often go down the wrong track.

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Wind power will not be useless (when?)

On May 7, James Adams responded to in the April 28 Albany (N.Y.) Times Union:
Regarding the usefulness of wind energy, how can one possibly say that wind turbines are a practically useless technology? When complete, the first phase of the Maple Ridge wind farm, currently being installed in Lewis County, will provide clean power to more than 59,000 New York homes and economic benefits for the Tug Hill Plateau communities. That hardly seems useless to me.
He also points out that wind "farms" are better to look at than nuclear waste, smokestacks, and acid rain -- who can argue against that?

The argument, of course, is whether giant wind power facilities (averaging about 1 megawatt of (unpredicable, variable) output per 200 acres of turbines) can actually replace even a portion of our coal or nuclear plants.

James Adams says that the Maple Ridge plant "will provide clean power to more than 59,000 New York homes," a benefit that easily mitigates any adverse "aesthetic" impact (especially for those who don't have to live near them). As with every instance of this argument, only the future tense is used. Even in Germany (6% wind) and Denmark (20%) they talk about success in the future. Why is no benefit provided by today's installations?

Further, that figure of providing 59,000 homes, as usual, is grossly exaggerated as well as misleading. First of all, the figure is meaningless without specifying the average electricity use of a "New York home" or the expected capacity factor of the wind plant. The latter is invariably inflated (i.e., every new wind power facility thinks it will produce a higher percentage of its rated capacity than almost every existing facility does).

It also inflates the impact on pollution by focusing on only one part (about a ninth) of our energy use: residential electricity. Finally, electricity use varies considerably hour to hour, day to day, season to season, as does wind power production. Unfortunately, the two have nothing to do with each other. Two thirds of the time, wind plants produce well below their long-term average output, making up for it with surges of production when the wind blows just right. Whether those surges correspond to an actual need on the grid is purely a matter of chance, so much of the wind plant's power is essentially dumped -- if not outright sent into the ground, then shunted around the grid until it disperses as heat.

Adams asks, "Would people rather have a nuclear facility or a coal-fired plant in their back yards?" It's like asking someone you're about to punch, "Would you rather I knife you?" Given those narrow options, the choice is easy, but given the fact that industrial wind turbines are a useless boondoggle people might say no to both. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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June 2, 2005

Wind won't replace oil

A letter in today's Ipswich Chronicle:

Liz Krafchuk's piece about "Living Green" (Ipswich Chronicle, May 26) stated that a wind turbine in Ipswich would "offer some relief from the darkness of oil wars." Someone is surely mistaken here.

Oil is primarily used for transport. Only 2.3 percent nationally is used to make electricity. We export three times that amount. Reducing consumption of all kinds of energy is a worthy aim, but wind turbines -- no matter how big or how many -- have nothing to do with our use of oil. They don't have much effect on our use of current electricity sources, either.

Krafchuk reports an average wind speed of 11.5 mph. That translates to an average output from the 1.5-MW turbine of only about 150 KW, 10 percent of its capacity. Two-thirds of the time, the output would be less than that. Hull's "success" is not in the small amount of unpredictably variable electricity generated by wind, but in the profitable sale of "green credits."

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Another survey badly spun by the wind industry

Meridian Energy (New Zealand) spokesman Alan Seay in the Dominion Post yesterday that support of a wind plant in Wellington is "widespread":
  • 84 per cent of those surveyed are positive about a wind farm in the capital as long as they can neither see nor hear any turbines.

  • There is 75 per cent support if turbines are visible, but cannot be heard.

  • 68 per cent of people support a wind farm if the closest turbine is no less than 1km away and any noise is neither loud nor intrusive.
These results of the Meridian-sponsored survey only show that people don't know how intrusive the turbines will be, and that as limitations on them are removed the support correspondingly declines.

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Wind turbines and noise

Irish market researcher Research and Markets has announced a new journal, Low Frequency Noise, Vibration and Active Control:
"The considerable and growing interest in the phenomena of low frequency noise and vibration and their powerful effects on man, animals and the environment, spreads across several disciplines; studies of these topics are to be found at present in the periodical literature of acoustics, geophysics, architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, psychology and zoology. This quarterly journal brings together material which otherwise would be scattered: the journal is the cornerstone of the creation of a unified corpus of knowledge on the subject."
This is not to say that industrial wind turbines (with 40-ton 80-meter-diameter rotors resisting an acre of wind to turn a gearbox and generator in a 55-ton nacelle on top of a 70-meter tower) are a possible source of such noise and vibration (after all, the only evidence is the testimony of people who live near them). But it does underscore the seriousness of the concern. There is a conference in October about wind turbines and noise at which some papers will address the issue.

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June 1, 2005

Ecology review

As compiled in Sam Smith's Progressive Review yesterday, a few interesting developments on the pollution and energy front . . .


SEVERIN CARRELL, INPEPENDENT - Motorists who drive fuel-hungry BMWs, people carriers and Range Rovers face a five-fold increase in road tax under radical plans to combat Britain's spiraling greenhouse gas emissions. The proposals are being studied by transport and environment ministers after it emerged that car buyers are ignoring warnings about the dangers of climate change by increasingly choosing luxury cars, larger MPVs and 4x4s with large, powerful engines.

The Government's influential energy conservation agency, the Energy Saving Trust, has told ministers the only way to force motorists to buy "green" cars is to introduce a new top rate of road tax as high as £900 a year. The new tax - more than five times the current rate of £165 a year for petrol engines - would have a major impact, by catching many popular larger family cars such as the Vauxhall Sharan or Ford Galaxy people carriers.

But at the same time, the agency has said, ministers should also make the most energy-efficient cars tax free or even give motorists a £150 annual tax rebate as a reward for buying them.


AP - Thailand's prime minister has asked the kingdom's entire population to turn off their lights for five minutes on Wednesday as part of an energy-saving campaign. ... Besides turning off unneeded lights, the government is also urging Thais to turn off air conditioners every day during their one-hour lunch break, and to drive at speeds of no more than 55 miles an hour. Energy Minister Wiset Jupibal has said that Thailand could save $29 million a year if every house switched off a light for one hour each day.


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - Twenty-one public transit agencies around the Bay Area will give morning commuters free rides on as many as five smog-choked weekdays this summer. ... The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is coordinating the free-ride program and paying the bulk of the approximately $4 million cost. The money will cover five Spare the Air days.

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