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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