October 4, 2005

Vegetarian Times swallows bull about wind

To the Editor, Vegetarian Times:

In promising an examination of "the most important issues in the debate" about industrial wind power, Caroline Kettlewell proceeded to deliver instead an unbalanced promotion for the wind industry.

Whereas she introduced each objection only to shoot it down with an unexamined riposte from one of the industry trade groups, she presented each of the claims in favor of wind power without question. The only sources suggested for more information were the government's industry-friendly energy department and the wind companies' own lobbying and PR organization.

She even went further, mocking opponents as "otherwise" environmentally sensitive and now "freaking out."

But it is not "ironic" that many opponents come from the environmentalist community (including vegetarian animal rights activists like me). Concern for animal habitat and health is central to much of the opposition. What is ironic is that an article in Vegetarian Times so readily dismisses it.

Nobody claims that giant wind turbine facilities kill anywhere near as many birds as the rest of our industrial society, but that doesn't excuse them. One has to ask if the number of birds and bats they do kill is worth it. Advocates say (and Kittlewell dutifully repeats) that "every megawatt it generates is a megawatt that doesn't have to come from a conventional power plant," and that therefore it will reduce the threat to animal life much more than its own negative effect (like the "destroy the village to save it" argument from the Vietnam war).

A little research, however, quickly reveals that wind does not displace other sources to any significant degree and that even in Denmark it hasn't changed their energy use.

Turbines produce at their full capacity only when the wind is blowing above 25-35 mph. Below that the production rate falls off exponentially. In many regions, the wind is higher at night, but demand is low, so much of the power is not needed. Large base load plants can not be rapidly ramped up and down as the wind fluctuates. Those plants that can be quickly modulated do so at the cost of efficiency, thus causing more pollution.

The statement that Denmark "now gets 20 percent of its power from wind" is both misleading and inaccurate. Misleading, because "electrical power" is meant, which represents only about a fifth of Denmark's total energy use. Inaccurate, because around 84% of the wind-generated power has to be exported as it is produced when they can not turn down their very efficient combined heat and power plants.

Though there is much else in Kettlewell's article to argue, one should at least pause to consider what is required for wind to provide the nearly 2,000 billion kilowatt-hours of new electricity that we are projected to need by 2025. That represents an average load of more than 225,000 megawatts. Because wind turbine output varies with wind speed, their average output is typically a fourth of their maximum capacity, so we would require more than 900,000 megawatts of new wind capacity. Every megawatt of wind capacity requires about 50 acres, so we're talking about more than 70,000 square miles of wind plant -- most of it targeted for our last remaining rural and wild places.

And we'd still have to build an equal amount of conventional plants, because the typical wind facility does not produce any electricity at all about a third of the time and much less than its already low average for another third of the time.

Large-scale wind is clearly not a practical nor an environmentally sound alternative.

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