February 26, 2007

Avram Patt doesn't know what he's talking about.

To the editor, Rutland (Vt.) Herald:

Avram Patt (Perspective, Feb. 18) obviously did not read Metcalf's Feb. 11 letter past the first paragraph. Metcalf uses capacity rhetorically in the same way the industry does in leading people to believe that 1,000 megawatts of wind is indeed the same as -- and will thus replace -- 1,000 megawatts of other sources. The rest of the letter does not follow the industry in that misleading use of capacity, but instead cites, e.g., a German government study that 48,000 megawatts of wind capacity would be the same as only 2,000 megawatts of capacity from other sources.

It is Patt who is confused. He has evidently imagined the rest of the letter so he could more easily criticize it. His analogy about a car not burning gas until it's going somewhere is simple-minded. What if the car is sitting in a traffic jam or even a stop light? In city driving, because it must slow down and stop and reaccelerate so much more, the car actually burns more gas although going much smaller distances than it might on a highway. That is a more accurate analogy for much of the grid. If the wind rises, and energy from wind turbines requires other sources to stop or slow down their electricity generation, it does not mean that fuel at those other sources is no longer being burned. They have to stay "warm" to be available when the wind drops again. The few modern plants that can shut down must start up again more often, and that uses more fuel, too.

Wind energy on the grid is not like riding a bike and leaving the car in the driveway, as Patt suggests. Wind energy on the grid is more like riding a bike and having someone follow you in the car in case you get tired (lose your wind, so to speak).

But Patt's complaint (along with his attempted correction) is not only wrong, it is a red herring. After showing wind's minuscule potential contribution to our energy supply, Metcalf's letter is about the substantial noise from the giant machines. As the turbines have recently started operation in Mars Hill, Maine, for example, their noise is now undeniable, robbing people of sleep and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes and land.

He explains that sound is relative. What might be unnoticeable in a city during the day would be intolerable during a typically quiet rural night. And where unnatural noises are not the norm, especially at night, the rhythmic pumping and mechanical grinding of giant wind turbines (augmented by flashing lights) are much more intrusive than their absolute measures (as estimated by the developers) are meant to suggest.

That was the point of Metcalf's letter, and it was completely ignored by Patt. Just as the industry exaggerates the value of electricity from wind, it downplays its negative impacts. Even then, the cost-benefit balance is doubtful. When the facts are not ignored, the costs overwhelm.

Industrial wind turbine facilities are a not only a visual and auditory insult, they degrade and fragment wildlife habitat, they threaten bats and birds, they open up wild areas to sprawl with roads and transmission lines. As Vermont industry rep John Zimmerman has said, "wind turbines don't make good neighbors."

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont