April 29, 2007

No choice between birds and wind energy

In the Winter 2007 issue of Bird Scope from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, John Fitzpatrick recalls the old water-pumping windmills in the Minnesota prairies of his childhood and writes,
Even by the 1950s these inexpensive water pumps already were being eclipsed by the national power grid, which brought reliable energy to farmhouses and electric pumps even on windless days.
He then goes on to extoll the expansion of modern industrial-scale wind turbines, ignoring the obvious that he already stated: They don't provide reliable energy. They therefore won't affect carbon emissions or coal-burning. And therefore Fitzgerald's effort to balance the toll on birds and bats is delusional.

He also repeats the fallacy that the lower rpm of modern wind turbines makes them safer for birds. The rpm is lower because the rotor blades are so much longer -- a diameter of almost 300 feet (the length of a football field!) is now typical. At the tips, the blades are slicing through the air at 150-200 mph.

Instead of calling for post-installation studies to count the corpses, he should call for for a moratorium until thorough studies to determine the actual benefits of large-scale wind are done. The fact is, the evidence from Denmark is that there are little, if any, benefits to be weighed against the inevitable deaths.

Another article in the same issue describes a new effort to study the effects of man-made noise on whales. In addition to oil and gas drilling the pulsating vibrations from off-shore giant wind turbines ought to be a concern as well.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights

April 25, 2007

"The walls of brass contract around us"

The wind-farming industry's mechanization of great tracts of countryside is a profound tragedy, whether or not it is necessitated by the onset of global warming. Like any other extractive industry, mining the wind produces spoil heaps; in them lie foregone landscapes of fenced-off hillsides, closed paths, culverted steams, plant life bulldozed aside. This is a sudden additional encroachment of the machine world on the natural world. Ever increasingly, the old, wild, weird places become inaccessible except to the imagination. And now the sea is not inviolable. The desert isle becomes a factory in which the wind itself, no longer the spirit of freedom, is condemned to drudge like Caliban. Experience and the imagination can no longer accompany one another on the voyage to Ogygia, and both suffer and decline, the latter starved of sensory detail, the former chilled by its own indifference.

--Tim Robinson, Connemara: Listening to the Wind, 2006
(thanks to Angela Kelly of Country Guardian)

tags: wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism, human rights

April 21, 2007

Corpse-eating at Seven Days

Suzanne "I want meat" Podhaizer, the food writer for Burlington weekly Seven Days, chose for this week's "Animal Issue" to highlight pasture-fed "beef."

While the rest of the newspaper looks at caring for, rescuing, and protecting animals both domestic and wild, Podhaizer explores the question of whether muscles cut out of dead cows who were not fattened on grain but grazed and exercised more naturally in pastures are indeed tastier.

Chip Morgan, owner of Wood Creek Farm Beef, "where the farmers process 400 head of Angus and Hereford cattle each year," sez: "We think that animals raised in a natural environment are healthier, happier and taste better."

According to Podhaizer, "Morgan describes Wood Creek as if it were a spa for steaks of the future." She irrelevantly notes that "the lucky animals get to enjoy views of the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain with their dinners." Perhaps she envied their happy lives, where "a healthy diet and lots of movement are key."

But what about being slaughtered and having her body parts drooled over and judged by other food writers? Podhaizer appears to have missed that part of the story. The Wood Creek Farm will be featured on next week's "Regeneration" show on VPT. I have a feeling they will not follow the whole process any more than Podhaizer did.

Although Morgan is to be commended for not polluting the land and waterways as much as he could, the end result is the same as on the filthiest feed lot. The animals are slaughtered (the "head" of "cattle" are "processed"). These intelligent animals are raised for a single cruel purpose: to be killed and their corpses rended and eaten.

Yet that crucial step to what Podhaizer finds so tasty is never described, let alone photographed or filmed, to enlighten readers and viewers.

tags: Vermont, ecoanarchism, animal rights, vegetarianism

April 20, 2007

Coming up in the Vermont legislature: impeachment and IRV

Impeach Bush and Cheney, already! In a surprise move, the Vermont Senate voted early Friday morning to request that U.S. Representative Peter Welch begin impeachment proceedings against the would-be emperor and his cardinal. It should be noted that there was almost no debate. It was raised. It was passed. So much for the claim from House Speaker Gaye "Simple" Symington that there's not enough time for it.

The same resolution is planned to be raised in the House by David Zuckerman, who graciously let Peter Welch run uncontested for last year. Welch ran a strongly anti-war campaign but has since voted in support of the Iraq occupation. Acting to remove the people who illegally invaded Iraq and are responsible for the death and maiming of tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis might redeem that pathetic vote.

So, Vermonters! Write or call your house members! The list of their addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses is at www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/districts.cfm?Body=H.

And in the Senate, a bill to institute instant runoff voting (IRV) for U.S. House and Senate races will be voted on next week. So write or call your senators to vote for that, too: www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/districts.cfm?Body=S. Read about IRV and other election reforms that would move us more towards democracy at www.kirbymountain.com/rosenlake/electionreform.html.

In other legislative business, auto racers want to be exempt from the ban on the MTBE additive for gasoline. And the Progressive Party thinks it might be valid consideration. In other words, although they recognize how dangerous a pollutant MTBE is, they would shoot a huge hole in the ban on it:

"The question for Progressives is weighing the environmental concerns versus penalizing an activity who's fans are mostly working families."

It was "mostly working families" who once enjoyed occasionally lynching individuals of other working families who happened to be of African or Jewish descent (or "flatlander," maybe). And it's "mostly working families" who are poisoned by industrial chemicals that are allowed for the pleasure of a few money-making entities. How patronizing and bogus this question is! As if working families can't have environmental concerns, too. As if the activity in question is threatened by the ban on MTBE!


April 19, 2007

Maori landscape saved from industrial wind development

Press Release from The Maori Party (New Zealand), via National Wind Watch (also see related news story):

The Maori Party has today welcomed the findings of the Environment Court in ruling against the erection of 37 turbines along Te Waka Range skyline on the Napier-Taupo Road.

“The site of the Te Waka –Titiohanga-Maungaharuru range is a distinctive feature of the Hawkes Bay” said Maori Party Co-leader, Dr Pita Sharples. “It creates an unique skyline which has great value as a landform, as a recreation resource, and a milestone landmark”.

“I am sure that the Prime Minister, as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage would appreciate how landscapes of such exquisite beauty, feed the soul and nourish the spirit” said Dr Sharples.

“Importantly, it is also of great significance to the peoples of Ngati Tukuru of Ngati Kahungunu” said Dr Sharples. “The Maungahururu Ridge recalls the journey of the Takitimu Canoe, is a navigation aid, and a traditional source of kereru (wood pigeon).

“The naming of ‘Te Waka’ reflects its appearance as the shape of the waka on the skyline” added Dr Sharples. “There are values and stories associated with this landscape which our people hold great meaning by”.

“The land is also of special value to the Hineuru people of Tuwharetoa, the descendants of whom still occupy this land” said Dr Sharples.

“We are pleased that the relationship Ngati Kahungunu and Tuwharetoa have with their ancestral lands, waahi tapu and other taonga has been acknowledged in this decision”

The Maori Party is also pleased that the Environment Court has recognised the national importance of protecting outstanding natural features and landscapes (as required by Section 6 of the Resource Management Act 1991).

“Judge Thompson has carefully considered the adverse effects of the visual pollution that would dominate the Te Waka landscape and balanced this, and the important ancestral beliefs of mana whenua, alongside the benefits of establishing alternative energy sources” said Dr Sharples.

“These landscapes are of importance to all New Zealanders” said Dr Sharples.

“While we must all do what we can to look at renewable energy resources, the Environment Court has, on balance, respected the views of Ngati Kahungunu and Tuwharetoa, the advice of landscape specialists, and the local Hawkes Bay community in reaching their decision”.

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights

April 18, 2007

Resistance is Never Futile

By Jason Hribal, Counterpunch, April 17 (click on the title of this post for the complete essay):

Whether from the thoughts of the owners or the print of the media, the language used to describe these "escapes" (their term) is most illuminating: "captured," "fugitive," "amnesty," "outlaw," "criminal." These words, in reality, reflect a hidden truth -- a truth that is only exposed when actions are taken by other animals against human domination. In other words, when the curtain is pulled back, our fellow creatures emerge as active beings -- each of whom has the ability to shape the world around them. Agency is not unique to the human animal. Cows, pigs, monkeys, and elephants can also resist their exploitation. Over the centuries, humans have learned to deal with this.

Farmers, ranchers, factory owners, and managers have tried a multiplicity of methods to deter or prevent escapes. Wooden-post fences were erected. Cows leapt over them or crawled under them. Taller, stronger metal fences were developed. Cows found their weak points and busted through them. Barbs were put on the wire to cause pain. A few cows still got over them. The wire was then electrified to cause even more pain.

Humans have used tethers, clogs, and yokes to lessen movement. They have used bull-whips, bull-hooks, and electrified cattle-prods to scar and frighten. They have cut tendons, pulled out teeth, blinded eyes, ringed noses, and muzzled mouths to punish. They have castrated testicles, removed ovaries, and chopped off horns to control aggressiveness. These techniques are not called "breaking" because their targets are mindless, spiritless machines. Quite to the contrary, they are deemed as such because turning autonomous, intelligent beings into obedient, productive workers is difficult.

If these methods failed, humans employed specialized bounty-hunters. They constructed pounds for the detained. Local, state, and federal laws were written. Fines and penalties were levied. The death penalty has always been the final option for those chronic troublemakers. FEMA itself has detailed strategies on how to deal with animal escapes. For this form of resistance can have serious consequences for owners, businesses, and governments. The run-away macaque from Davis, CA, for example, almost brought about the closure of the entire research center. The Tamworth two incited spot inspections and steep fines for the Wiltshire slaughterhouse. But more than bad press and possible loss in profits, these escapes can produce a public awareness of exploitation and resistance. This combination of struggle and recognition then ultimately forces such industries -- their operators, executives, scientists, and engineers -- to adopt animal-welfare legislation and practices.

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism

April 16, 2007

Denmark vs. Finland

Here's an interesting comparison.

Denmark and Finland have nearly identical populations (in number, that is) -- 5.4 million in Denmark and 5.3 million in Finland. Finland uses about 50% more total energy than Denmark and generates twice as much and uses 2.5 times more electricity.

Denmark generates 20% of their electricity from wind, and Finland generates almost none from wind.

Yet, according to the IAEA, their CO2 emissions from energy are virtually the same.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

The power of greenwash

To the Editor, New York Times Magazine:

Thomas Friedman, in his enthusiasm for "green" industry ["The Power of Green," April 15], forgets that there are other impacts to be considered along with carbon emissions. Nuclear's shortcomings are well known [waste, uranium supply, radioactivity, warming rivers, WMDs]. The proposal to use a sixth of our croplands (or mow down more rainforests) to fuel our cars with ethanol raises obvious questions. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs contain toxic mercury. Replacing coal with natural gas would add another source of volatile geopolitics to that of oil. The new infrastructure that Friedman envisions would industrialize more of our landscape without any suggestion that old infrastructure would be replaced.

[As part of his unwillingness to give up any part of "our way of life," Friedman barely mentions conservation, reviving rail travel, or decentralizing our shopping and work setups, and, like Scolow and Pacala, he completely ignores the raising of animals for meat and milk, responsible for 18% of manmade greenhouse gases, according to the U.N. -- more than transport.]

And large-scale wind turbines -- now commonly over 400 feet tall, with blades nearly 300 feet across, in arrays of a dozen up to hundreds -- are already destroying rural and wild landscapes: fragmenting and degrading valuable wildlife habitat, threatening populations of bats and birds, and wrecking the lives of people who have to live with their intrusive thumping and shadow flicker.

It is no surprise that George W. Bush made Texas a leader in wind energy. His friend Ken Lay's Enron had bought Zond Wind (subsequently bought by GE) and together they gamed the system to make big wind profitable without having to prove its usefulness. Theirs is the model still followed by other states. It is not an example of environmental leadership, but of a boondoggle and environmental debacle that does little, if anything, to move us away from carbon and other environmental and political problems.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism

April 7, 2007

The gap between the blades

A story from this week's Billings (Mt.) Outpost (click the title of this post), brought to our attention by the News Watch service of National Wind Watch, describes the problem that wind brings to the grid, namely, the need for NEW backup power. This is the same case described in an earlier post, a unique situation where the utility is actually stuck with the wind energy rather than just shunting it off into the larger grid where its effects are minimal.

Who will spark the gap?

With the standby power necessary to smooth the erratic output of Montana's premier wind power facility becoming difficult to come by at any price, the state's energy technocracy wonders.

The Judith Gap wind farm is an impressive operation. According to the company that runs it, Invenergy, its 90 turbines stretch 400 feet into the Big Sky when the blades are fully extended, and each one produces enough electricity to power 300 homes. It's a showcase project in Montana's move toward renewable energy.

Yet the cluster of dynamos itself faces a looming power shortage.

To integrate the Gap's green electrons into the area's power delivery system, a back-up source of power is required. When the wind isn't blowing, the power that is scheduled to come from the farm has to come from somewhere else.

All forms of large-scale power generation need other sources of power to help them stay in sync with the demand for electricity or the "load" as the pros call it. Those sources are sometimes called "regulating reserve." NWE had some trouble matching the wind to the load during Judith Gap's first year of operation, an activity that Mr. Fine described as "chasing the wind."

From moment to moment, government regulations require that supply stays within 90 percent of demand, or the utility is considered to be out of compliance. If the company stays out of compliance for too long, fines result.

Before Judith Gap, NWE had never been out of compliance. In 2006 the company violated the standard repeatedly, NWE officials told the PSC. In order to stabilize its lines, the company added another 25 megawatts of reserve power to the 30 megawatts that it traditionally required, PSC Vice Chairman Doug Mood said. The cost of reserve power is passed on to ratepayers.

NWE has the situation under control for now, but at the end of the year one of the primary contracts for that back-up juice will end, and so far NorthWestern hasn't found a new outlet to plug into, company and PSC officials have said.

Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, has noted that with other wind projects in the region coming online, firming power might become impossible to obtain. If that leads to crippling fines for line instability, the Judith Gap facility might have to shut down, he said. ...

Gov. Brian Schweitzer added that energy costs from the wind project are competitive with new coal plants.

"Here are the numbers," the governor said. After one year of operation the Judith Gap project was producing power at $41.63 per megawatt. The wind portion of that was $32 per Mw. That was put together with natural gas from Butte to get $41.63. The new coal plant in Hardin came in at $44 per Mw, and the proposed Great Falls plant will produce power at $48, the governor said.

"Those are the facts," he said. "That's NorthWestern Energy's numbers. It may be that some people don't have all the facts."

The governor was comparing apples and oranges, Mr. Molnar said. The power generated at Judith Gap could not be matched to the load. It was not "dispatchable, curtailable or reliable," meaning that the wind power couldn't be used to back up other sources of power and can't easily be reduced to match demand.

The governor's remarks were "just the usual blather," he said.

Forty percent of the power produced at Judith Gap has been sold into the Idaho system at a loss, because there was no market for it here, Mr. Molnar said. "Why would you pay $42 for a waste product when you can buy usable product for $46?" ...

As back-up power resources get scarcer and more expensive, the company has had to look at building its own, [NWE Communications Director Claudia Rapkoch] said. ... Will Rosquist, a rate analyst for the PSC, concurred that NWE would have to provide its own ancillary power if the third party market dried up. Failure to do so was not an option. ...

wind power, wind energy

The courage of compromise

David Sirota has written a widely published patronizing apology for the "anti-war" Democrats who voted to fully fund the occupation of Iraq for another year and a half.

First, he praises the protesters for reminding the Democrats that they had to package their vote to continue the war vote as a vote to end the war.

Then he instructs them that passable bills in the legislature are rarely perfect, so they should stop complaining because they succeeded in getting plenty of lip service.

Sirota, however, is the one who needs to stop complaining. We know that legislators have to make compromising decisions, that they must deal with the possible not the perfect. If they thus lack the courage of conviction, they should at least stand by their courage to compromise. Instead, they lie. They tell us that a bill to continue full funding of the war is a bill to end the war.

And the compromising on this issue has hardly begun. Bad money drives out good, and the good is already being shunted out of the room. What will Sirota say about a final bill that no longer even pretends to urge the end of the illegal occupation of Iraq? Or if a bill passes with a suggested or mandated end date and magically withstands a veto, what will he say when the occupation is still going as disastrously "strong" as ever when that date goes by?

What does he say every day, as another hundred Iraqis and a few more Americans are killed while the Democrats bask in their heroic compromises?

Actually, we know what he does and will say: "That's why we need to elect more Democrats," who, despite all evidence to the contrary, we are supposed to believe actually care what we think.

The choice of "anti-war" Democrats to support the continued funding of this death policy is a clear betrayal of all conviction. They do not deserve our gratitude or admiration and certainly not our votes.

P.S. Peter Freyne, in Burlington's Seven Days this week, quotes (approvingly!) Vermont's now pro-war congressman, Peter Welch: "The question is, are you going to make the unattainable perfect be the enemy of the barely achievable good?" Don't count your chickens, Peters W. and F. -- we have yet to see even the slightest "good" and are unlikely to see it in another 18 months of illegal occupation. Only more death. That's what your "serious" yes vote was for.

April 1, 2007

Two-thirds backup for one-third power from wind

An interesting bit of data was found in a news article (click the title of this post) about the costs of the "successful" wind energy facility in Judith Gap, Montana.

To make it work, the utility has to buy 90 MW of "firming" power. The Judith Gap facility has a nameplate capacity of 135 MW. As with all wind turbines, because the power generation varies with the wind, the average output over a year is likely less than 45 MW.

So to get an average of 45 MW from wind, the utility is buying 90 MW from other sources that it didn't have to before.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism