March 23, 2009

Zero emissions?!

On March 11, Elliot Burg, Vermont Assistant Attorney General, announced a call for accurate emissions advertising. This was made in reponse to a request by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group to examine "zero emissions" claims by Entergy, the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which is up for relicensing.

The attorney general's office concluded that "while greenhouse gas emissions from the nuclear generation of electricity are negligible, such emissions do occur when uranium is mined, processed and transported".

Entergy agreed to revise the wording of its ads.

We agree with the attorney general that "All participants in the public debate on climate change policy should ensure that factual statements about carbon emissions clearly and truthfully specify what the emissions claims refer to".

Therefore, we submit two examples of misleading claims similar to Entergy's.

From the "Environmental Benefits" section of the Sheffield Wind (First Wind/UPC) web site:
The Sheffield wind farm is projected to produce 115,000,000 kilowatt hours of electric energy annually ... without air or water pollution and with no greenhouse gases, a leading cause of global warming. Wind power doesn’t pollute: Wind farms create zero air or water pollution.
From "Environmental Benefits" section of the Vermont Community Wind Farm (Per White-Hansen and Joan Warshaw) web site:
Creating power without greenhouse emissions: Power produced from Wind is clean and does not tax the environment with fossil fuel emissions from other energy sources such as coal and oil. Wind Power = Zero Emissions. [This formula is repeated farther down the page.]
Not only their manufacture and construction (each turbine includes roughly 200 tons of steel and petroleum-derived composites, shipped from around the world; it must be anchored in several hundred yards of concrete and rebar; clearing the site and constructing heavy-duty roads and new transmission lines also contribute carbon emissions), continuing maintenance (including regular changes of the 200 gallons of oil in each turbine) and repair (blade and gearbox failures are frequent) and eventual decommissioning cause the release of greenhouse gases.

In addition, wind can not operate without support from more reliable and dispatchable sources on the grid, that is, the turbines do not operate without carbon-emitting back-up, which may therefore be used more often or at lower efficiency. A program for expanding industrial wind is also a program for expanding quick-response natural gas plants (as T. Boone Pickens well understands).

Related to this, industrial-scale wind energy is often claimed to be "clean" and "green", despite not only the above facts but also the acres of clear land required around each turbine, the degradation and fragmentation of habitat (by roads and power lines as well as the turbine sites themselves), the noise, lights, and vibrations from its operation, and the direct threat to birds and bats from the massive spinning blades and new transmission lines.

If Entergy's "zero emissions" claim needs to be clarified as referring only to the actual generation of electricity, then so too do similar claims for wind (ignoring its actual effects on the grid, as described above).

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont