August 27, 2009

VPIRG calls for 1,000 megawatts of wind

In their new report, "Repowering Vermont", the Vermont Public Interest Research Group outlines how the power from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant can be replaced.

Mostly, they see us buying more from Hydro Quebec, New York, and the New England pool for about 10 years, while keeping demand growth down by stepped-up efficiency measures.

Then, depending on subsequent growth, VPIRG suggests that by 2032, 25-28% of our electricity can be generated by in-state wind turbines.

They dramatically misrepresent the physical reality of such a program, however.

One scenario calls for wind to provide 25% of 6,300 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2032, the other 28% of 8,400 GWh. VPIRG says these would require 496 megawatts (MW) and 766 MW, respectively, of installed wind capacity, using 24 and 39 miles, respectively, of mountain ridgelines. In each scenario, 66 MW of the installed capacity would be small residential and business turbines.

Their estimation of miles of ridgeline required is based on placing 6 turbines per mile. But that figure is based on 1.5-MW turbines, not the 3-MW models VPIRG assumes. Larger turbines require more space between them (Vermont Environmental Research Associates, whose work VPIRG cites, spaces the turbines by 5 rotor diameters: as the turbines get bigger, so does the space between them). A better figure for estimation is 10 MW capacity per mile. The results are 43 and 70 miles for the two scenarios.

Then their translation of energy production to capacity is based on a 35% capacity factor. That is, for every 1 MW of capacity, they project that the turbines would produce at an average annual rate of 0.35 MW, and over a year the energy produced would be 0.35 MW × 8,760 hours = 3,066 megawatt-hours (MWh).

But the average capacity factor for the U.S. is only 28%, and that of the Searsburg facility in Vermont is only 20%. It is typically less than 10% for small turbines. So it would be reasonable (and still overly hopeful, especially as this degree of building would require siting in less productive locations) to assume a 20% capacity factor. Thus, the two scenarios would actually require 835 and 1,316 MW of installed wind.

And that would require 75 and 123 miles of mountain ridgelines (plus 116 MW of small turbines not on ridgelines). Vermont is only 60 miles across through Montpelier and 160 miles long.

Finally, VPIRG completely ignores the impacts of new heavy-duty roads, transformers, transmission lines, and several acres' clearcutting of forest per turbine.

Let alone the noise and light pollution and the aesthetic (and moral) dissonance of 400-ft-high industrial machines with 150-ft-long turning blades (a sweep area of 1.5 acres) dominating formerly wild and rural landscapes.

All for a technology that is only an expensive add-on to the grid and actually replaces nothing.

Vermont Yankee ought to be shut down, but it is ridiculous to pretend that wind can or should fill any significant fraction of the resulting gap.

(Oh yeah: VPIRG's treasurer is Mathew Rubin, wind developer manqué, and one of the trustees is David Blittersdorf of Earth Turbines and anemometer maker NRG Systems -- both of which companies are advertised, without any conflict-of-interest note, on page 23 of VPIRG's report.)

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

August 23, 2009

More absence of wind turbine noise and health complaints

Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) reports that, "According to the land registry office in Orangeville, six homes in Dufferin County have been purchased by wind developers. ... Before these families could escape the nightmare of their unliveable homes, they had to agree to sign strict nondisclosure contracts -- in other words, gag orders -- to protect the wind companies. [Canadian Hydro Developers] has spent over $1.75 million dollars clandestinely buying out these people, yet they claim there were no complaints."

Family Name Address
Ashbee Pt Lt 29, Con 7, Pt 1, 7R742, Amaranth
Fraser 58234 County Rd 17, Melancthon
Benvenete Pt Lts 284 & 285, Con 4, Melancthon
Brownell Pt Lt 29, Con 5, Pt 1, 7R787, Amaranth
Williams 58232 County Rd, RR 6, Melancthon
Barlows Pt Lt 1, Con 5, Melancthon

As WCO notes, "Their homes became unfit for human habitation. The purchases by the wind developer are an admission that wind turbines have created health issues that affect residents. Unfortunately, the wind industry and the McGuinty government have failed to publicly acknowledge or act on health issues and the pleas for help from the families affected."

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights

August 22, 2009

Nope. No complaints anywhere.

Nicole Geneau of Nextera, i.e., Florida Power & Light, is a liar.

John McPhee writes in the Aug. 11 Walkerton (Ontario) Herald-Times:
... Nicole Geneau, project manager with NEXTera, along with two consultants, visited Brockton council to provide information on two six-turbine sites planned for lands near Formosa and Paisley. ...

While new regulations are still being studied by the province, they noted the minimum setback for each turbine will most likely remain at 550 metres and the setbacks for larger projects could be set up to 1,000 metres without noise barriers.

Bruce County planner David Smith, who was also present for the Thursday session, did point out that some developers are pressuring the province to go with site specific noise studies that could reduce the setback to 400 metres.

Coun. Dave Inglis argued the setbacks should be bigger for any project. ...

Local officials were more interested in the project near Formosa as part of Brockton is within the study area.

Geneau told them their concerns were unfounded. “The study area is bigger than what we need. We just want to see the potential and the impact, it’s not to say we’re going to put more turbines up there,” she said, adding they couldn’t just put turbines anywhere.

When Mayor Charlie Bagnato asked about the high number of those against wind farms at a recent public meeting in Port Elgin, Becker informed him of public meetings in Toronto where “the majority of people are in favour” of wind turbines. ...

Geneau told council her company is the largest owner and operator of wind turbines in North America with 8,200 operating in 65 different projects across 24 states and two provinces.

“I have not heard one single complaint,” Geneau said. “That tells us the process we’re using is working. We use the best science and follow regulations.” She added her company has even won environmental awards.

Geneau was asked to keep locals informed by updates at Bruce County council.

After the meeting [Coun. Dan] Gieruszak and Inglis were still not convinced. ...

“I am concerned that there will be a long-term reduction of quality of life in rural Ontario, for the benefit of urban populations,” Gieruszak said.

Inglis agreed. “I’ve always had concerns about the health issues and the setbacks, they’re not big enough.” ...
Nicole Geneau is a liar. According to Wind Concerns Ontario, two weeks earlier, on July 25, she was sitting at the kitchen table of Daniel d'Entremont's abandoned home in Pubnico, Nova Scotia -- abandoned because of ill health effects from nearby 1.8-megawatt Vestas V80 turbines, the closest one about 1,000 feet (305 meters) away. They began experiencing problems as soon as the first turbine began operating, which was 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) away.

The d'Entremonts abandoned their home on Feb. 21, 2006. Evidently, to Nicole Geneau and her industry, that represents a solution, not a complaint.

The Brockton council has good reason to be concerned.

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

Wind goes up, wind goes down -- only one gets reported

A Bonneville Power Administration press release on August 14 announced that earlier in the month, 6:19 p.m. on Aug. 6, wind energy production reached a new high of 2,089 megawatts, 92% of the total installed wind capacity on BPA's grid.

Production levels for wind, the press release says, had been high for the preceding week and continued to be good through the following week.

As the chart below shows (click on it to enlarge), however, wind production (the blue line at the bottom of the chart) fluctuates quite a bit, and the rises and falls of its production rarely coincide with those of actual demand (the red line at the top of the chart).

Furthermore, from Aug. 15 to Aug. 20, wind production was virtually nil the whole time.

Not surprisingly, the latter "milestone" was not as widely touted.

We thank Gary and Kris Troyer at the KandG blog for watching these numbers and capturing the earlier production graphic from BPA.

wind power, wind energy

August 13, 2009

Burning Forests for Electricity

Michael Donnelly writes in Counterpunch (click the title of this post for the complete article):

All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent. --David Brower

... On a daily basis of late, plans are unveiled for new biomass “renewable energy” electricity plants nationwide, complete with State and Federal “Renewable Energy Tax Credits.” Over 100 are already up and running or approved and under construction. Another 200 are in the approval process. Ten in Michigan; six in Arkansas; three in Massachusetts; two in Georgia; three in Maine; three in Florida; even one in swanky Vail, Colorado. If a state has trees, it has a burner(s) on the drawing board. Of all the proposals working their way through state governments, only those in Oregon have been (so far) thwarted. There, Governor Ted Kulongoski has vetoed legislation giving the renewable tax credit designation to existing Timber Industry wood-to-electricity and existing garbage burner electricity plants that sailed through Oregon’s Democrat-dominated Legislature with GOP support. On the other hand, Kulongoski and Oregon have given their renewable energy tax imprimatur to giant wind farms. For some 3,550 megawatts of peak production, Oregon is handing these private wind power producers a projected $144 million in tax subsidies this biennium alone. But, that's a different part of the story.

... Instead of the usual dirty coal, or the more expensive natural gas or oil firing the boilers, these new plants burn “Biomass” - forests. The already operating plan is to grind up small diameter trees, understory plants, dead standing trees (snags) and fallen woody debris (read: future soils) and then using the resulting “hog fuel” to run the boilers.

The first such facility not adjunct to a timber mill, but solely for electricity production, has been in operation for 25 years at Avista’s Kettle Falls Generating Station along the Columbia River in NE Washington. This one plant burns 70 tons (140,000 pounds or two semi-truck loads) per hour, generating 53 megawatts of electricity. Of course, it takes far longer than an hour for Nature to create 70 tons of wood fiber. And, then there are a host of other issues: from pollution to ecosystem degradation. ...

The rationales for providing electricity this way are: it gives off less pollution; the trees are going to waste anyway; the trees are a fire threat; and, the ever fungible, it’s sustainable/renewable.


... As of 2002, 63% of sulfur dioxide emissions (read: acid rain); 22% of NOx, nitrogen oxide (smog); 39% of carbon (climate change); and, 33% of mercury (all sorts of health threats) were identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as resulting from electricity generation using coal-fired steam generators. Hydroelectricity has its own set of tragic eco-costs (dead salmon) as does wind power (carbon-intensive production materials and area-wide impacts - roads, noise, viewshed, wildlife) and solar (toxic ingredients). Wind, solar, tidal and other intermittent forms of electricity production also fail to provide the steady uninterrupted power the nation's power grid requires, unlike steam plants, which is a major motivator for biomass.

Biomass plants hardly diminish steam/electricity's sorry pollution record. In fact, NOx is a huge issue due to the high nitrogen content of biomass. Such fuels also emit far more carbon monoxide (CO) than the typical dirty coal plant.

Such burners also give off a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) - the main greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions per BTU from a "green" wood biomass burner, as written into provisions of H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009 (Waxman/Markey) and endorsed by the Big Greens are greater than those from an old coal-fired power plant. In comparison, living forests sequester up to 30% of all CO2 emitted from all sources. The collection and transportation of biomass fuels adds considerably to the net pollution.

Human Health

The greatest threat to human health are the microscopic particulates - “nanoparticles” – which are resistant to current pollution control technologies and are rarely even measured, much less regulated. Yet, they are very present in the ash that biomass, garbage and coal burners currently create. Physicians for Social Responsibility has led the way on fighting the particulate menace.

Just recently, scientists have proven that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide (TiO2) can travel directly from the nose to the brain, causing cell damage. TiO2 is an ever present carcinogen that is abundant in power plant emissions. It’s also incredibly found in paint and a host of cosmetic products, notably sunscreen. It’s even added to food as a coloring or a way to keep colors from blending; found in cottage cheese, horseradish and numerous sauces, among other foodstuffs.

Waste? In Nature?

There is no such thing as "waste" in nature. Everything has its purpose. Heavy equipment and roads necessary for the collection and transportation of biomass fuels and the removal itself robs nutrients, fouls water, compacts soils and degrades habitat – some estimates are that over 30% of all bird species depend on dead trees. Past misguided efforts removing dead trees as “Fire Hazards” have already led to a short supply of nesting, foraging and roosting opportunities.


Studies have consistently shown that efforts to “fire-proof the forests” (now, there’s an oxymoron) by "fuel reduction projects" are counterproductive. It is questionable whether removing biomass has any ameliorative effect on reducing wildfires. In fact, like all biomass rationales, the opposite is true. Not only does removing the biomass release more carbon than a fire racing through the same "biomass" would, the biomass-stripped remaining forest has been shown to be less fire-resistant. Even if a forest burns, it releases less carbon to never "salvage" the remaining biomass. Just letting the forest recover naturally has been proven to return the forest to carbon sequestration far more quickly than any "salvage" and plant management.

A recent study published in the professional journal Ecological Applications notes that “fuel reduction treatments” (i.e., biomass removal) cripple the forest’s ability to sequester carbon “over the next 100 years.” This results in a major carbon output into the atmosphere that would otherwise be captured.

Another study has shown that if our forests were managed solely for carbon sequestration, they would double or triple the amount of carbon sequestered.

Ecologist George Weurthner, an expert on wildfire, recently wrote an essay debunking the entire rationale that the forests are "unhealthy" and need to be thinned for any reason; “A forest with a lot of dead trees is actually a sign of a healthy forest ecosystem. There are even some ecologists who believe we don’t have enough dead trees."

Sustainable? Of course not.

Number of years the United States could meet its energy needs by burning all its trees: 1 --Harper's Index for January 2006

Cui Bono?

This biomass scourge, indeed the entire "renewable" energy industry, is motivated by one thing only: money - tax money; ratepayers' money. All the other rationales are flimsy smokescreens, easily disproven disinformation. ...

Big Timber is becoming Big Hog Fuel on the taxpayers’ dime. It’s analogous to the late 19th Century when the timber industry leveled Michigan and Wisconsin forests and then morphed into utilities (one, a subsidized private company ludicrously named Consumers' Power) and built hydroelectric dams along the degraded Au Sable and other rivers that industry once commandeered as highways to transport logs. Those very same forests - now public-owned national forests, replanted by legions of kids and Kiwanis Clubs; finally recovering over a century later, are now targets of the Hog Fuel industry.

Though the Big Greens will gladly do it for them (and are), the Electric Utilities can Greenwash themselves and grab tax credits at an even greater rate than Big Timber. All they have to do is cry, "We thneed it" and the politicians take note. All that money Oregon is lavishing on Big Wind - foregoing all property and payroll taxes for 12 to 15 years - produces little in the way of local jobs and the power is mostly shipped to California.

Yet, the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Council, a sub-set of the government-owned Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) just released a report noting that the Northwest can meet 85 percent of its new electricity needs over the next 20 years solely through conservation, and do so at half the cost of building power plants of any type. Every five years a review is made and the report is used to make plans for the BPA and the 147 consumer-owned utilities to which it sells power. Private utilities are livid as their plan is to always cry "thneed" and build more; charging the ratepayers for all new facilities.

And, last, but never least, there are the usual enablers: foundation-supported “Greens” and the “we’re not the corporate pawn GOP, but we’re close enough” industry-supported Democrats.

environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism

10 Questions to Ask at ObamaCare Town Hall Meetings

Dave Lindorff, at Counterpunch (click the title of this post):

1. If Canada's single-payer system is so god-awful, why have repeated Conservative governments at the provincial and national level in Canada never touched it? Canada is a democracy. If Canadians don't like their health care system, why haven't they gotten rid of it in 35 years? Since the system there is run by the separate provinces, many of which are very politically conservative, why has not one province ever tried to get rid of single-payer?

2. Why is rationing by income, as we do it here, better than rationing by need, as they do it in Canada?

3. Wouldn't single-payer mean that companies could no longer threaten working people with the loss of their health insurance? Why is this a bad idea?

4. The bigger the insurance pool, the better. So doesn't having a national pool, as with single-payer, make the most sense?

5. Why should we be allowing politicians who are taking money from the medical industry to write the new health care legislation?

6. How can the Congress be developing a health system reform scheme and not even invite experts from Canada down to explain their successful system?

7. If Medicare--a single-payer system here in America--is so popular with the elderly, how come it's no good for the rest of us?

8. Isn't it true that Medicare currently finances the most costly patient group--the elderly and infirm--so that extending it to the rest of the population--most of whom are young and healthy--would be much cheaper, per person?

9. The AMA, the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the Insurance Industry all bitterly opposed Medicare in 1964-5 when it was being debated in Congress and passed into law, with the right, led by Ronald Reagan, calling it creeping socialism. It became a life-saver for the elderly and didn't turn the US into a soviet republic. Why should we give a tinker's damn what those same three industry groups and the Republican right think of expanding single-payer now?

10. The executives of Canadian subsidiaries of US companies all support Canada's single-payer system, and even lobby collectively to have it expanded and better funded. Why does Congress listen to the executives of the parent companies here at home, and not invite those Canadian execs down to explain why they like single-payer?

human rights

August 9, 2009

The subtlety of Cervantes' satire

'In my Opinion, you are not unlike the Moors, who are incapable of being convinc'd of the Error of their Religion, by Scripture, speculative Reasons, or those drawn immediately from the Articles of our Faith; and will yield to nothing but Demonstrations, as evident as those of the Mathematicks, and which can as little be deny'd, as when we say, If from two equal Parts, we take away two equal Parts, the Parts that remain are also equal. And when they do not understand this Proposition, which they seldom do, we are oblig'd by Operation, to make it yet more plain and obvious to their Senses; and yet all this Labour will at last prove ineffectual to the convincing them of the Verities of our Religion.'

--Don Quixote, Part I, Book IV, Chapter VI, 'The Novel of the Curious Impertinent'

(The joke is that the mathematical process described here is Algebra, learned by the Europeans from the Moors.)

August 7, 2009

Two Health Care Systems: One works, the other doesn't

Michael Rachlis writes in the Aug. 3 Los Angeles Times:

Universal health insurance is on the American policy agenda for the fifth time since World War II. In the 1960s, the U.S. chose public coverage for only the elderly and the very poor, while Canada opted for a universal program for hospitals and physicians' services. As a policy analyst, I know there are lessons to be learned from studying the effect of different approaches in similar jurisdictions. But, as a Canadian with lots of American friends and relatives, I am saddened that Americans seem incapable of learning them.

Our countries are joined at the hip. We peacefully share a continent, a British heritage of representative government and now ownership of GM. And, until 50 years ago, we had similar health systems, healthcare costs and vital statistics.

The U.S.' and Canada's different health insurance decisions make up the world's largest health policy experiment. And the results?

On coverage, all Canadians have insurance for hospital and physician services. There are no deductibles or co-pays. Most provinces also provide coverage for programs for home care, long-term care, pharmaceuticals and durable medical equipment, although there are co-pays.

On the U.S. side, 46 million people have no insurance, millions are underinsured and healthcare bills bankrupt more than 1 million Americans every year.

Lesson No. 1: A single-payer system would eliminate most U.S. coverage problems.

On costs, Canada spends 10% of its economy on healthcare; the U.S. spends 16%. The extra 6% of GDP amounts to more than $800 billion per year. The spending gap between the two nations is almost entirely because of higher overhead. Canadians don't need thousands of actuaries to set premiums or thousands of lawyers to deny care. Even the U.S. Medicare program has 80% to 90% lower administrative costs than private Medicare Advantage policies. And providers and suppliers can't charge as much when they have to deal with a single payer.

Lessons No. 2 and 3: Single-payer systems reduce duplicative administrative costs and can negotiate lower prices.

Because most of the difference in spending is for non-patient care, Canadians actually get more of most services. We see the doctor more often and take more drugs. We even have more lung transplant surgery. We do get less heart surgery, but not so much less that we are any more likely to die of heart attacks. And we now live nearly three years longer, and our infant mortality is 20% lower.

Lesson No. 4: Single-payer plans can deliver the goods because their funding goes to services, not overhead.

The Canadian system does have its problems, and these also provide important lessons. Notwithstanding a few well-publicized and misleading cases, Canadians needing urgent care get immediate treatment. But we do wait too long for much elective care, including appointments with family doctors and specialists and selected surgical procedures. We also do a poor job managing chronic disease.

However, according to the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, both the American and the Canadian systems fare badly in these areas. In fact, an April U.S. Government Accountability Office report noted that U.S. emergency room wait times have increased, and patients who should be seen immediately are now waiting an average of 28 minutes. The GAO has also raised concerns about two- to four-month waiting times for mammograms.

On closer examination, most of these problems have little to do with public insurance or even overall resources. Despite the delays, the GAO said there is enough mammogram capacity.

These problems are largely caused by our shared politico-cultural barriers to quality of care. In 19th century North America, doctors waged a campaign against quacks and snake-oil salesmen and attained a legislative monopoly on medical practice. In return, they promised to set and enforce standards of practice. By and large, it didn't happen. And perverse incentives like fee-for-service make things even worse.

Using techniques like those championed by the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, providers can eliminate most delays. In Hamilton, Ontario, 17 psychiatrists have linked up with 100 family doctors and 80 social workers to offer some of the world's best access to mental health services. And in Toronto, simple process improvements mean you can now get your hip assessed in one week and get a new one, if you need it, within a month.

Lesson No. 5: Canadian healthcare delivery problems have nothing to do with our single-payer system and can be fixed by re-engineering for quality.

U.S. health policy would be miles ahead if policymakers could learn these lessons. But they seem less interested in Canada's, or any other nation's, experience than ever. Why?

American democracy runs on money. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies have the fuel. Analysts see hundreds of billions of premiums wasted on overhead that could fund care for the uninsured. But industry executives and shareholders see bonuses and dividends.

Compounding the confusion is traditional American ignorance of what happens north of the border, which makes it easy to mislead people. Boilerplate anti-government rhetoric does the same. The U.S. media, legislators and even presidents have claimed that our "socialized" system doesn't let us choose our own doctors. In fact, Canadians have free choice of physicians. It's Americans these days who are restricted to "in-plan" doctors.

Unfortunately, many Americans won't get to hear the straight goods because vested interests are promoting a caricature of the Canadian experience.

August 6, 2009

Obama and Neoliberalism

Michael Lind writes at Salon:

... By neoliberalism I mean the ideology that replaced New Deal liberalism as the dominant force in the Democratic Party between the Carter and Clinton presidencies. In the Clinton years, this was called the "Third Way." The term was misleading, because New Deal liberalism between 1932 and 1968 and its equivalents in social democratic Europe were considered the original "third way" between democratic socialism and libertarian capitalism, whose failure had caused the Depression. According to New Deal liberals, the United States was not a "capitalist society" or a "market democracy" but rather a democratic republic with a "mixed economy," in which the state provided both social insurance and infrastructure like electric grids, hydropower and highways, while the private sector engaged in mass production.

When it came to the private sector, the New Dealers, with some exceptions, approved of Big Business, Big Unions and Big Government, which formed the system of checks and balances that John Kenneth Galbraith called "countervailing power." But most New Dealers dreaded and distrusted bankers. They thought that finance should be strictly regulated and subordinated to the real economy of factories and home ownership. They were economic internationalists because they wanted to open foreign markets to U.S. factory products, not because they hoped that the Asian masses some day would pay high overdraft fees to U.S. multinational banks.

New Dealers approved of social insurance systems like Social Security and Medicare, which were rights (entitlements) not charity and which mostly redistributed income within the middle class, from workers to nonworkers (the retired and the temporarily unemployed). But contrary to conservative propaganda, New Deal liberals disliked means-tested antipoverty programs and despised what Franklin Roosevelt called "the dole." Roosevelt and his most important protégé, Lyndon Johnson, preferred workfare to welfare. They preferred a high-wage, low-welfare society to a low-wage, high-welfare society. To maintain the high-wage system that would minimize welfare payments to able-bodied adults, New Deal liberals did not hesitate to regulate the labor market, by means of pro-union legislation, a high minimum wage, and low levels of immigration (which were raised only at the end of the New Deal period, beginning in 1965). It was only in the 1960s that Democrats became identified with redistributionist welfarism -- and then only because of the influence of the New Left, which denounced the New Deal as "corporate liberalism."

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the New Deal system -- large-scale public investment and R&D, regulated monopolies and oligopolies, the subordination of banking to productive industry, high wages and universal social insurance -- created the world's first mass middle class. The system was far from perfect. Southern segregationist Democrats crippled many of its progressive features and the industrial unions were afflicted by complacency and corruption. But for all its flaws, the New Deal era is still remembered as the Golden Age of the American economy.

And then America went downhill.

The "stagflation" of the 1970s had multiple sources, including the oil price shock following the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and the revival of German and Japanese industrial competition (China was still recovering from the damage done by Mao). During the previous generation, libertarian conservatives like Milton Friedman had been marginalized. But in the 1970s they gained a wider audience, blaming the New Deal model and claiming that the answer to every question (before the question was even asked) was "the market."

The free-market fundamentalists found an audience among Democrats as well as Republicans. A growing number of Democratic economists and economic policymakers were attracted to the revival of free-market economics, among them Obama's chief economic advisor Larry Summers, a professed admirer of Milton Friedman. These center-right Democrats agreed with the libertarians that the New Deal approach to the economy had been too interventionist. At the same time, they thought that government had a role in providing a safety net. The result was what came to be called "neoliberalism" in the 1980s and 1990s -- a synthesis of conservative free-market economics with "progressive" welfare-state redistribution for the losers. Its institutional base was the Democratic Leadership Council, headed by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and the affiliated Progressive Policy Institute.

Beginning in the Carter years, the Democrats later called neoliberals supported the deregulation of infrastructure industries that the New Deal had regulated, like airlines, trucking and electricity, a sector in which deregulation resulted in California blackouts and the Enron scandal. Neoliberals teamed up with conservatives to persuade Bill Clinton to go along with the Republican Congress's dismantling of New Deal-era financial regulations, a move that contributed to the cancerous growth of Wall Street and the resulting global economic collapse. As Asian mercantilist nations like Japan and then China rigged their domestic markets while enjoying free access to the U.S. market, neoliberal Democrats either turned a blind eye to the foreign mercantilist assault on American manufacturing or claimed that it marked the beneficial transition from an industrial economy to a "knowledge economy." While Congress allowed inflation to slash the minimum wage and while corporations smashed unions, neoliberals chattered about sending everybody to college so they could work in the high-wage "knowledge jobs" of the future. Finally, many (not all) neoliberals agreed with conservatives that entitlements like Social Security were too expensive, and that it was more efficient to cut benefits for the middle class in order to expand benefits for the very poor. ...

By the time Barack Obama was inaugurated, the neoliberal capture of the presidential branch of the Democratic Party was complete. ...

Instead of the updated Rooseveltonomics that America needs, Obama's team offers warmed-over Rubinomics from the 1990s. Consider the priorities of the Obama administration: the environment, healthcare and education. Why these priorities, as opposed to others, like employment, high wages and manufacturing? The answer is that these three goals co-opt the activist left while fitting neatly into a neoliberal narrative that could as easily have been told in 1999 as in 2009. The story is this: New Dealers and Keynesians are wrong to think that industrial capitalism is permanently and inherently prone to self-destruction, if left to itself. Except in hundred-year disasters, the market economy is basically sound and self-correcting. Government can, however, help the market indirectly, by providing these three public goods, which, thanks to "market failures," the private sector will not provide.

Healthcare? New Deal liberals favored a single-payer system like Social Security and Medicare. Obama, however, says that single payer is out of the question because the U.S. is not Canada. (Evidently the New Deal America of FDR and LBJ was too "Canadian.") The goal is not to provide universal healthcare, rather it is to provide universal health insurance, by means that, even if they include a shriveled "public option," don't upset the bloated American private health insurance industry.

Education? In the 1990s, the conventional wisdom of the neoliberal Democrats held that the "jobs of the future" were "knowledge jobs." America's workers would sit in offices with diplomas on the wall and design new products that would be made in third-world sweatshops. We could cede the brawn work and keep the brain work. Since then, we've learned that brain work follows brawn work overseas. R&D, finance and insurance jobs tend to follow the factories to Asia.

Education is also used by neoliberals to explain stagnant wages in the U.S. By claiming that American workers are insufficiently educated for the "knowledge economy," neoliberal Democrats divert attention from the real reasons for stagnant and declining wages -- the offshoring of manufacturing, the decline of labor unions, and, at the bottom of the labor market, a declining minimum wage and mass unskilled immigration. One study after another since the 1990s has refuted the theory that wage inequality results from skill-biased technical change. But the neoliberal cultists around Obama who write his economic speeches either don't know or don't care. Like Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama continues to tell Americans that to get higher wages they need to go to college and improve their skills, as though there weren't a surplus of underemployed college grads already.

Environment? Here the differences between the New Deal Democrats and the Obama Democrats could not be wider. Their pro-industrial program did not prevent New Deal Democrats from being passionate about resource conservation and wilderness preservation. They did not hesitate to use regulations to shut down pollution. And their approach to energy was based on direct government R&D (the Manhattan Project) and direct public deployment (the TVA).

Contrast the straightforward [emphasis added*] New Deal approaches with the energy and environment policies of Obama and the Democratic leadership, which are at once too conservative and too radical. They are too conservative, because cap and trade relies on a system of market incentives that are not only indirect and feeble but likely to create a subprime market in carbon, enriching a few green profiteers. At the same time, they are too radical, because any serious attempt to shift the U.S. economy in a green direction by hiking the costs of non-renewable energy would accelerate the transfer of U.S. industry to Asia -- and with it not only industry-related "knowledge jobs" but also the manufacture of those overhyped icons of the "green economy," solar panels and windmills.

While we can't go back to the New Deal of the mid-20th century in its details, we need to re-create its spirit. ...

[*Medicare for all. Higher gas tax.]

August 5, 2009

Wind Turbines Give You Spots

These photos are from Yvonne Sheehan in County Cork, Ireland. Click the title of this post to read her diary of life with her grandson in the shadow of industrial wind turbines. The ill effects don't stop with spots.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms human rights

August 2, 2009

A Wind Farm Is Not the Answer

Paul Kingsnorth, in the August 1 Guardian (U.K.), questions the green movement's fixation with technology:

How would you imagine an environmentalist would react when presented with the following proposition? A power company plans to build a new development on a stretch of wild moorland. It will be nearly seven miles long, and consist of 150 structures, each made of steel and mounted on hundreds of tons of concrete. They will be almost 500 feet high, and will be accompanied by 73 miles of road. The development will require the quarrying of 1.5m cubic metres of rock and the cutting out and dumping of up to a million cubic metres of peat.

The answer is that if you are like many modern environmentalists you will support this project without question. You will dismiss anyone who opposes it as a nimby who is probably in the pay of the coal or nuclear lobby, and you will campaign for thousands more like it to be built all over the country.

The project is, of course, a wind farm - or, if we want to be less Orwellian in our terminology, a wind power station. This particular project is planned for Shetland, but there are many like it in the pipeline. The government wants to see 10,000 new turbines across Britain by 2020 (though it is apparently not prepared to support the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight). The climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband, says there is a need to "grow the market" for industrial wind energy, and to aid this growth he is offering £1bn in new loans to developers and the reworking of the "antiquated" (ie democratic) planning system, to allow local views on such developments to be overridden.

Does this sound very "green" to you? To me it sounds like a society fixated on growth and material progress going about its destructive business in much the same way as ever, only without the carbon. It sounds like a society whose answer to everything is more and bigger technology; a society so cut off from nature that it believes industrialising a mountain is a "sustainable" thing to do.

It also sounds like an environmental movement in danger of losing its way. The support for industrial wind developments in wild places seems to me a symbol of a lack of connectedness to an actual, physical environment. A development like that of Shetland is not an example of sustainable energy: it is the next phase in the endless human advance upon the non-human world - the very thing that the environmental movement came into being to resist.

Campaigners in Cumbria are fighting a proposed wind development near the mountain known as Saddleback, a great, brown hulk of a peak which Wordsworth preferred to call by its Celtic name, Blencathra. Wordsworth thought the wild uplands a place of epiphany. Other early environmentalists, from Thoreau to Emerson, knew too of the power of mountain and moor to provide a clear-eyed and humbling view of humanity.

Many of today's environmentalists will scoff if you speak to them of such things. Their concerns are couched in the language of business and technology - gigawatt hours, parts per million of carbon, peer-reviewed papers and "sustainable development". The green movement has become fixated on a single activity: reducing carbon emissions. It's understandable, what the science tells us about the coming impacts of climate change is terrifying. But if climate change poses a huge question, we are responding with the wrong answers.

The question we should be asking is what kind of society we should live in. The question we are actually asking is how we can power this one without producing carbon. This is not to say that renewable energy technologies are bad. We need to stop burning fossil fuels fast, and wind power can make a contribution if the turbines are sensitively sited and on an appropriate scale.

But the challenge posed by climate change is not really about technology. It is not even about carbon. It is about a society that has systematically hewed its inhabitants away from the natural world, and turned that world into a resource. It is about a society that imagines it operates in a bubble; that it can keep growing in a finite world, forever.

When we clamour for more wind-power stations in the wilderness, we perhaps think we are helping to slow this machine, but we are actually helping to power it. We are still promoting, perhaps unintentionally, the familiar mantras of industrial civilisation: growth can continue forever; technological gigantism will save us; our lives can go on much as they always have.

In the end, climate change presents us with a simple question: are we going to live within our means, or are we, like so many civilisations before us, going to collapse? In that question lies a radical challenge to the direction and mythologies of industrial society. All the technology in the world will not answer it.

See also:  Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, by Paul Kingsnorth.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism