February 24, 2010

The lies of a wind developer

Angus King, formerly governor of Maine and now an industrial wind developer, had an opinion piece published in Sunday's Portland Press Herald. It is a response to letters pointing out some of the shortcomings of industrial wind turbines that must be weighed against their alleged benefits.

Rather than acknowledge such impacts in any way (a signal that the benefits side of the argument isn't at all viable), he engages in the classic rhetorical devices of straw man, red herring (changing the subject), ad populum (weasel words), and simply lying.

"Myth" 1: Building wind turbines destroys mountains. King: Mountaintop removal for coal destroys mountains.

King actually asserts that since nothing in the blasting and grading for roads and platforms is removed from the mountain, it's not destructive.

"Myth" 2: The sound can be heard for miles. King: Half a mile maybe.

Evidence of harm from noise experts and physicians suggests that noise from a line of turbines on a mountain can be a problem 3-5 kilometers (~2-3 miles) away, depending on the terrain. They suggest a minimum setback of 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) on flat terrain. In contrast, while half a mile is more setback than most developers will allow as reasonable, it is not based on actual experience, where in fact, the sound -- to a degree that is harmful to health -- can be heard a mile or more away.

"Myth" 3: Maine's wind power law cuts the people out. King: There were public meetings.

There is a political imperative behind industrial wind, which even the environmental groups cited by King support. Combined with the huge amounts of free (i.e., taxpayer-supplied) money involved, serious limitations on that development were inevitably kept to a minimum. The fact is, the purpose of the wind power law is indeed to make it easier to erect giant wind facilities, which requires cutting the people, and the environment, out.

"Myth" 4: Wind turbines will make you sick. King: Only annoying, if you're too close.

Again, this is more than most developers will admit, but it is still insulting, misleading, and false.

Insulting:  King is calling everyone who suffers very real effects of ill health, many of them forced to sleep elsewhere or to abandon their homes altogether -- he is calling each of them a liar, an hysteric, a believer in "mysterious emanations".

Misleading:  Annoyance is in fact an acoustical term meaning the noise is bad enough to trigger drastic action (such as suing or moving). These actions are common around wind energy facilities. Many of them result in the company buying the neighbor's property (and forbidding them to speak of their problems ever again). Acoustics is not a field of medicine, so it can only imply that annoyance could also be caused by or is a predictor of health effects. There are no journal-published studies by physicians of this issue.

False:  What is "too close"? The most rigorous case series to date, by Dr. Nina Pierpont, documents serious adverse health effects (as proven by the need to abandon the home, which action cured the symptoms) up to 4,900 feet (almost a mile). Others report health effects up to 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away. The "annoying" effects are not simply irritability and anxiety, but also include headaches, nausea, dizziness, memory and concentration problems, and throbbing sensation. Studies of wind turbine noise in Europe consistently find, even with models that are much smaller and distances which are much farther than in North America, that wind turbine noise is uniquely annoying -- at lower sound levels and at greater distances than expected.

"A Dangerous Dependence": Finally, King raises the specter of fossil fuel use and appeals to xenophobia. Self-sufficiency and cleaner fuel use are indeed worthy goals. What King neglects to show is any connection between industrializing Maine's mountains with giant wind turbines and achieving those goals. (Furthermore, Maine wind is eyed for the supposed benefit of Massachusetts and New Brunswick, not Maine.) Conservation would obviate the small amount of low-value (intermittent, highly variable, and nondispatchable) energy that wind could ever hope to provide.

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