April 30, 2010

Advocates Say Vermont Lags In Wind Power

On Vermont Public Radio this morning, Lawrence Mott, chairman of Renewable Energy Vermont, complains "that the state needs to develop guidelines on where wind projects can be built".

The problem, of course, is actually that Vermont already has such guidelines. Large-scale development above 2,000 feet is not allowed.

In a plea for "guidelines", Mott is really demanding that wind development be exempted from them.

This is such an obvious situation of predatory industry versus the environment that he should be laughed out of the room.

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

April 29, 2010

More comments on Cape Wind

The reader comments attached to the New York Times story (click title) about Washington "approving" the 24-square-mile Cape Wind facility reveal quite a bit about the supporters of wind.

Their smug gloating, name calling, fearful jingoism, and sheer misinformation are in contrast to the reasoned voices that raise clear points of issue in the arguments supporting wind.

When they aren't being attacked for being shills of Exxon (even though only 1% of the electricity in the U.S. comes from burning oil), opponents of erecting this massive complex in the middle of a treasured natural resource are accused of being radical environmentalists.

What has been so interesting to me through the 7 years that I have been involved in the debates about industrial wind is that it brings together people from the right and the left. For those that would see it, the clarity of the issue — an industry assault on heretofore protected rural and wild lands, fueled by an unholy cabal of desperate politicians, greedy landowners, corporatized pseudenvironmentalists, and financiers seeking tax avoidance — breaks through the current expectations of right and left. It is the people against a bought-off government, against developers fomenting community division for personal gain, against heedless destruction of our natural heritage and quality of life.

Meanwhile, the comments at the N.Y. Times show that the same process is mirrored in the proponents of wind. But whereas opposition has tended to bring out the best in our citizenry, support tends to bring out the worst. From both right and left, supporters cling to myths and irrelevancies in an attempt to shore up their shaky foundations and diminish those who question the big wind juggernaut. Click on the title of this post to read what they say. Not one of the comments supportive of the Cape Wind approval can be backed up by fact. And almost all of them betray an ignorance, a nastiness, hatred that is quite disturbing. The Cape Wind company has indeed done its job.

Comments on Cape Wind

First, the claim that Cape Wind's 130 giant turbines will produce 468 MW of electricity: That will be the facility’s maximum output. It will actually produce at an average rate far below that, likely one-third, or only 156 MW.

Considering that there is already over 35,000 MW of wind capacity installed in the U.S. (for an average rate of production of 10-12,000 MW), this project hardly represents a game-changing contribution.

And considering that the average electrical load in the U.S. is about 500,000 MW, it will take a hell of lot of such industrial installations to make any meaningful contribution.

And considering that the wind is a fickle resource, those installations will always be in addition to more reliable generators.

Conservation could easily obviate the paltry contribution from wind — and save so many otherwise off-limit areas (coastlines, ridgelines) from development.

Stephen Fry on philosophy, belief, religion

Recorded December 8, 2009. By courtesy of Big Think, where a transcript is provided.

April 27, 2010

Appalachian Voices supports blowing up N.C. mountains to ram in wind turbines

Appalachian Voices appears to be an admirable conservation group, but in their avid desire to eliminate air pollution, stop mountaintop removal coal mining, and restore Appalachian forests, they too readily embrace the false promises of large-scale wind power. In an April 23 entry on their blog, they defend themselves against the charge of supporting the destruction of the mountains to erect giant wind turbines:
To imply that wind farms cause the same environmental toll as mountaintop removal is illogical. Wind energy is a proven technology that works, and has a relatively light environmental impact. A study conducted by Appalachian State University showed that wind energy development on a small percentage of North Carolina ridges could produce enough clean energy for 195,000 homes, create 350 green jobs, and have a net economic impact of over one billion dollars.
The claim of illogic depends, of course, on the soundness of the asserted premise that "Wind energy is a proven technology that works".

That is precisely the issue: Wind energy is a mature technology, but it has yet to show meaningful benefit. This is underscored by the study they cite, which concludes that wind development could produce a certain amount of energy. What is needed, however, is a study showing that wind has produced a certain amount of energy, and — crucially — that the contribution reduced greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, coal mining, deforestation, or anything.

In fact, studies of existing wind on the grid show little, if any, beneficial effect. Therefore, although wind's roads and clearcutting may be seen as less than those of mountaintop removal for coal, those impacts are in addition to those of coal. Wind does not replace or even meaningfully reduce coal. There is very little, if any, benefit to justify wind's environmental impacts.

Appalachian Voices admits supporting the blowing up of mountains in western North Carolina to ram in wind turbines. Their defense fails, however, because it depends on a false premise.

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

April 2, 2010

Alison Clarkson and School Choice in Vermont

According to reporting by School Choice Vermont, as the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday was reviewing H.782, a bill aiming to consolidate school districts, Representative Alison Clarkson of Woodstock (also representing Reading) "said that we really should be considering consolidation as an opportunity to 'capture' choice kids and bring them back into the system to boost enrollment". (Her recorded comments can be heard in this video from EdWatch Vermont.)

Clarkson's statement is wrong in many ways.

First, the predatory tone. Choice towns have decided to provide that opportunity, not out of malice for the public school system (particularly as most students stay in the public schools -- see the second point), but in the interests of what is best for their citizens. Their students, granted this freedom by the taxpayers of their towns, are not "escapees" to be "captured".

Second, it is short-sighted and ill-informed. Once these few children are forced back into the public school system (where they have already decided they are not well served so that many of them will choose home schooling), enrollment will continue to decline. So, that problem is not at all solved by eliminating choice. Especially as most students from choice towns go to public schools already. In my town's current 8th-grade class, only 3 students out of about 30 are going to private schools: one is going to an expensive boarding school, for which the town will pay only a fraction of the cost, i.e., the student would have gone there anyway; so only 2 students would be "captured", i.e., not given the opportunity of an alternative high school that better serves their needs.

Third, the elitism. Vermont has a unique system in which the students in about 70 towns (13% of the state's students; data from the Vt. Dept. of Education for fiscal year 2010) are able to choose any non-religious high school they want, even in another state, and if it is private, their town will pay up to the state's average public per-pupil spending. As noted in the second point, most students choose the nearest public high school or one that provides bus service to their town. Some choose another public high school that is especially strong in specific areas of interest. A few use the money to help them pay for an expensive private school they would have gone to anyway.

But Vermont's system has allowed the creation of a number of independent high schools that provide much-needed alternatives to the bigger-is-better and too often one-size-fits-all philosophy of the public system. An alternative is thus available to any student in a choice town, not just the children of the rich.

Clarkson, whose sons apparently go to The Groton School in Massachusetts, would deny such educational choice to those who can't afford it. She is simply saying that opportunities beyond the public school system should be available only to the rich.

Finally, the hypocrisy. It was also reported that Clarkson said that we have very good public schools and the legislature should protect them (from people thinking otherwise!). Why don't her sons go to Woodstock Union High School?

There is only harm implied in her comments, not the interests of the educational needs of the children of Vermont.

P.S.  Armando Vilaseca, Vermont's Commissioner of Education, who has expanded a directive to find savings in the school system into an attack against school choice, said last year on Vermont Public Radio that he had never heard of anyone moving to a specific town because of school choice. He is clearly unqualified to be in his position, since school choice is prominently touted in real estate ads and many people do indeed choose their town of residence for that reason. Listen to the comments in this highlights video from the April 6 hearing in Bennington (from Rob Roper of EdWatch Vermont).

P.P.S.  Vilaseca has also expressed his resentment of independent schools that are not required to provide special education or similar services, which he thinks give them an unfair advantage at the expense of the public schools. Academically, however, public schools are not put at a disadvantage, because such services are provided by dedicated staff so that it is not a burden to teachers or an adverse distraction to students. And economically, "tuitioned" students are not taking resources from the public schools for those services, because their parents/guardians are still paying the same school taxes as everyone else. They are still contributing as much as everyone else to support the non-tuitioned responsibilities of the public schools.

tags: human rights, Vermont