September 17, 2004

Two great powers

"Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit."

-- Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife, Book II of His Dark Materials

September 15, 2004

Freedom Tower to throw ice all over New York

The link in the title is to a story at Wired about the proposed "Freedom Tower" for the World Trade Center site. It is to be very tall and will provide as much office space as the twin towers did. It will also have a bunch of wind turbines in the latticework between the top floor and the antenna base. These it is hoped will provide 20% of the building's electricity.

The figure, of course is in kilowatt-hours: 2.6 million! That is in fact the theoretical output of only a 1-megawatt wind turbine. And this building will sport a whole series of turbines, so they're obviously going to be rather small. The picture in the article shows bigger ones in the center, flanked by smaller ones on the outside. (Their proximity to each other will probably cause interference, so the actual output would likely be very much less than the projected claim; and they would have to be shut down when ice is a possibility, or else risk throwing it all over lower Manhattan, which doesn't need more of that, thank you very much.)

So what, you say? Small rooftop turbines sound like an ideal choice in the city. They aren't expensive, they generate power right where it's used, and they can reduce some of the building's need from the grid. True enough, and this project is being hyped as a showcase of such urban use of renewable electricity generation (the building will also have solar panels).

But those tiny propellors 1200 feet up at the top of a massive building surrounded by other massive buildings amidst the dense urban roar will be used to promote jumbo-jet-sized turbines thump-thumping around on giant poles in rural areas, including unspoiled prairies and mountains.

September 9, 2004

Your vote's safe with me -- I'm not running!

I just got a strange note from the Progressive party. They urge me to participate in their primary (which is open in Vermont) to write in their slate of candidates. Why, you might ask, do they need to write in the candidates for their own primary?

This brave party decided to run in just one statewide race, for Lieutenant Governor, so there are not only no contested nominations but there aren't even any candidates. So the Liberty Union party (which is affiliated with the Socialist Party USA) petitioned the state to list their candidates in the otherwise empty Progressive spots on the ballot. Fair enough, one would think -- Liberty Union is progressive.

But the Progressive party doesn't want to oppose Bernie Sanders (Independent, formerly Progressive) for the U.S. House or Peter Clavelle (Democrat, formerly Progressive) for Governor. So they want people to get the Progressive primary ballot and write in a slate of statewide candidates who will then withdraw from their respective races as soon as (if) their name appears on the final ballot.

Isn't that clever?

Here's the Liberty Union slate that I urge everyone in Vermont to vote for in the Progressive party primary ballot.
Governor -- Peter Diamondstone
U.S. Senate -- Ben Mitchell (write in)
U.S. House -- Jane Newton
Secretary Of State -- Boots Wardinski
Auditor of Accounts -- Jerry Levy
Note that the fledgling Vermont Green party also will be running a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

September 7, 2004

Thousands of windmills

Emboldened no doubt by VPIRG's plan for 10-12 sites instead of "just" 5-6, more of the Fair Wind advocates are speaking up. This is from a note by Donald Lasell.
"Vermont has a very significant natural resource for generating commercial scale wind energy. I'm an advocate for admitting to the entire state that I like to imagine seeing extensive wind turbine development across the state before I die. Actually, I believe we will eventually extensively develop many of the ridge-lines of the Green Mountain National Forest. I'm not talking hundreds, I believe (longterm) we will be installing thousands."

September 6, 2004

High time to strike back

Windpower Monthly, in its September editorial, is alarmed at the public reaction in the "has-been island" of Britain against the government's aggressive pursuit of wind power.
"Anti-wind power sentiment boils down to four main concerns: [1] that wind turbines spoil attractive landscapes and wildlife habitat, [2] that when the wind stops blowing so does electricity supply, [3] that only vast arrays of turbines can provide enough power to make a difference, [4] that wind power is expensive.

"The concerns are easy to counter.

[1] "Environmental opposition crumbles in face of the alternatives: global warming, storing nuclear waste, unproven renewables, or living with power shortages. That is why mainstream environmental groups like Greenpeace back wind."
Note that the charge is not denied but is argued to be worth it. Unfortunately, there is no sign anywhere of wind power bringing about a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power, or blackouts. It is a false choice. With or without wind power, the same energy problems remain, so it is not at all necessary to despoil the few wild places left for humans and other animals.

It must be remembered that nuclear plants provide nonfluctuating base load, which wind power -- even by the claims of the sales brochures -- would never impact. And most greenhouse gas emissions are from burning fuel for needs other than electricity, which again wind power would have no effect on.
[2] "The technical concerns have no foundation. More than 40,000 MW of wind power stations daily demonstrate that wind makes a significant contribution to electricity supplies and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The lights stay on without dedicated back-up power -- even in regions where for periods wind meets total demand ..."
40,000 MW of installed wind capacity translates to an output of about 87,600 GWh/yr (assuming a capacity factor of 25%). World energy use in 1990, according to the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change, was 106,645,000,000 GWh. Wind's "significant" contribution represents eight 100,000ths of that.
[3] "[I]f a small land like Denmark can get 20% of its electricity from wind turbines without being overrun by them, so can other countries."
Denmark is overrun, so much so that even the government has noticed and has stopped development of any more on-shore facilities. And Denmark does not get 20% of its electricity from the wind turbines. The turbines may produce that amount, but more often than not demand does not rise with the wind, so the extra electricity is exported to Norway and Sweden, where they can use it to pump hydro, and to Germany, which is large enough to absorb it. The western Denmark transmission company, Eltra, exports 87% of the wind energy in their grid, according to their 2003 annual report.

Eltra also says that for every 1000 MW of wind capacity added to the grid, 300-500 MW of back-up power has to be made available. That is, at a 25% capacity factor for wind, 1.2-2.0 times as much "conventional" power dedicated to making the "free and clean" wind power work. Such back-up power can not be the newer cleaner more efficient plants, because they are not able to respond quickly enough to the rapid fluctuations of wind-generated power. So wind power not only requires at least an equal amount of back-up, it also ensures the continuation of less efficient plants to provide that back-up.
[4] . . .
The editorial skips the last charge about expense. Later, it admits the charge by urging developers to work on changing the subsidy and "renewables obligation" structures to try bringing down the cost.

September 2, 2004

Help the environment. Eat less meat.

In the September Ranger Rick magazine (from the National Wildlife Federation), a reader asks, "Is there anything I can do to help the environment?" The answer:
  • Eat less meat. (Raising animals for food uses lots of energy and water and can cause awful pollution.)
  • Eat more organic food. (Organic farmers don't use chemicals that harm the environment or people's health.)
  • Drive small cars, live in an energy-saving house, and buy energy-saving appliances.
  • Buy only things that you really need. (Almost everything factories make or people use harms nature in some way.)

September 1, 2004

VPIRG Issues Own Proposal for State Energy Plan

Vermont Public Interest Research Group proposes meeting 15% of Vermont's electricity needs with industrial wind plants. Of course, wind-generated power doesn't meet needs at all, unless those needs happen to coincide with a good sustained wind. Anyway, they estimate 272 1.5-MW wind towers, in 10-12 facilities, would produce that 15%. They fudge the impact, however, by saying wind could provide 15%-20%; the latter figure would push the number of towers to 362 (or 370, by my calculations).

Even the industry shills at Fair Wind Vermont are appalled. They've been trying to play down the impact of 5-6 "well sited" facilities, and here comes VPIRG giving away the game. [Well, not all of them: David Blittersdorf of anemometer maker NRG systems says we should go for 50%!]

The American Wind Energy Association estimates the wind resource in Vermont to be able to supply an average output of 537 MW, or 5000 GW-h/yr. The developer of East Haven Windfarm, Mathew Rubin, has said that only one eighth of that resource is not restricted from development. That would reduce the possible wind-generated output to an average of 67 MW, or 625 GW-h/yr, which is about 11% of Vermont's electricity consumption and would require 194 1.5-MW towers (assuming the 23% capacity factor of the existing Searsburg facility).

That is already an appalling possibility to most residents around those "available" sites. VPIRG, however, proposes defying their own environmentalist and public-interest values to not only ignore the wishes of the people affected by wind-turbine installations but also throw out existing protections of federal, state, and private land to build even more (along with the necessary roads, power lines, and PCB-containing transformers). And they call this a "green" solution!