April 14, 2005

"The beauty of wind farms"

To the editor, New Scientist:

David Suzuki ("The beauty of wind farms," Opinion, 16 April) reminds us of the importance of solving the problem of global warming. But the issue at hand was the charge that industrial wind farms make little significant difference to carbon emissions, which he doesn't even try to refute. Further, his illustration that beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- that factory smokestacks once filled people with pride -- underscores the lack of objective evidence in favor of "windmills."

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April 11, 2005

Wind hearings end

Excerpt from today's Burlington (Vt.) Free Press editorial, concerning the proposed East Haven Windfarm:
When Champion Paper Co. sold its 132,000-acre holdings in the Northeast Kingdom, the land was split into three parcels: 22,000 acres on West Mountain went to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; 84,000 acres with conservation easements went to the Essex Timber Co.; and 26,000 acres went to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Vermont Legislature appropriated $4.5 million for the project in 1999 with a matching grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The federal government invested another $6.5 million in the lands.

"This area is truly exceptional," Decker wrote in his pre-filed testimony. "There are few places like it, if any, in Vermont or the Northeast. ... And it did not happen by chance. The so-called Champion Lands deal was a culmination of years of hard work, negotiation, collaboration and expense. ... The mountain peaks are the fundamental cornerstone to the remote nature and rugged character."

East Haven Windfarm's proposed "demonstration project," on an island of private property in the middle of the Champion Lands, would generate about 0.3 percent [more likely 0.2%] of the state's annual electricity needs. This small amount of power does not justify putting 30-story-tall, strobe-lighted turbines right in the middle of land that the state explicitly protected as wilderness. Industrial wind turbines do not fit into the vision for these conserved lands nor could they possibly be considered "very little" development.
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April 7, 2005

Which side are you on?

M. David Stirling, in the Washington Times today, criticizes opponents of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In contrast, he praises Dear Leader's "common-sense approach and balancing of environmental concerns with real human needs." He dismisses environmental concerns, describing how environmentally friendly oil drilling has become, and reminds us that we need the energy and it will create jobs and local revenue.

Critics of course also point out that it will do little to affect our energy picture. The U.S. currently consumes about 20 million barrels of oil every day, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey any ANWR production would peak at about 1 million barrels/day in 2025, or 5% of today's consumption. It will obviously not replace any current or future sources, and more importantly it is not enough to risk cutting back contracts for imports. We will still be buying as much foreign oil as before. (In fact, about 7% of the oil used by the U.S. is currently exported.) It is definitely not worth violating a nominally protected wilderness area.

These arguments and reaction are not surprising, however. I write because Stirling sounds just like those who support industrial wind power: "We need to construct this expensive tiny source of power on previously undeveloped sites, even in protected wilderness areas, because -- well, anyway it creates jobs and local revenue." Stirling should be comforted that even environmentalists are pro-industrial capitalists now.

Related to this mix-up is recent news about Richard Pombo, U.S. Representative from California and promoter of industrial wind power. The Los Angeles Times found out that his parents own a good part of the land on which the Altamont wind power fiasco is situated. Pombo has earlier proposed (as noted here) that federal environmental review not be required for "alternative" energy projects. The L.A. Times now reports that he also requested the Department of the Interior directly to suspend Fish & Wildlife guidelines for the Altamont sites. His parents received $125,000 in 2001 for the use of their land by wind energy companies.

Altamont is an embarrassing showcase for the industry because large numbers of raptors have been killed there. A lawsuit is going forward on behalf of the birds. A current compromise (noted here) proposal is to shut the wind turbines down for the portion of the year when a majority of the deaths occur. That might cut Pombo's parents' wind income by a third. Pombo denies any interest in his parent's affairs and even denies knowledge of his signed letter to Interior secretary Gale Norton.

The anti-environment Pombo echos another argument from advocates for industrial wind: "We don't need environmental regulations -- by definition we're environmentally friendly."

It's all business. The industrial wind crowd is no better than the arctic drilling crowd.

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"Malone planners hear worries about wind-power rules"

The planning board of Malone, N.Y., is working to devise local laws for industrial wind turbines, which JP Morgan Chase–owned Noble Assets wants to construct 67 of.
But things got a little nasty at the end of the 90-minute session when Noble's attorney Mark Lyons and Managing Director Chuck Hinckley questioned some of the findings Pierpont has published that claim low-frequency noise from wind turbines is a health hazard.

Lyons said he and Hinckley contacted Dr. Geoff Leventhall, the man who wrote the study Pierpont gleaned information from, "and he said the study he did had nothing to do with wind farms.

"He said, 'I can state categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines. To say that there is an infrasound problem is one of the hares which objectors to wind farms like to run.'

It is doubtful that Lyons and Hinckley contacted Leventhall. Their quote is pulled right out of an unsigned British Wind Energy Association paper, where it is attributed to "personal communication," though when and to whom is not specified. Noble had even already used the quote in a newspaper ad (Malone Telegram, February 19, 2005).

Nor is the statement backed up by actual data. Leventhall's personal opinion, or peevishness that laymen are getting involved in the issue, does not refute his research for the U.K. Department of Environmental, Farming and Rural Affairs concluding that current noise regulations do not adequately protect the public from low-frequency noise, which he shows to be a serious annoyance and stress problem.

Though Leventhall has already dismissed the issue of infrasound and low-frequency noise regarding industrial wind turbines, he has nonetheless organized a conference on wind turbine noise in general at the Hotel Stuttgarter Hof, Berlin, 17-18 October 2005. Many papers have already been offered, a few specifically about infrasound and low-frequency noise. Clearly the noise issue is still very much alive.

(The news article linked to in the title of this post contains an obvious error, unquestioningly repeating Noble's description of their plan as 67 1.5-MW turbines on about 30 acres of land. Existing and other planned facilities use 30-60 acres per megawatt, so at a minimum Noble's would take up 3,000 acres.)

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April 5, 2005

"Wind blamed for damage to prototype wind turbine"

Not a parody. That's a real headline from New Zealand. It wasn't the fault of the turbine design -- it was the wind! (See "Prototype blades blown away" for the story of the March 10 mishap, where the whole blade and gearbox assembly was torn off.

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April 3, 2005

The stray voltage issue

I just learned from a campaigner in New York who has talked to Scott Srnka, the dairy farmer in Lincoln, Wisconsin, whose cows have suffered very serious problems since a nearby industrial wind power facility was installed, that Srnka at one point disconnected the grounds of the turbines and his herd immediately started recovering. As soon as the wind company found out and repaired them, the herd's problems resumed. The company chose not to take Srnka to court for his vandalism, obviously fearing the airing of evidence.

See earlier post, "Stray voltage -- or dumped electricity?"

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Industrial wind, corporate vandalism

In the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press today:

Many well intentioned people champion industrial wind power, but it baffles me when those who label themselves "environmentalist" or "green," or who otherwise consider themselves to be politically progressive, seem so eager to do business with the same huge profit-driven corporations that have already done so much to destroy the planet. GE, one of the biggest manufacturers of military weapons and nuclear power plants, is also the US manufacturer of industrial-size wind turbines. GE got into the business by buying the wind division of the Enron corporation. War profiteer Halliburton is involved in the construction of off-shore wind facilities. Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase own wind energy companies, as reported by the New York Times on March 22. Citizens for Tax Justice, a labor and consumer rights group, has noted that FPL Group, the parent company of the biggest wind energy company in America, paid no federal income tax in 2002 and 2003 on more than 2 billion dollars of profit, thanks in large part to the tax evasion schemes of industrial wind.

Blasting Vermont's lovely ridgelines to ram monstrous turbine assemblies into the earth, along with clearcut wide strong roads through wild areas and ever more power lines strung about, is a violent assault, despoiling all life around it. There seems remarkably little concern from the pro-industrial wind crowd regarding the further loss of habitat for other species and the inevitable deaths of many birds and bats. It seems that the big-wind supporters have bought into the rapacious corporate mindset of "think big." The US government is granting subsidies for industrial wind not because it gives a damn about green energy but because it benefits corporate America, as always. It is the same mentality, ironically, that applauds drilling for oil in the pristine Alaskan wilderness.

What ever happened to "small is beautiful"? Vermont is a small state. Why not instead promote small windmills, such as at the Danville School? We could advocate for and more generously subsidize even smaller windmills for home use along with solar panels, microhydro, and insulation to save heating fuel, as the purchase and installation of most of these things are beyond the means of many Vermonters. What about the use of biodiesel from non-genetically modified crops? Why aren't unnecessary recreational gas-guzzlers and polluters heavily taxed instead of relentlessly encouraged? Why are SUVs not required to be more environmentally friendly? Conservation would save much more energy than giant wind facilities could ever generate. Alas, none of this will happen easily, if at all, because it won't benefit big business.

We have made a dire mess of this planet, and trashing and industrializing Vermont's mountains is simply adding to it. And the saddest part is that industrial wind facilities won't close down one fossil or nuclear fueled power plant after all that "necessary" destruction of Vermont's most valuable resource. The gargantuan turbines will be only an empty symbol for those people who need to easily assuage their consumerist guilt, most of whom will probably not be living anywhere near the noisy brightly lit monsters.

I sometimes wonder if the "progressive" supporters of big wind realize exactly what they are opening the door to and who will be profiting from the further industrialization of Vermont. Though there are no easy answers or quick fixes, we need to step back from the abyss of this high-testosterone approach and try to create more peaceful, imaginative, harmonious, and decentralized ways of employing renewable energy in Vermont.

-- Joanna Lake

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