May 31, 2005

Pro-wind violence

On the island of Skye off Scotland, a three-year effort to build an industrial wind plant in Edinbane was sent back to square one last week because of legal technicalities. Concerns about peat destruction and raptor deaths have also been newly raised. Members of the Skye Windfarm Action Group (SWAG) had already been subject to intimidating letters, telephone calls, and vandalism, and this weekend the pro-wind camp were true to form: painting a bed-and-breakfast sign with "SWAG scum," cutting down a dozen spruce trees and piling them in a driveway, smashing and pulling up road signs.

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The color of money

Disgen, the company behind the Brodie Mtn. project in Massachusetts, has an outline of the "Wind Development Process" (a 135-KB PDF). Under "Financing," the source of equity is characterized with "Rate of Return 16-18%."

Even if you were convinced that large-scale wind could make significant contributions to the grid and that there would be correspondingly significant environmental benefits so that the industry needs or at least deserves government support, this promised return clearly goes far beyond that -- into the realm of piracy.

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May 26, 2005

Gone with the wind

Letter in the Financial Times (London), May 24:
From Mr Hugh Sharman [Hals, Denmark].

Sir, in your editorial ("Glowing green", May 16) you wrote that "Denmark, which relies on intermittent wind power for nearly 20 per cent of its power, has stability problems on its grid".

Although it is true that the wind power we have creates "stability problems", it is not true that we inhabitants of west Denmark rely on wind power at all.

Whenever west Denmark produces a lot of wind power, it simultaneously exports almost equivalent quantities along its strong inter-connections with Norway, Sweden and Germany.

In other words, in spite of wind turbines producing a quantity of power equivalent to more than 20 per cent of its domestic consumption, very little of this power is actually consumed in west Denmark. I have calculated that in 2003, more than 80 per cent of wind output was exported, leaving west Denmark to consume about 4 per cent of its power from its enormous capacity of wind turbines.

There is an added irony here. The Danish consumer pays the highest tariffs for electricity in Europe. Much of these are hypothecated for the support of windmill owners. However, the wind wind power is sold on the spot market at rates that are much lower.

Thus there is a direct transfer of wealth from Danish consumers to consumers in Sweden, Norway and Germany, every time 1kWh of electricity is sold in this way. During 2003, this net transfer of wealth amounted to more than £100m -- or £40 per inhabitant.
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Familiarity breeds contempt

Along the lines of the previous post, the Press and Journal of Aberdeen, Scotland, tells of another neighbor who finds the turbines not just awful but distressing as well:
Noise from windfarm making life a misery

A recent settler in Caithness claimed yesterday his life is being blighted by ghostly noises from his new neighbours, the county's first large-scale windfarm. ...

[Frank] Bellamy said: "The problem is particularly bad at night when I try to get to sleep and there's a strong wind coming from the direction of the turbines.

"They just keep on droning on. It's a wooh wooh type of sound, a ghostly sort of noise. It's like torture and would drive anyone mad."

Mr Bellamy believes the noise is being transmitted through the ground since it seems to intensify when he lies down. ...
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"a train that never arrives"

From a story in the Manawatu (New Zealand) Standard, May 22:
The hearing for the Te Apiti wind farm in September 2003 received 20 submissions -- 11 in support, 8 against and 1 which didn't specify.

A year later the number of submissions to the Te Rere Hau hearing, in December 2004, had jumped to 71 -- 27 for, 38 against and 6 not indicating either.

Five months later, the hearing into the proposed Tararua 3 extensions received 340 submissions -- 106 in support, 230 against, and 4 not indicating either way.
And from the Dominion Post (Wellington), May 25:
Turbines were beginning to lose their appeal, especially in the Ashhurst area, where residents complained of noise from the Te Apiti turbines, a rumble that sounded "like a train that never arrived", as one submission to the recent resource consent hearing described it. ...

"A lot of people think that we've done our bit for sustainable energy around here. When the second stage of the Tararua wind farm went up it looked like a fence along the top of the ranges, and the Te Apiti development changed many people's minds. They didn't know the turbines were going to be so big or that there would be so many of them." ...

One turbine was a feature; a wind farm was an eyesore.
Yet the industry insists that people only love them more after they're built!

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May 25, 2005

Wendy Williams in support of the coal industry

To the editor, Providence (R.I.) Journal:

Most legislators are oblivious to the world beyond their offices until someone in their own family is affected. That indeed makes for pathetic representation, but if Lamar Alexander and John Warner got interested in the wind energy debate only because their children have property on Nantucket Sound, so be it (Wendy Williams, "TR IV tilts for windmills," May 25).

And yes, Alexander's energy votes are usually determined by the energy lobby. In the case of developing Appalachian ridge lines for wind power, however, the energy lobby is all for it. For example, the firm of Gracewell and Giuliani, which fights emission limits among other burdens to their clients, is working on behalf of a giant wind facility proposed for Highland County, Virginia. There are two obvious reasons: Wind is turning out to be an attractive tax shelter, and while people think that wind turbines are cleaning the air the coal plants can go on polluting as much as ever.

Williams makes much of Knoxville and Memphis being the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's top two "asthma capitals." Besides looking at the rate and severity of asthma, the ranking also considers pollen levels, public smoking laws, inhaler laws in schools, and the rates of poverty and lack of health insurance. General air quality is but one factor. As the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report shows, Memphis and Knoxville do have pollution problems -- like most big cities -- but they are nowhere near the worst.

Williams also mocks Alexander's proposed funding of "clean coal" as a corporate give-away. She defends the corporate give-aways for wind power as relatively small, ignoring how much the 1.9-cents per kilowatt adds up over the planned 20-year life of a wind turbine as well as other benefits, such as accelerated depreciation and RPS schemes to force the purchase of wind-generated power and create a secondary market in green "credits."

Meanwhile, the main source of our electricity, coal, will continue to burn just as before (and Williams ignores the fact that most of our emissions come from other uses of energy, such as transport). Despite Williams' mockery, cleaning it up can make a real difference.

Scrubbers installed (against the owner's will) at the 1600-MW coal-fired power plant in Mt. Storm, West Virginia, remove the sulfur and nitrogen oxides and most of the mercury from its smokestacks. Once one of the dirtiest plants in the nation, Mt. Storm is now one of the cleanest.

An article in the New York Times business section May 22 described the single integrated coal gasification combined cycle plant in the U.S., owned by Tampa Electric in Florida. In gasifying the coal before burning it, 95% of the sulfur and mercury, and most of the nitrogen, is removed -- at a tenth of the cost of smokestack scrubbing -- and carbon can be captured as well. In addition, the plant generates 15% more energy from the coal and uses 40% less water than traditional plants.

Mining the coal to fire such plants of course remains a serious issue. Unfortunately, building giant wind turbines -- whose output is unpredictably variable -- is not going to reduce, much less end, the use of coal. If Williams is concerned about air quality, if Teddy Roosevelt IV is worried about the arctic ice cap melting, they should put their efforts into cleaning up the energy sources we use now and will be using well into the future.

Resigning oneself to, even to the point of advocating, "feel-good" wind turbines that won't actually change anything -- yet create many problems of their own -- is an environmental cop-out.

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Polly Toynbee on the despair behind embracing the wind

To the editor, the Guardian:

It's amusing to note that Toynbee calls it heroic to stand against the apparent popularity of nuclear power, but excoriates opponents of industrial wind power (not the 17th-century models!) by citing their apparent popularity.

She ably sees through the nuclear industry's propaganda, but sadly not that of the wind industry.

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