June 4, 2005


The belief that industrial wind turbines will clean up the planet and free us from mideast oil and central asian gas is just like George W. Bush's pitch that he invaded, destroyed, and occupies Iraq to spread democracy. Only a sucker would buy such obvious bunkum.

June 3, 2005

Wind turbines as productive as Hoover Dam!

Patty Richards, resource planning director of the Burlington Electric Dept. (BED), wrote in the Fair Wind Vt. discussion list, in response to a May 31 op-ed piece against the easy but misguided acceptance of industrial wind power as "green" in the Burlington Free Press by Hugh Kemper:
If we used that kind of thinking the Hoover dam would never have been built. It too only has a 27% CF.
She cc'd two BED colleagues, communications coordinator Mary Sullivan and customer and energy services director Tom Buckley. It is a surprising comment from someone who should know something about electricity generation and the grid, because the capacity factor of hydropower dams is primarily due to human control -- they are deliberately not used all the time, because they are ideal for quickly switching on when demand rises. This is the opposite situation from wind facilities, whose capacity factor is completely due to variable winds. Even their low average output is not often useful, as the occasional surges of production are unlikely to coincide with an actual need on the grid. If thus speak the "experts" (even to each other, i.e., with no need to fudge the facts) it's no wonder we so often go down the wrong track.

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Wind power will not be useless (when?)

On May 7, James Adams responded to in the April 28 Albany (N.Y.) Times Union:
Regarding the usefulness of wind energy, how can one possibly say that wind turbines are a practically useless technology? When complete, the first phase of the Maple Ridge wind farm, currently being installed in Lewis County, will provide clean power to more than 59,000 New York homes and economic benefits for the Tug Hill Plateau communities. That hardly seems useless to me.
He also points out that wind "farms" are better to look at than nuclear waste, smokestacks, and acid rain -- who can argue against that?

The argument, of course, is whether giant wind power facilities (averaging about 1 megawatt of (unpredicable, variable) output per 200 acres of turbines) can actually replace even a portion of our coal or nuclear plants.

James Adams says that the Maple Ridge plant "will provide clean power to more than 59,000 New York homes," a benefit that easily mitigates any adverse "aesthetic" impact (especially for those who don't have to live near them). As with every instance of this argument, only the future tense is used. Even in Germany (6% wind) and Denmark (20%) they talk about success in the future. Why is no benefit provided by today's installations?

Further, that figure of providing 59,000 homes, as usual, is grossly exaggerated as well as misleading. First of all, the figure is meaningless without specifying the average electricity use of a "New York home" or the expected capacity factor of the wind plant. The latter is invariably inflated (i.e., every new wind power facility thinks it will produce a higher percentage of its rated capacity than almost every existing facility does).

It also inflates the impact on pollution by focusing on only one part (about a ninth) of our energy use: residential electricity. Finally, electricity use varies considerably hour to hour, day to day, season to season, as does wind power production. Unfortunately, the two have nothing to do with each other. Two thirds of the time, wind plants produce well below their long-term average output, making up for it with surges of production when the wind blows just right. Whether those surges correspond to an actual need on the grid is purely a matter of chance, so much of the wind plant's power is essentially dumped -- if not outright sent into the ground, then shunted around the grid until it disperses as heat.

Adams asks, "Would people rather have a nuclear facility or a coal-fired plant in their back yards?" It's like asking someone you're about to punch, "Would you rather I knife you?" Given those narrow options, the choice is easy, but given the fact that industrial wind turbines are a useless boondoggle people might say no to both. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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June 2, 2005

Wind won't replace oil

A letter in today's Ipswich Chronicle:

Liz Krafchuk's piece about "Living Green" (Ipswich Chronicle, May 26) stated that a wind turbine in Ipswich would "offer some relief from the darkness of oil wars." Someone is surely mistaken here.

Oil is primarily used for transport. Only 2.3 percent nationally is used to make electricity. We export three times that amount. Reducing consumption of all kinds of energy is a worthy aim, but wind turbines -- no matter how big or how many -- have nothing to do with our use of oil. They don't have much effect on our use of current electricity sources, either.

Krafchuk reports an average wind speed of 11.5 mph. That translates to an average output from the 1.5-MW turbine of only about 150 KW, 10 percent of its capacity. Two-thirds of the time, the output would be less than that. Hull's "success" is not in the small amount of unpredictably variable electricity generated by wind, but in the profitable sale of "green credits."

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Another survey badly spun by the wind industry

Meridian Energy (New Zealand) spokesman Alan Seay in the Dominion Post yesterday that support of a wind plant in Wellington is "widespread":
  • 84 per cent of those surveyed are positive about a wind farm in the capital as long as they can neither see nor hear any turbines.

  • There is 75 per cent support if turbines are visible, but cannot be heard.

  • 68 per cent of people support a wind farm if the closest turbine is no less than 1km away and any noise is neither loud nor intrusive.
These results of the Meridian-sponsored survey only show that people don't know how intrusive the turbines will be, and that as limitations on them are removed the support correspondingly declines.

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Wind turbines and noise

Irish market researcher Research and Markets has announced a new journal, Low Frequency Noise, Vibration and Active Control:
"The considerable and growing interest in the phenomena of low frequency noise and vibration and their powerful effects on man, animals and the environment, spreads across several disciplines; studies of these topics are to be found at present in the periodical literature of acoustics, geophysics, architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, psychology and zoology. This quarterly journal brings together material which otherwise would be scattered: the journal is the cornerstone of the creation of a unified corpus of knowledge on the subject."
This is not to say that industrial wind turbines (with 40-ton 80-meter-diameter rotors resisting an acre of wind to turn a gearbox and generator in a 55-ton nacelle on top of a 70-meter tower) are a possible source of such noise and vibration (after all, the only evidence is the testimony of people who live near them). But it does underscore the seriousness of the concern. There is a conference in October about wind turbines and noise at which some papers will address the issue.

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June 1, 2005

Ecology review

As compiled in Sam Smith's Progressive Review yesterday, a few interesting developments on the pollution and energy front . . .


SEVERIN CARRELL, INPEPENDENT - Motorists who drive fuel-hungry BMWs, people carriers and Range Rovers face a five-fold increase in road tax under radical plans to combat Britain's spiraling greenhouse gas emissions. The proposals are being studied by transport and environment ministers after it emerged that car buyers are ignoring warnings about the dangers of climate change by increasingly choosing luxury cars, larger MPVs and 4x4s with large, powerful engines.

The Government's influential energy conservation agency, the Energy Saving Trust, has told ministers the only way to force motorists to buy "green" cars is to introduce a new top rate of road tax as high as £900 a year. The new tax - more than five times the current rate of £165 a year for petrol engines - would have a major impact, by catching many popular larger family cars such as the Vauxhall Sharan or Ford Galaxy people carriers.

But at the same time, the agency has said, ministers should also make the most energy-efficient cars tax free or even give motorists a £150 annual tax rebate as a reward for buying them.


AP - Thailand's prime minister has asked the kingdom's entire population to turn off their lights for five minutes on Wednesday as part of an energy-saving campaign. ... Besides turning off unneeded lights, the government is also urging Thais to turn off air conditioners every day during their one-hour lunch break, and to drive at speeds of no more than 55 miles an hour. Energy Minister Wiset Jupibal has said that Thailand could save $29 million a year if every house switched off a light for one hour each day.


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - Twenty-one public transit agencies around the Bay Area will give morning commuters free rides on as many as five smog-choked weekdays this summer. ... The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is coordinating the free-ride program and paying the bulk of the approximately $4 million cost. The money will cover five Spare the Air days.

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