April 13, 2006

Taking the wind from developers' sails

The County Board of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, after a year-long moratorium while viable guidelines for wind power development were hashed out, passed an ordinance last night regulating large wind turbines by a vote of 23-2.

Notable aspects limit the noise to 5 dB(A) above the ambient level, prohibit shadows to touch any part of neighboring property, and require the turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from neighboring property lines.

According to WINDCOWS, whose members worked long and hard for this ordinance, one of the big backers of the developers on the county board, who was chair of Planning and Parks, was voted out of office last week, replaced by a WINDCOWS member. Three other members were elected to town boards last year. Besides the group's clear mastery of the facts, these elections showed the public support for strong protection against industrial wind development.

The noise limit is significant. In Oregon, where the limit for rural areas was 10 dB(A) above the ambient level, the wind developers complained that they could not possibly meet that standard. Instead of sending them packing and preserving this modest protection from noise pollution, however, the state revised the law to satisfy the industry.

Congratulations, WINDCOWS and Manitowoc County!

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines

April 12, 2006

NWW encourages funding to research impacts of commercial wind energy

[press release]

Submits Comments to House Appropriations Committee

Rowe, MA (April 11, 2006). National Wind Watch submitted comments to the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development calling for funding to be redirected away from wind energy research and development (R&D) and instead focused on the detrimental impacts of commercial wind energy installations and possible mitigation techniques. The subcommittee determines annual spending levels for programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).

National Wind Watch stressed in its comments that "Continued installation of wind turbines throughout our rural and mountainous landscapes without scientific, impartial review of the impacts of this industrialization, would have devastating effects on some of the most precious ecosystems in the world." Further, it stated that after decades of government subsidized research and implementation, it was time for the wind industry to start paying for much of its way, consistent with the maturation of the technology. "Any money now should go to research, once and for all, the impacts of these massive turbines on our wildlife, open spaces, property values, health and safety of residents living in the vicinity of turbines, and the quality of rural life." National Wind Watch recommended that, given the inherent and perceived conflict of interest, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory not hold responsibility for such research but only be permitted to participate. The document submitted to the subcommittee can be viewed at www.wind-watch.org/press-060411-doc.html. Similar comments will be submitted in the Senate.

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

April 9, 2006

The woolly world of green tags

On Alternet's April 5 Wiretap, Holly Beck posted an interview with Guster guitarist Adam Gardner about the band's impressive effort to minimize the carbon emissions and other impacts of their next tour, notably by running their bus on vegetable oil. But then there's this:

We're also offsetting each concert's power consumption. We've partnered with NativeEnergy, which is a Native American–owned wind power company, and they are assessing how many kilowatt-hours each concert is consuming. We'll then replenish the grid with that amount of clean power. So it's not like we're directly powering my electric guitar with a wind turbine it's an offset that happens afterwards."
How exactly is the electricity "offset"?

Say they use 1,000 kWh, which they (or the concert venues) buy from the local utilities. Then they buy 1,000 kWh of wind energy "green tags" (also called "renewable energy certificates") from Native Energy. But since they're not the ones using it, the actual 1,000 kWh of wind energy still goes to the grid. Native Energy sells it twice.

If Guster didn't buy the green tags, nothing would be different: the same 1,000 kWh of wind-generated electricity would have entered the grid, and Guster would have used the same 1,000 kWh of nonrenewable electricity. Where is the "offset"?

According to Native Energy, of Charlotte, Vermont (which was founded in August 2000 and has been majority-owned by the midwestern Intertribal Council on Utility Policy only since August 2005),
To get the extra revenues they need, some wind farms sell "Green Tags," which are a widely traded commodity that consists of the rights to claim the emissions reductions and other environmental benefits of green electricity. Green Tags became a commodity because people who want to buy green electricity often don't have it available to them. The industry [Enron, actually] developed Green Tags so everybody can achieve the same environmental benefits by buying Green Tags to offset the pollution caused by their consumption of electricity generated by fossil fuels. Environmentally, buying Green Tags (and ordinary electricity from your utility) is the same as buying green electricity. [emphasis added]

Compare Green Tags to green electricity ...
That comparison explains the imaginary separation of the energy from its attributes and gives lie to the claim emphasized above. If one dares to think clearly, they are obviously not separate entities. If the energy from wind turbine generators goes into the grid and reduces energy from other sources, then that alone is its environmental attribute. If the attribute -- the "green tag" -- is then sold separately, it is clearly meaningless.

Here's another way to look at it. If the energy from wind turbines is not purchased, then it is not contributing to the grid and therefore not affecting other sources. The turbines would have to shut down and there would be no ability to claim an environmental benefit. If, however, the energy is sold, then it is part of the mix on the grid and the producer can claim the benefit. If, however, the green tags aren't sold, there is no change in the effect on the grid, which depends only on whether the actual energy is sold. Similarly, if the green tags are indeed sold there is no extra benefit created on the grid.

Or put yet another way: You can sell the energy without the green tags, but not the other way around. The energy is the attribute. To sell the attribute in addition to the energy is a confidence game.

Native Energy goes even further -- selling 25 years of green tags from wind turbines that haven't even been built yet (and that if they are built will not necessarily generate as much electricity as the green tags already sold, let alone actually reduce carbon emitted from other sources):
Most Green Tag providers sell them as they are generated by existing generators, and will only commit to buy few year’s of Green Tags from the wind farm. We took a new approach, using Green Tags to help build new wind farms. We seek out wind farms under development that need to be sure of long-term Green Tag revenues to complete development. On behalf of our WindBuilders participants, we use our patent-pending business process to buy -- in advance -- all the Green Tags to be generated by the wind farms over their expected operating life -- usually 25 years. This provides critically important up-front financial support and so helps get these wind farms up and running. ... Each of our WindBuilders participants buys a share of the wind farm’s Green Tags on this same long-term basis. That way your purchase helps finance new wind farms, and so helps create new environmental benefits.
They're selling shares in future wind power facilities but without the worry of ever having to return the investment. The final step in the "patent-pending" charade is in the clear explanation that the "buyer" doesn't even get anything:
Clean Air–Cool Planet has agreed with NativeEnergy to accept all the Green Tags purchased by WindBuilders members. Also, Clean Air–Cool Planet promises to you that they will "retire" your green tags, which means that they will never be sold to someone who would otherwise buy more green tags or who would use them instead of reducing their own emissions.
The wind turbine owners are clearly able to get away with selling the "attributes" twice, but any more would clearly be a bit much. The good people at Native Energy very honestly take your money and then have a third party certify that what you bought is now nonexistent.

Which it was all along.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont, environment, environmentalism, sustainability, green energy, green living, green business, carbon offset, ecoanarchism

April 7, 2006

Massachusetts criminalizes the uninsured

Dear Senator Welch,*

I was astonished to hear of your interest in the new Massachusetts health insurance legislation, which essentially simply makes it illegal to be uninsured. It does not address the problems of our employment-based profit-driven system which wastes billions to deny care instead of providing it.

Every other country in the world considers health care a basic service like police and fire protection. Here, by a quirk of post-World War II history, it is not a right but beholden to employer beneficence. Massachusetts has enshrined the cruel greed and inefficiencies of our present system. It is not a "bipartisan compromise" but a craven sell-off.

Americans have had enough. They overwhelmingly want single-payer health care. We want to go to a doctor when we're sick, not to an accountant or tax office. We want to answer questions about our symptoms, not about whether we rent or own or what kind of car we drive.

The Vermont legislature, under your leadership, passed a much more worthy universal coverage bill last year. Unfortunately, under the threat of the governor's veto, it has been taken apart and watered down. Instead of making the governor's rejection the issue, you have made tiny -- almost irrelevant -- steps and compromise the goal. The result is that all Democrats have to offer is the same package of nonsolutions that Republicans support. This may be necessary to compete for donations from the moneyed interests, but it is not the way to win votes from the people. It only reinforces the feeling that there is in fact only one party that has little interest in most of the people it ostensibly serves.

Perhaps the report of your positive statements about the Massachusetts plan was inaccurate. I hope so.

*Peter Welch is the majority leader of the Vermont Senate. He is running for the U.S. House to replace Bernie Sanders who is running for the U.S. Senate to replace Jim Jeffords (who is retiring).

Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

April 4, 2006

Enron's heirs

Another blogger advertises the conjunction of green (ecomoney! we put the "eco" in the "economy"! or is it the "con"? o my!). In his new blog, Paul Conley writes about green tags by which consumers may imagine that they "offset" their own filth. Like medieval indulgences, they allow the marketers to get rich but change nothing, only adding their own cynical scheme to the general morass. (Let us pause here to remember that Enron invented the scam of "green tags" to sell the production from wind turbines twice.)

Conley imagines a whole merchandising nightmare inspired by the "TerraPass" decal. An honest sticker might say, "Ask me about my imaginary friend who doesn't pollute." The medium between you and that imaginary friend, however, does pollute -- and takes your money, too.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

April 3, 2006

The developer squirms

The chairman of the three-member Public Service Board of Vermont, who will consider the recommendation of hearing officer Kurt Janson to deny permission to Mathew Rubin and Dave Rapaport to erect four industrial wind turbines on East Mountain in East Haven, has recused himself, presumably because in his earlier position with the Department of Public Service he had promoted the project. That leaves two members to decide, and if only one of them accepts the recommendation the project is dead. Janson's recommendation, as quoted from his introduction in a story by Carla Occaso in today's Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, is
"that the Public Service Board deny a Certificate of Public Good for the proposed project," mainly, he writes, because it would be located in the "heart of tens of thousands of undeveloped, conserved lands."
The story continues with the developer's flustered response:
David Rapaport, vice president for East Haven Windfarm, said he hopes to convince the board to reject Janson's findings because they are "in error in certain key respects," primarily because it "does not properly balance the benefits of the project against those impacts," according to comments submitted by East Haven Windfarm officials on March 27. Contrary to Janson's findings, Rapaport said, the wind farm would not unduly interfere with the experience of users of land surrounding the site and, because it would have minimal impact, "the project will not unreasonably or unnecessarily endanger public investment."
Did you follow that? "Janson did not fully consider the benefits, and anyway the impacts can be disregarded." The thing is, Janson very clearly stated that the benefits are important. If he improperly weighed them, it was in that assumption that they are at all significant. In the matter of negative impacts, Janson also clearly stated that the developers have demonstrated an arrogant disinterest in the environmental concerns, something Rapaport doesn't seem to be making any effort to remedy.

One more hearing is scheduled for April 11.

wind power, wind energy, Vermont, environment, environmentalism

April 1, 2006

Vibroacoustic disease and wind turbines

From Calvin Luther Martin, Malone, N.Y.:

Mariana Alves-Pereira, Dept. of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, New University of Lisbon, Caparica, Portugal, has for many years been part of a team of physicians and scientists studying the pathophysiology of low-frequency noise and infrasound on humans. She is Assistant Coordinator of the Vibroacoustic Disease Project.

Alves-Pereira and colleagues have been doing epidemiologic studies of airline pilots and technicians and other people who are chronically exposed to low-frequency noise and infrasound. The effects are grim: cardiovascular, respiratory, neurologic, and renal pathology and symptoms, which they call vibroacoustic disease.

Alves-Pereira, in discussion with physicians Amanda Harry in the U.K. and Nina Pierpont in the U.S., is now looking into the low-frequency noise and infrasound produced by industrial wind turbines, to determine whether they, too, can cause such vibroacoustic disease (VAD). Alves-Pereira's initial assessment, based on noise measurements taken inside and outside the homes of wind turbine neighbors, is that turbines are indeed a likely cause of VAD.

It was Alves-Pereira's initial research, published in numerous scientific journals, which prompted the French National Academy of Medicine, earlier this month (March 2006), to call on the French government to stop all wind turbine construction within 1.5 km of people's homes. You should understand that VAD is well established in the clinical literature; it is not conjectured. It has been amply documented and is readily detected by a variety of diagnostic tests.

The question remains: Do wind turbines also produce VAD in people living nearby? Again, France's National Academy of Medicine was sufficiently persuaded by the evidence that it called for an immediate minimum 1.5 km (approx. 1 mile) setback of all pending and future industrial windmills from residences. In conversations with Drs. Pierpont and Harry, Alves-Pereira indicates that she is very concerned about the possible role of turbines as a source of VAD.

[update: Alves-Pereira and her colleague Nuna Castelo Branco issued a press release on March 31, 2007, describing the results of their studies demonstrating "that wind turbines in the proximity of residential areas produce acoustical environments that can lead to the development of VAD in nearby home-dwellers." Read it at National Wind Watch.]

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