October 30, 2006

Exploitation and destruction: some things to know about industrial wind power

by Eric Rosenbloom

First, by industrial wind, I mean facilities of large wind turbines meant to supply the grid, the "pool" of electricity that must constantly balance supply and demand. "Large" is the first thing that demands attention. The machines proposed for Sheffield and Sutton, for example, are now to be 418 feet high: a 256' tower plus a 162' blade radius (with a vertical sweep area of 1.9 acres!). Several of them have to be lit by strobes day and night for airplane safety. The strobing effect of the lights is increased by reflections off the turning blades.

Not only are the height, turning blades, and lights visually intrusive and incongruous with rural and wild landscapes, the blades, generator gears, motors (that turn the machine into the wind and pitch the blades to maintain a constant rpm), and electrical transformers all make noise. From a ridgeline and especially at night, that noise can travel quite far. The French Academy of Medicine and the U.K. Noise Association both say that large wind turbines should not be closer than a mile from any residence.

Along with the readily audible (and artificial) noise that is many times louder than normal rural noise levels, there is a low-frequency aspect that has driven people from their homes. It doesn't affect everyone, but many people complain of headaches, insomnia, and nausea -- enough that several researchers have noted the resemblance to vibroacoustic disease and are documenting the phenomenon as "wind turbine syndrome."

Even as the wind companies deny that these and other impacts exist, their leases and "forbearance" easements with neighbors forbid the signers from complaining about them (or even telling anyone about the terms of the agreements).

The destruction of wild places and rural quality of life includes the wide strong straight roads necessary to transport the massive parts, the tons of steel and concrete in each platform, the clearcutting of several acres around each machine, and new transmission infrastructure (substations and power lines). It follows an all-too-familiar pattern of heedless exploitation. The only "green" the developers are interested in is that of the easy money.

UPC, the "Massachusetts" company targeting Sheffield and Sutton, is in fact backed by the Italian UPC Group. Enxco, which is still fishing for landowners in New England, is part of the consortium Electricité de France. PPM Energy, which bought Enxco's interests in the Hoosac Mountains of Vermont and Massachusetts, is owned by Scottish Power. Horizon Wind and Noble Environmental Power, both active in New York, are owned, respectively, by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Noble has just teamed up with Enxco's former agent to target sites in Vermont as well. Community Energy, currently targeting Lempster, New Hampshire, is owned by energy giant Iberdrola of Spain. Vermont's own Catamount Energy is an international operation owned by Marubeni Power of Japan and Diamond Castle Holdings, a group of investors whose experience includes Enron's glory days.

The major U.S. manufacturer of industrial wind turbines is GE, who bought the business from Enron. Another war profiteer and nuclear power pusher getting into wind is Halliburton, whose Kellogg Brown & Root division boasts of being a leader in offshore wind construction. One should be not a little dubious about "alternatives" or "solutions" offered by the same people who created the mess in the first place. What excites these companies is not so much the window dressing that hides their main activities, though that is indeed important: Think BP's "beyond petroleum" and GE's "ecomagination." Enron, along with their friend George Bush, set up a web of subsidies, market support, and tax schemes that created and almost completely pays for today's wind industry -- moving ever larger amounts of public money into private bank accounts. Enron even invented "green tags" to sell the electricity twice!

These developers creep into a poor community, make deals with landowners, woo the town board with gifts and promises of cash, flattering them as forward thinkers, and only then make their plans public. Unfortunately for them, the internet has made it possible for the neighbors to quickly learn the facts about industrial wind and -- when they see what a destructive boondoggle it really is -- mount a grass-roots opposition campaign. But even if the developer is driven off, a divided and bankrupted community is left. Damage is done in any case.

Rural America is no different to these companies than indigenous communities or "third-world" countries. Enrich a few of the natives, persuade others of your "progressive" intentions, pay for a school or firetruck, pit the rest against each other, and take what you want. In Australia, the Point Pierce Aboriginal community lost 40,000 years of Dreaming (which is, like Vermont's ridgelines, otherwise protected) to the construction of an industrial wind facility. In Mexico, wind companies -- led by Spain's Iberdrola -- have divided the Zapotecos on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is the most important bird flyway on this side of the world (I haven't even mentioned the decimation of birds and bats by these machines, with blades moving 150-200 mph at the tips exactly where they fly). Some of the Zapotecos wrote about the wind companies to a Scottish bird protector who lives in Spain, describing "the imposition of neoliberal megacorporations destroying nature and our cultures." That is what is happening right in our own back yard.

Minuscule benefits

The appalling thing is that industrial wind turbines on the grid bring no benefits that can justify this destruction. They generate an average of only a sixth to a third of their rated capacity. They generate at or above that average rate only a third of the time. The output is highly variable, so other sources on the grid must work harder (burning more fuel less cleanly) to balance it. In most places, the times of high wind do not correspond to times of high electricity demand, so much of the already small production is wasted. The evils of coal and nuclear power are undeniable. Unfortunately, wind will never threaten the steady base supply they provide -- no matter how many giant turbines and interconnected high-voltage transmission lines we fill the landscape with. Nor has a single peak supply plant ever been shut down because of wind on the grid.

The people of Denmark have not allowed a new turbine to be erected in years. Construction has also dramatically slowed in Germany. Spain and The Netherlands recently halted subsidies to big wind. Australia is starting to balk at continuing support. Because opposition only grows in their own countries as the useless and wasteful destruction becomes ever more clear, overseas companies have moved into the U.S. market -- they know we'll ignore Europe's mistakes just as much as we ignore their successes.

But even in the industry's own promotional material, wind remains a marginal source. Conservation and efficiency easily surpass it in actually reducing fuel use, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions -- and they don't require industrializing our remaining rural and wild places to enrich a few multinational companies and investors and impoverish (not just financially) the rest of us.

More information is available on the web: my own site at www.aweo.org, the coalition of Vermont groups at www.rosenlake.net/vwv, and the coalition of groups throughout the U.S. and the world at www.wind-watch.org.

In closing, a quick word about NIMBYism: that is, supporting a project in principle but not in your own neighborhood. That defines the developers. Most of their opponents are fighting to protect not only their own back yards but those of their brothers and sisters everywhere.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism, animal rights

October 29, 2006

National Wind Watch

Also see the videos "Voices of Tug Hill" (from Lewis County, N.Y., site of the Maple Ridge Wind Farm) and "Life Under a Windplant" (from Meyersdale, Pa.).

wind power, wind energy, wind farms

October 28, 2006

County ordinances establishing setbacks and noise limits for industrial wind turbines

Here a a couple of good regulations for large wind turbines, excerpted from the noted county ordinances.

Shawano County (Wisc.) Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance

5.5.4. Noise Standard: The noise due to WECU [wind energy conversion unit] operations shall not be greater than 5 dBA above the established background noise level for more than five 5 minutes out of any one hour time period as measured per Appendix A.
5.5.5. Low Frequency Noise or Infrasound Noise: No low frequency noise or infrasound noise from wind turbine operations shall be created which causes the noise level both within the project boundary and a one-mile radius beyond the project boundary to exceed the following limits ...
5.5.6. Pure Tone Penalty: In the event audible noise due to wind turbine operations contains a steady pure tone, such as a whine, screech, or hum, the standards for Audible Noise shall be reduced by five (5) dB(A). ...
5.5.9. Operations -- Low Frequency Noise: A WECU that emits impulsive sound below 20 Hz that adversely affects the habitability or use of any existing dwelling unit, hospital, school, library, nursing home, or other sensitive noise receptor shall be deemed unsafe and must be shut down immediately.

Otsego County (Mich.) Zoning Ordinance Concerning Wind Turbine Generators and Anemometer Towers

18.5.3. Setbacks. Each proposed wind turbine generator or anemometer tower shall meet the following applicable setback requirements: Each wind turbine generator shall be set back from any adjoining lot line a distance equal to 2,600 feet. The Planning Commission may reduce this setback to no less than 2,100 feet. The amount of setback relief approved by the Planning Commission will be based on data provided by the applicant and prepared and certified by a registered Professional Engineer licensed in the State of Michigan, who is practicing in his or her area of competency. Such data shall be subject to review by the County's independent, recognized expert. In addition to the above, a wind turbine generator shall, in all cases, be setback from a public or private road right-of-way or easement a minimum distance equal to six times the height of the wind turbine generator tower as defined in this Ordinance. For any newly proposed wind turbine generator or anemometer tower, a "wind access buffer" equal to a minimum of five (5) rotor diameters shall be observed from any existing off-site wind turbine generator tower. Sensitive environmental areas shall have a setback of between 2 to 5 miles and shall be determined by the Otsego County Planning Commission and the Department of Natural Resources. Scenic areas, including parks, highways, recreational areas, and others as determined by the County and Townships, shall have a setback of not less than 1 mile.
18.5.4. Maximum Height. Then maximum wind turbine generator or anemometer tower height from the base to the tip of the blade at its highest point shall not exceed 200 feet. The Planning Commission may approve an increased height for a wind turbine generator tower, not to exceed 260 feet from the base to the tip of the blade, if all of the following conditions are met: The increased height will result in the preservation of a substantial stand of trees, existing land forms or structures that would otherwise be removed to increase wind velocity. The increased height will not result in increased intensity on lighting of the tower due to FAA requirements.
wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines

Wind company trusts government will ignore environment and community and let them build

Putting the lie to their claim of being "green," Toronto wind power developer Skypower is ignoring the finding of the Quebec Environmental Public Hearing Board (BAPE, from the French) against their 114-tower project in northeastern Quebec near the St. Lawrence river.

According to the CBC, the BAPE "concluded Thursday that the turbines would ruin a picturesque view, threaten the region’s natural and wildlife heritage and threaten the agricultural economy."

Skypower's response was to shrug it off and remind people that the decision is only with the Quebec cabinet, which they are confident to sway with the $350,000,000 investment that the project represents.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism

October 26, 2006

Bill McKibben calls for more nuclear power

After an ad hominem dismissal of James Lovelock's opposition to industrial-scale wind power in an upcoming New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben then writes,
we will obviously need new energy sources, and the example of the French success with nuclear power (it generates three quarters of their electricity) means it has to be included in the mix of possibilities, as Jim Hansen recently argued in these pages.
The French, by the way, are getting desperate about the very dangerous radioactive waste that is piling up at all of their nuclear plants. Maybe McKibben, like Lovelock, will offer to have it buried in his back yard.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

One government, one people, one führer

The National Park Service testified in Maine on the negative impacts that an industrial wind power facility on Redington Mountain would have on the Appalachian Trail.

But President Boosh issued a directive some years ago forbidding federal agencies to get in the way of "alternative energy" projects. The directive also requires that they act to clear the way for such projects, even if it conflicts with their mission, e.g., to protect wilderness and natural beauty.

Pam Underhill, the manager of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail testified: "There is little question that the proposed Redington Wind Farm would have a dramatic impact on the scenic character and recreation setting of this section [of the trail]. ... Spread out across several miles of terrain, these 29 structures -- each 40 stories tall, with constantly rotating 130-foot radius blades -- would become the dominant features of the landscape."

California Representative Darrell Issa wants the Interior Secretary to investigate.

Commenting on Issa's accusations, Underhill said: "The taxpayers pay me to protect the Appalachian Trail."

Issa chairs the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy and Resources and plans to hold hearings on local opposition to energy projects and to expose other "lower-level" officials acting against energy company plans.

Speaking of anti-democratic directives, Denmark's Environment Minister has threatened municipalities with one if they don't stop blocking efforts to replace their relatively small turbines with giant new ones. No new turbines have been erected in Denmark since 2004, and the industry is in a panic.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

October 17, 2006

Accident: A failure in a wind turbine caused a forest fire in Muros

La Voz de Galicia, 29 September 2006:

A failure in one of the wind turbines owned by the Iberdrola company in the Pedregal Mountains, Esteiro (Muros), resulted in a forest fire that razed a hectare of the mountain. When the flames started, the machine was functioning and the movement of its blades helped scatter sparks about the area, which brought the focus of the fire to an area replanted with pine trees.

Two brigades of the Department of the Environment, forest rangers, and a helicopter extinquished the fire in little time. The wind turbine was left very damaged and it is likely that it will have to be replaced.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, Vermont