May 25, 2007

Bernie and the snowmobilers

As Vermont Public Radio reported this morning, "Independent" Bernie Sanders and the U.S. Senate Environmental Committee is looking into the impact of global warming on skiing and snowmobiling in Vermont.

What they did not look into is the impact of skiing and snowmobiling on global warming.

One snowmobile, for example, spews as much greenhouse gases in a few hours as an average automobile does over 100,000 miles.

Sanders said (predictably) that "global warming is the challenge of the time" and that if it's not addressed quickly, future generations will not have the same outside beauty to enjoy [as if that's possible with snowmobiles around].

If that's the case, then the demise of recreational snowmobiling can only be helpful. Snowmobilers are not the victims of global warming. They are part of the cause.

environment, environmentalism, Vermont, anarchism

May 19, 2007

Climate, Class, and Claptrap

Garret Keizer has written a powerful "Notebook" piece for the June Harper's Magazine. Every sentence is gold. Buy the magazine and read it. Here is but one excerpt.

If I sound bitter it is partly because I have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the new carbon-trading world order in the New England villages where I have lived, taught, and buried the dead for close to thirty years, and where any egress from one's house now risks collision with an eco-fluent carpetbagger. Apparently, this place that has never had much use to the larger world beyond that of hosting a new prison or a solid-waste dump turns out to be an ideal location for an industrial "wind farm," ideal mostly because the people are too few and too poor to offer much in the way of resistance. So far only one of the towns affected has "volunteered" -- in much the same way and for most of the same reasons as our children volunteer for service in Iraq -- to be the site of what might be described as a vast environmentalist grotto of 400-foot-high spinning "crosses" before which the state's green progressives will be able to genuflect and receive absolution before zooming back to their prodigiously wired lives.

[Read more here.]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, Vermont

May 16, 2007

What Can Wind Do About Global Warming?

Tom Gray of the trade group American Wind Energy Association writes:
The following information is from a fact sheet we will be releasing soon.

How much can wind really do to fight global warming?

On average, every additional megawatt-hour produced by wind energy means 1,220 pounds of CO2 are not emitted into our environment.

# A recent study from the National Academies of Science (NAS) reports that adding another 60 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy by 2020, in addition to the 11 GW that we have today, could avoid approximately 130 million tons of CO2 in 2020. This is nearly 30% of expected emission increases by 2020 in the electric sector.

# A National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 20% renewable generation by 2020 could avoid almost 100% of expected emission increases in the electric sector with 180 GW of renewable energy, including 130 GW of wind.
According to data compiled in the International Atomic Energy Association's Energy and Environment Data Reference Bank, The U.S. CO2 emissions from energy = c. 6,000 Mt = c. 6,600 million tons, of which 130 million tons is less than 2%. That's less than 2% of today's emissions, but emissions could be 20% higher by 2020 (according to projections by the Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy). The "savings" from wind would then be close to only 1.6% -- accomplished with the sprawling and destructive construction of 71,000 megawatts of giant wind turbines, along with their supporting roads and clearance and transmission lines. And at a cost, three-quarters of which is paid by public subsidies, of 142 billion dollars.

That's simply pathetic. Doubling the amount of wind turbines, as in the second example, only underscores the very small benefit that wind can provide even in theory.

Tom Gray pads the numbers by presenting them as the proportion of new emissions, and even for that lame figure he uses a very low estimate of emissions increase. But global warming is caused by existing emissions -- emissions not only from electricity generation and other energy consumption (e.g., for transport and heat and manufacturing), but also from animal farms and deforestation (responsible for 18% and 25%, respectively, of the human contribution to global warming worldwide). Wind's hope of saving 1.6% becomes even smaller.

Even that slim hope remains theoretical. There is no evidence that wind reduces the use of other fuels on the grid to any degree close to that corresponding to the electricity it generates. Wind is an add-on. The rest of the grid still has to provide power to people when they need it, with the extra burden of balancing the unpredictable and highly variable feed from the wind.

Industrial-scale wind has proved only to be a successful tax-avoidance division for big energy companies and a lucrative means of moving massive amounts of public monies into private bank accounts. Through the selling of fragments of its green mantle (i.e., "renewable energy credits"), it lets other companies and individuals join the self-serving charade. Not surprisingly, however, it has not been shown to reduce carbon emissions. In the fight against global warming, it is a boondoggle, distracting us from real solutions while destroying landscapes, communities, wildlife habitat, and people's lives -- for nothing.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

May 15, 2007

Debate about wind energy breaks into the main stream

World News Tonight (ABC), May 6, 2007: "Blow Back from Neighbors Over Wind Farms"

Living On Earth (NPR), week of May 11, 2007: "Wind vs. Wildlife": Wind energy is clean, but is it green if windmills chop up birds and bats? The country's top science panel says government agencies should take the environmental impacts of wind power more seriously.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

May 9, 2007

National Wind Watch comments on National Academies report on impacts of wind energy

Press release:

Rowe, Mass., May 9, 2007 -- On May 3, 2007, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science released its report on the "Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects". The report states:

Because the use of wind energy has some adverse impacts, the conclusion that a wind-energy installation has net environmental benefits requires the conclusion that all of its adverse effects are less than the adverse effects of the generation that it displaces.

Such official analysis is exactly what has been missing in the careless push for wind energy, according to National Wind Watch (NWW), a coalition of individuals and action groups fighting inappropriate wind energy development in the U.S. and around the world.

Although commending the recognition of negative impacts, which neighbors and many observers have long been attesting to, NWW notes the report includes nine references from the main American industry trade group, three from the British, and three from the Danish. These are not cited as examples of how the industry self-protectively spins information but rather as reliable information about impacts. That not only calls into question some of the report's assessment of the extent of adverse impacts, it also illustrates the hurdles that people who defend wildlife, the landscape, and their homes still have to overcome.

The usual line from wind promoters is that the problems that wind energy solves are much worse than any that wind energy itself causes, e.g., more birds would die if wind turbines were not built (because of climate change caused by fossil fuels). But the argument is stacked. Neither part of it has been rigorously examined -- neither the premise that wind energy on the grid brings significant benefits, nor the assumption that its negative impacts on the environment, communities, and individual lives are anything but minimal. Only citizens' groups such as those associated with National Wind Watch have dared to demand accountability in the heedless industry and government push to develop wind.

It is welcome that the NRC report, although it glosses over the many adverse impacts of industrial wind development, nonetheless recognizes the need for studying them. NWW hopes that this quasi-official report will start to turn around the studious dismissal of increasingly obvious and significant problems.

Examination of wind's claims of benefit also need a hard look. With more than a decade of experience in Denmark and Germany, it is absurd to still cite carbon reductions according to industry theory instead of actual experience. We need to know the documented effect of wind (a highly variable and intermittent nondispatchable energy source) on emissions on the grid.

The report unquestioningly repeats the sales claim that the average annual output from wind is 30% of its capacity, even though the reality is quite different. According to figures from the 2007 Annual Energy Outlook of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Information Agency (IEA), the output in 2005 was only 21% of capacity.

As to effects on wildlife, although it acknowledges that impacts are poorly studied the report repeats the cant that the slaughter of raptors at Altamont Pass in California is an aberration and mostly due to older turbines -- an obviously dubious claim. Deaths are mounting with every new facility. The first-year study (by a company-picked firm) of the 120-turbine "Maple Ridge" facility in northern New York estimated that 3,000 to 6,000 birds and bats were killed there last year.

The report also determines that the toll on bats is only a problem in the mid-Atlantic, which is the only place where it's been well documented. But just two days before the NRC report was released, Michael Daulton of the National Audubon Society testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Wildlife Subcommittee that bats in Missouri are attracted to wind turbines. Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International, has stated, "We're finding kills even [by] the most remote turbines out in the middle of prairies, where bats don't feed."

Donald Fry, director of the Pesticides and Birds Program, American Bird Conservancy, testified also on May 1, 2007, to the U.S. House Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans Subcommittee:

The wind energy industry has been constructing and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either too costly or unproven techniques recommended by [the National Wind Coordinating Committee] to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts. ... The mortality at wind farms is significant, because many of the species most impacted are already in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute to the continuing decline.

Finally, concerning human impacts the report is regrettably vague in both its findings and its recommendations. Wind turbines are giant industrial installations, and here again, just as with birds and bats, the assumption is backwards. Of course there are adverse impacts. As Wendy Todd, who lives 2,600 feet from the new wind energy facility on Mars Hill, Maine, testified to her state legislature on April 30, 2007: "Noise is the largest problem but shadow flicker and strobe effect are close behind. ... Some find that it makes them dizzy and disoriented; others find that it can cause headaches and nausea." Although this report is perhaps the first quasi-official study to acknowledge that fact, it still puts the burden of proof on the wrong people.

Before we destroy another landscape, natural habitat, community, or individual human life, governments at every level, conservation groups, and environmentalists need to seriously assess the claims made to promote and defend industrial wind energy development.

National Wind Watch information and contacts are available at

May 4, 2007

Fools or Liars: the sham of "100% wind"

They are either fooling themselves or lying to their customers. Hardly a week goes by without another prominent company announcing that it is suddenly "100% wind powered." Some of the companies that make the transparently ridiculous claim are Frontier Co-op and its divisions Simply Organic and Aura Cacia ("we're 100% green powered"), Tom's of Maine ("100% of our electricity consumption is powered by wind energy"), Aveda ("manufacturing with 100% certified windpower"), and Co-op America.

Like every otherwise socially conscious event, politician, and rock band that is also playing this game, all of these companies are getting the same electricity -- and paying for it -- as before. They are not buying wind energy. They are buying "renewable energy credits" (RECs), or "green tags," in addition to their regular electricity.

RECs are only the environmental packaging of the desired power. They were invented by Enron so they could sell the same energy twice. Just as they helped enrich that famously corrupt company, RECs still provide substantial gravy on a scheme for moving public funds into private bank accounts that rivals Halliburton's purchase of the U.S. presidency to start its own wars.

The fact is that RECs are free money for the likes of General Electric (the purchaser of Enron Wind), Florida Power & Light, Babcock & Brown, J.P. Morgan Chase, British Petroleum, Shell Oil, and other energy and investment giants. Not only is three-quarters of the capital costs of a wind energy facility paid for by taxpayers, not only do governments force utilities to by it, but otherwise socially and environmentally conscious people willingly give the companies even more to offset their guilt for using electricity.

They still use all that electricity, of course, but somehow they convince themselves and their customers that buying certificates for their walls is the same as not using all that electricity, or as using someone else's electricity (which that someone else pays for and uses, too).

Like the whole idea of "offsets" that allow consumers to continue consuming the same as ever -- like medieval indulgences to allow sin and enrich the church -- RECs are an obvious fraud. But when they support wind energy, they are also irresponsible.

Not only is wind energy of doubtful value in reducing the use of other fuels, it represents a massive industrialization of rural and wild places -- a heedless destruction of landscapes, the environment, and animals' (including peoples') lives. All for very little, if any, measurable benefit.

Not only are they wrong to claim they are "wind powered," industrial wind energy is incompatible with the social and environmental values that these companies claim and otherwise commendably put into practice. Let them know:
Frontier Co-op (Simply Organic, Aura Cacia), 1-800-669-3275

Tom's of Maine
Susan Dewhirst, Media & Public Relations Leader, 1-800-367-8667

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

May 3, 2007

Impacts of industrial wind

The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science today released an examination of industrial wind energy in the U.S. They want $66 for it, but PDFs are available from Endangered Species and Wetland Report and the appendices along with lower-resolution PDFs (smaller downloads) of the rest of the report from Virginia Wind.

The report is important in acknowledging the serious negative impacts of industrial wind energy development and recognizing that a proper weighing of the benefits against those adverse effects must be done. On the other hand, it perpetuates the assumption that the benefits are exactly as the industry presents them to be.

The report calls for greater study of the impacts on wildlife, the environment, and people, but unfortunately it does not call for greater study of the actual rather than the theoretical effects of wind on carbon emissions from other fuels.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights