June 13, 2007

Working towards acceptance of wind

A concerned citizen writes:
To be quick and to the point, harnessing free wind makes way more sense than buying oil, burning it and polluting the planet.

What can someone do as an individual to help push wind power along? People resist it due to aesthetics I think but I want to know more and work towards acceptance of wind.
The response:

The first thing you should consider is that only a small fraction of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning oil. And most of that is sludge left over from gasoline refining.

But such oil-burning plants would probably be used more if substantial wind energy were added to the grid, because they can respond quickly enough to balance the fluctuations of wind-generated electricity. In fact, the company behind Cape Wind is trying to build such a plant along with the wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.

The other fossil fuel whose use would grow with wind energy is natural gas, which plants also can respond quickly (and much more efficiently than oil-fired plants). In Delaware, the proposed off-shore wind energy facility would be tied with a new natural gas plant.

Of course, new plants apparently have to be built anyway as the population or the economy or consumer and industry demand continues to grow, and if wind can sometimes fill in for them, then that may reduce the use of them somewhat. But that is hardly a move away from fossil fuels. Even the American Wind Energy Association can say only that wind will slightly reduce the growth of new fossil-fuel-fired plants.

The above is only the beginning of a slew of problems with large-scale wind on the grid. Aesthetics may be the most immediate problem for most people (since wind requires wide open spaces or long undeveloped mountain ridges -- the very places that we need to fight to keep unindustrialized), but the list of adverse impacts is long.

Whereas the list of benefits is regrettably short.

Here is a challenge, before you dismiss these arguments. I myself once assumed wind energy was good, but I am a science editor and began to notice that there was no clear evidence of its reducing the use of other fuels. The "penetration" figure (percentage of total generation produced by wind) that is usually provided is meaningless, because there are so many other factors operating in the power balance of the grid (spinning standby, line loss, ramping inefficiencies, variation tolerance, and so on).

The crucial data are:

fuel consumption per demand after wind energy installation
fuel consumption per demand before

Try to find such data showing a real difference. In four years of involvement with this issue, I have yet to find even a hint of such evidence, particularly in a large grid -- not even from Denmark.

The fact is, the more people learn about wind energy (from sources other than the industry sales material), the less accepting they are.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

June 12, 2007

Renewable Portfolio Standard: good for the environment or just for industry?

The U.S. Senate, like many state legislatures, is considering a "renewable portfolio standard", or RPS, as part of new energy law.

What is the goal of the RPS?

Is it to encourage the development of renewable energy sources (at least for electricity)? It does that, of course.

Is it meant to lower carbon and other emissions from fossil fuels? That is what its proponents say.

Yet there is no requirement for such a result.

Although the purported goal is reduced emissions, an RPS dictates only new building. Some of the mandated new sources may indeed effect reduced emissions from other sources, but that is not at all guaranteed. For example, wind energy on the grid has never been shown to cause a significant reduction in fossil fuel use.

And since wind energy is the only current renewable source that can be built to substantial capacity, an RPS is essentially a directive for huge amounts of new wind energy, with an implied free pass from proper environmental and community review.

If a utility builds giant wind energy facilities whose output equals, say, 15% of its average load, but it still maintains and builds "conventional" facilities as much as otherwise -- and in fact burns as much fossil fuels as before -- then what has the RPS achieved?

It has only ensured a greater movement of the people's money into the accounts of big energy developers. They, and the politicians they support, can claim to be "green" as they laugh all the way to the bank.

But the RPS has not reduced carbon or other emissions.

If that public good is in fact the goal, then that should be what the law requires: a carbon reduction standard.

Let the realities of energy production and conservation determine how that standard is achieved, not the spiels of industry lobbyists.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

June 10, 2007

"The Greenwashing Of America"

From an essay by Philip Mattera, published June 6 at Tompaine.com (click the title of this post):

Today the term “greenwash” is rarely uttered, and differences in positions between corporate giants and mainstream environmental groups are increasingly difficult to discern. Everywhere one looks, enviros and executives have locked arms and are marching together to save the planet. Is this a cause for celebration or dismay?

Answering this question begins with the recognition that companies do not all enter the environmental fold in the same way. Here are some of their different paths:

• Defeat. Some companies did not embrace green principles on their own—they were forced to do so after being successfully targeted by aggressive environmental campaigns. Home Depot abandoned the sale of lumber harvested in old-growth forests several years ago after being pummeled by groups such as Rainforest Action Network. Responding to similar campaign pressure, Boise Cascade also agreed to stop sourcing from endangered forests and J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to take environmental impacts into account in its international lending activities. Dell started taking computer recycling seriously only after it was pressed to do so by groups such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

• Diversion. It is apparent that Wal-Mart is using its newfound green consciousness as a means of diverting public attention away from its dismal record in other areas, especially the treatment of workers. In doing so, it hopes to peel environmentalists away from the broad anti-Wal-Mart movement. BP’s emphasis on the environment was no doubt made more urgent by the need to repair an image damaged by allegations that a 2005 refinery fire in Texas that killed 15 people was the fault of management. To varying degrees, many other companies that have jumped on the green bandwagon have sins they want to public to forget.

• Opportunism. There is so much hype these days about protecting the environment that many companies are going green simply to earn more green. There are some market moves, such as Toyota’s push on hybrids, that also appear to have some environmental legitimacy. Yet there are also instances of sheer opportunism, such as the effort by Nuclear Energy Institute to depict nukes as an environmentally desirable alternative to fossil fuels. Not to mention surreal cases such as the decision by Britain’s BAE Systems to develop environmentally friendly munitions, including low-toxin rockets and lead-free bullets.

environment, environmentalism

June 8, 2007

In love with wind energy money

To the editor, On Earth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

According to Joseph D'Agnese's Summer 2007 cover story and the accompanying box, people are in love with large-scale wind energy only because they are getting money. But what does such taxpayer largesse do for the rest of us? Does wind energy on the grid provide energy that actually reduces the burning of fossil fuels or splitting of atoms to a meaningful degree? An answer to that question was notably missing from D'Agnese's love note. Even in the showcase example of Denmark, one is unable to find a significant effect on the use of other fuels from saturating the countryside with wind turbines.

It is no wonder that "lucrative subsidies are drying up in Europe". European governments want renewable energy, but with wind they have learned that they still have to build and rely on conventional plants as much as ever. Wind is fickle. Either the grid operates as if it isn't there, absorbing its fluctuations in a large enough system (as Denmark apparently does with its large international connections), or it must provide costly back-up to balance it.

Since the U.S. is comparatively late to the game, we ought to learn from Europe's example, not blindly follow it, however much such unquestioning enthusiasm might delight the developers now seeking holdings here.

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

June 7, 2007

Excuse me while I kiss the sky goodbye

Bob Lucas of Ohio has written a rousing song about wind energy development. Click on the title of this post for the page at National Wind Watch from which it can be downloaded.

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

June 4, 2007

Current events

From Ironic Times:

The TV station whose license was not renewed by Hugo Chavez, causing protests around the world:
A )has won international journalism awards for its even-handed coverage of politics in Venezuela.
B )is widely respected for in-depth reporting of current events affecting citizens of the Lost City of Atlantis.
C )preempted regular programs for two days prior to the coup attempt against the democratically elected government in 2002 in order to broadcast wall-to-wall calls for Chavez to be removed, refused to show thousands of his supporters who poured into the streets to demand his return, and sent its owner to pledge support for the coup-installed dictator who had eliminated the Supreme Court, the National Assembly and the Constitution.
Hint: that guy Chavez sure can bear a grudge.

The U.S. government is exerting enormous pressure on the Iraqi parliament to pass a law regarding the disposition of the nation’s oil riches which would:
A )fairly distribute the wealth between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds living in different regions.
B )even-handedly apportion the windfall among competing interests located on Mars, Pluto and Venus.
C )Give 81% of Iraqi oil to multi-national oil companies.
Hint: our invasion was originally code-named Operation Iraqi Liberation.

We erred in ascribing the term "enhanced interrogation" to the Bush Administration. In fact the term was originally used to describe interrogation methods used against insurgents and other civilians by the Nazis in 1942, and later judged to be war crimes. The techniques, and the arguments to justify their use, however, were the same as those used by the Bush Administration. We apologize for any confusion caused by our mistake.

June 1, 2007

In the company of wind turbines

A correspondent wrote to us recently:

A neighbor of mine visited Fenner [N.Y.] and stopped to talk to a couple of people
as he was driving around.

One was a farmer who was standing at the side of the road talking with
someone. The farmer has a working farm with several [wind turbines on it]. He said
his only complaint was that for the last three years he has been paid only
half of what he was owed by the company. Our neighbor wanted to ask more
questions, but the person the farmer was talking to was becoming agitated.

And yesterday's news contained this related item from Scotland (brought to our attention by National Wind Watch):

Anger over wind farm cash delay

Hundreds of thousands of pounds promised to communities as a recompense for living in the shadow of Sutherland's only operational wind farm have yet to be paid, it emerged this week.

The £25 million Beinn Tharsuinn wind farm, straddling the Sutherland/Easter Ross border, came on stream two years ago, but local people have yet to see a penny of the community benefit pledged. ...

wind power, wind energy