August 27, 2008

Carefully listening to critics of wind energy

The Oklahoma-based industrial wind energy development company Energy For Generations has "Wind Energy Critics" as one of the topics on their links page.

But if you click on that topic, nothing happens, and scrolling down the page, no links to critics appear.

But if you look at the page source, there they are: links to organizations like National Wind Watch, Protect the Flint Hills, and Audubon of Kansas.

Along with a note:
Energy development of any type inevitably has a range of impacts. Minimizing wind’s visual and environmental impact requires careful site selection and site specific development planning. Critics of wind development are numerous and while some may choose to ignore or contest them we feel careful listening is the best approach. Sorting out legitimate concerns from simple objection to any change and where appropriate reaching a common sense compromise is an important part of wind energy development.
So why, one wonders, is this entire section commented out so that it doesn't appear on the page?

Perhaps the critics' concerns are all in fact legitimate, and "compromise" would in fact have to be made, compromising the economic viability of these sprawling power plants in rural and wild places, and opening the door to doubting their own legitimacy.

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

August 25, 2008

As the turbine turns

Rollins Wind Project [Lincoln, Maine]: Project Summary and Potential Environmental Impacts, prepared by Stantec for Aug. 20, 2008, public information meeting:
Wind projects create zero air or water pollution. Each local, clean megawatt produced through wind energy means less produced through costly fossil fuels. To put this into perspective, the clean energy produced last year at the nearby Mars Hill Wind project in Mars Hill, Maine, is the equivalent of burning approximately 260,000 barrels of oil or 70,000 tons of coal per year, yet has none of the associated toxicity, health, or cost issues.
Has anyone seen those unused 260,000 barrels of oil or 70,000 tons of coal?

You'd think they'd be hard to miss, yet nobody has ever actually pointed them out.

Which means the claim that giant wind turbines reduce fossil fuel use is fraudulent. It's like watching my car idle in the driveway and claiming I've been somewhere ("the time that my car sat idling on the driveway is equivalent to the approximate time it takes to drive to Montpelier and back"). It's nonsense.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms

environment, environmentalism

August 17, 2008

Wind industry donors to Gaye Symington

Financial disclosure statements for the gubernatorial candidates have been posted on line by the Vermont Secretary of State. Since Gaye Symington neglected to mention it at her announcement last week at wind energy supplier NRG Systems of her plan to remove regulatory limits on ridgeline development and limit citizen participation in the permitting process for industrial wind projects (as if it would stop there), the following donors to her campaign through July 31 should be noted:

Jan Blittersdorf (NRG Systems)
David Blittersdorf (NRG Systems)
Matthew Rubin (EMDC [East Mountain Development Corp.])
Thomas Gray (American Wind Energy Association)
Linda Cleek Gray
Stephen Kimbell (Kimbell Sherman Ellis LLP -- UPC/First Wind lobbyist)
Kimbell Sherman Ellis LLP (UPC/First Wind lobbyist)

August 15, 2008

Companies face crackdown on electricity greenwash

Someone appears to have wised up to the fact that companies "buying wind power" are in fact getting exactly the same electricity as those who don't ...

From David Adam in The Guardian (U.K.), August 13 (again, thanks to National Wind Watch):

Dozens of companies face having to report embarrassing sharp increases in their carbon pollution under government plans to crack down on greenwash.

The move could undermine the environmental claims of firms such as BT, which have invested heavily in so-called green electricity tariffs to cut their carbon footprints.

Under the proposed changes, companies using such green tariffs, which are also popular with eco-friendly domestic customers, will no longer be able to claim massive carbon savings by using power coming from renewable sources.

BT, which could be forced to double its reported carbon emissions and to scrap an ambitious target to cut carbon 80% by 2020 under the plan, is lobbying heavily against the move, and says other companies back its position. Johnson and Johnson, Vodafone and several banks including HSBC also buy green electricity tariffs.

Hilary Benn, environment secretary, said the change was to make the system more transparent and to ensure that such tariffs brought genuine environmental benefits. "It is increasingly difficult to demonstrate that buying a renewable electricity tariff is offering additional carbon emissions reductions," he said. "Businesses signed up to green tariffs based on the evidence available at the time, but their choices have been producing only limited additional renewable generation capacity."

Individual consumers opting for green tariffs may also "not have been generating the environmental benefits they anticipated", he added.

Green tariffs have become a popular way for firms and individuals to cut their carbon footprints. They exploit the 5% of UK grid electricity generated from clean hydroelectric and wind sources, which suppliers claim they can effectively ringfence and sell separately.

In 2005, the government said companies buying such renewable electricity tariffs could report them as producing zero emissions. It hoped that wide take-up of green tariffs would drive investment in further renewable sources.

But environmental campaigners and energy experts have long questioned the benefits of some green tariffs. Harry Morrison of the Carbon Trust, which advises companies on climate issues, says the market in them has been "a bit cowboy" and needs clearing up. He compared the use of green tariffs to the sale of carbon offsets, with concern over transparency, double counting and additionality – ie whether they cut carbon emissions over and above what would have happened anyway.

He said: "Many companies bought these tariffs in good faith but there are no guarantees that they actually save carbon. They didn't pay much of a premium for the carbon savings they could claim in their marketing statements, so they have basically been given a free ride."

Morrison said many companies were concerned about how the government's changes would affect their green credentials and corporate image. It could also cost them money. From 2010, thousands of UK companies will be forced to calculate, publish and reduce their emissions as part of a domestic carbon trading scheme. "They're worried about being ranked badly. Nobody wants to come bottom of a table of their peers," he said.

Richard Tarboton, energy and carbon programme director at BT, said: "This is a serious problem for a number of companies who have followed the government's guidelines and gone out and purchased green electricity, and are now being told that green source is no longer valid."

BT, one of the country's largest users of electricity, has used the zero-carbon rating given to green tariffs to claim it has reduced its emissions 58% over the last decade. Tarboton said the new rules would see its reported emissions double, and that the increase would pose "communication" problems for the firm.

He agreed that the existing scheme was flawed but said the suggested solution put too much responsibility on energy suppliers and let customers off the hook. BT says the answer is better labelling, with different tariffs given a carbon rating similar to electrical appliances such as dishwashers. It held a meeting of 30 companies this week to discuss the idea.

Defra, the environment department, which announced the changes to the company reporting guidelines in June, now says it will launch a consultation on the proposal. A spokesman denied this was down to corporate pressure and said the department had always planned to consult.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Indigenous farmers in Oaxaca duped out of land by wind companies

Karen Trejo writes in Latinamerica Press, August 14 (also published at National Wind Watch):

A wind power project on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southeastern Mexico has stripped massive amounts of land and natural resources from hundreds of indigenous campesinos in Oaxaca. Those affected are mostly from non-Spanish speaking indigenous communities.

Members were manipulated into giving up their lands in up to 60-year tenancy contracts through misinformation.

Faustina López Martínez, originally from the village of Juchitán, complained that the companies promised agriculture aid without ever following through. On the lands where she used to plant corn to sell, the Spanish company Union FENOSA plans to install windmills to generate wind energy for the next 30 years, and possibly extending to double the term. In exchange, López will receive 150 pesos (less than US$15) each year for the rent of each of her 3 hectares (7.4 acres) of land.

Javier Balderas, director of the Tepeyac Human Rights Center located in Tehuantepec, signaled that the project to build wind parks on the Isthmus, which has been imposed on the native peoples by displacing them from their lands, is part of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) strategy — an ambitious integration and development project launched in 2001 whose objective is to link nine Mexican states to Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua y Panama.

Indigenous rights violated

According to Balderas, the Mexican government violates International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples by denying them the right to consultation to determine whether they will be jeopardized before pursuing any program to exploit their lands’ resources. The state further impedes their right to participate in utilizing, administrating and conserving their natural resources.

Based on these arguments, a team of lawyers from human rights organizations in Oaxaca and Mexico City have filed a lawsuit to annul at least 185 tenancy contracts for the wind park construction by transnational companies, principally from Spain, including Iberdrola, Endesa, Preneal, Gamesa and Union FENOSA.

In response, the companies say that they operate in Mexico backed by an agreement signed by the Federal Electricity Commission, which is directed at encouraging development through large capital investment in the region to generate jobs.

However, Eduardo Zenteno, president of the Mexican Wind Energy Association, presents figures that seem to contradict this statement.

“In the next three years, the companies will invest $3 billion in Oaxaca in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Wind Tunnel in the following way: 78 percent will be invested in purchasing wind turbines, 14 percent in the electrical system, 6 percent in civil work and 2 percent in other spending.” He added that the electrical energy produced will be sold to companies with chain stores like Wal-Mart and Soriana, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and Cemex.

Transnationals were attracted to the isthmus since it is a geographically strategic area for wind park construction. According to the Atlas for Wind Resources in Oaxaca, an investigation sponsored in 2004 by the US Energy Department and the US Agency for International Development, or USAID, the best areas to develop wind resources in Oaxaca are on the Isthmus and the greatest resources are in the hills, cordillera and coast.

The La Venta Wind Park II was constructed in 2003 on one of the hills, named La Venta, in the Juchitán area and is currently the biggest wind park in the region with over 98 windmills installed over 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres). La Venta is a rural indigenous community that lacks basic services where the state government periodically sends doctors and lawyers to attend the community.

Balderas explained that this is clear evidence that the transnational business model is not encouraging development or bringing about jobs for the Isthmus communities. Furthermore, during the three-month long construction of La Venta II, only 200 local workers were hired, which dwindled down to three hires at present: two janitors and one secretary.

Communal lands are not to be rented

Unlike what happened in La Venta, where there are no agrarian authorities to watch over communal lands, in the Santiago Niltepec community, east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the fear of losing lands has prevented campesinos from leasing their lands to Union FENOSA.

José Santiago Ramírez, secretary of the Santiago Niltepec Community Goods Commission, says the Spanish transnational offered 30-year contracts and 1,000 to 1,200 pesos — $98 to $117 — per hectare (2.5 acres) to the campesinos annually to rent their lands. But no company can have a contract directly with the landowner since 95 percent of the population’s lands is communal.

For Marco Antonio Velásquez, the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade technical secretary, the Isthmus case is not the only one. In Acapulco, Jalisco and Nayarit there has also been social resistance to damn construction which would result in thousands of displaced persons.

“It’s not just a few companies who maliciously want to strip the communities [of their lands]. It’s a policy that has been deliberately applied with the help of the municipal, state, and federal governments that has usurped power with the clear intention of protecting transnational corporations to move forward with their businesses,” he said.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights

August 6, 2008

Symington Says

Vermont Democratic Party press release, Aug. 6, 2008:
Symington proposes dramatic shift in energy policy

Speaker of the House Gaye Symington proposed a dramatic shift in Vermont's energy policy today by calling for an aggressive ramp-up of wind power. ...

"Deriving twenty percent of our power from wind generation in ten years is an ambitious, but achievable goal that will jump-start our economy and provide a critically needed new source of power," said Symington. ...

Symington unveiled the second half of her energy plan today on the factory floor of NRG Systems, Inc. in Hinesburg, a major supplier of equipment to the wind power industry that does very little business in Vermont because of the state's lack of wind projects.

"It is simply inexcusable that Vermont derives only 0.2 percent of its electricity from wind. While our neighboring states, oil states and nearly all developed countries are embracing the wisdom of wind power, our Governor stubbornly resists and claims erroneously that Vermonters don't want it. It is time for Jim Douglas to stop tilting at windmills and let me build them instead," Symington said.
Symington for Governor web site:
20% from Wind in Ten Years

Wind power is the fastest growing energy source in the world, but Vermont gets only 0.2% of its power from wind sources. 500 megawatts of wind power would provide approximately 20% of Vermont’s energy needs. ...

To achieve this vision, we must standardize and fast-track the process by which we study, test, plan, obtain public input and issue permits. ...

First, the figures, being careful to avoid using the word "energy" when we mean only electricity, which represents only about a fifth of Vermont's total energy consumption. (So Symington is talking about 20% of 20%, or 4%, a savings we could easily achieve through conservation and efficiency at a fraction of the cost and without having to industrialize our rural and wild landscapes.)

In 2006, Vermont used almost 5,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Growing at a very modest 1% annually (2% is the usual national rate used for planning), consumption will be 6,500 GWh in 2018 (ten years from now, Symington's target). Twenty percent of that is 1,300 GWh, representing an average rate (or load) of 150 megawatts (1,300,000 megawatt-hours divided by 8,760, which is the number of hours in a year). The average output of the existing turbines at Searsburg is 21% of their capacity (because the wind doesn't always blow within the range of ideal speeds for the turbines or exactly perpendicular to the ridgelines on which they are erected), so, being generous to the claims of newer technology, let's plan for an average 25% output. That would require 600 MW of wind energy capacity, not the 500 Symington claims.

At today's prices, that would require an investment of $1.2 billion, not counting new and upgraded power lines and substations. Imagine how many homes could be insulated with that money, or rural bus routes established, or trains.

At about six turbines per mile, 600 MW (of 1.5- to 2-MW turbines) would use 50-65 miles of ridgelines. Each turbine needs about 5 acres of clearance around it (for a total of up to 2,000 acres of lost habitat and an impact extending much farther), and the site requires not only massive cut-and-fill but often blasting to create a level area for the huge concrete base and construction/maintenance equipment. The turbines would be accessed by heavy-duty all-season roads, with their own extensive impacts on fragile ecosystems.

"Our governor stubbornly resists and claims erroneously that Vermonters don't want it."

In fact, true to form, Governor Douglas deftly manages to have it both ways. He pays lip service to opposition by the people actually affected by the industrial construction of giant wind turbines, while his Department of Public Service casually supports development applications. It was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that had to halt the UPC/First Wind (who are currently under investigation by the New York Attorney General) project in Sheffield to properly determine the impact on wetlands (until they were forced by Senator Bernie Sanders, pressured by Douglas's Agency of Natural Resources and the developer, UPC, to back off; in keeping with the politicization of public agencies, Vernon Lang, the official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who took seriously his mandate to protect wetlands and wildlife in the northeast, has been removed from working on wind projects).

Symington is accurate that Vermonters as a whole want wind energy. The vast majority of Vermonters won't ever have to live with the consequences of its visual and auditory intrusion. But in every community that has been threatened by industrial wind energy development, opposition has been clear and well grounded on evidence of big wind's low benefits and substantial adverse impacts.

That is why Symington says "we must standardize and fast-track the process by which we study, test, plan, obtain public input and issue permits." It is to avoid due oversight to protect our ridgelines and wildlife. It is to avoid effective citizen input from the people who would have to live in the shadow of the towering machines, their turning blades day and night, their flashing lights. Vermont, famous for its billboard ban and strict protection of its ridgelines, would throw it all away for a symbolic "feel-good" and ultimately meaningless gesture to "alternative" energy.

Because wind energy is intermittent, highly variable, and generally unpredictable, large amounts of it on the grid would make us more dependent on other sources, not less. And it would force those other sources to be used less efficiently, i.e., with more fuel consumption and more emissions, thus largely defeating the entire purpose of erecting giant wind turbines.

It is not an example of environmental concern to call for discarding a hard-fought rigor in siting industrial structures and infrastructure on prominent and sensitive ridgelines -- especially in the name of supporting an industry that, since the days of Enron, has banked on exaggerated claims and denial of negative impacts. It is politically convenient idiocy.

The fact that it has been difficult to site large-scale wind turbines in Vermont means the regulations are working and the people affected have had a decent chance to weigh in during the decision making.

Symington would fundamentally rewrite Vermont's environmental laws on the dubious and self-serving advice of one industry. That would effectively end any principle with which our natural heritage might be protected from any industry or development. That is why giant energy companies and predators like T. Boone Pickens are so interested in it.

Industrial wind, besides being fraudulent and destructive on its own merits, opens the door to further depredations on the rural character and wilderness of Vermont. And for nothing.

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

"A boon for Pickens, not for America"

Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security writes:

At a time of economic decline and record-high gas prices, there is something refreshing in an oilman turning into one of the nation's leading advocates of renewable energy. This could explain why T. Boone Pickens' multibillion-dollar efforts to reduce America's oil dependence and develop clean energy have garnered so muchpublic attention.

Pickens is right to suggest that America's oil dependence is a source of economic ruin and that Congress must act to stop the biggest transfer of wealth in human history. But Pickens stands to benefit from his own campaign -- and his proposal could do more damage than good to U.S. energy security.

Pickens' proposal involves a California ballot initiative to provide $5 billion in subsidies for developing clean-energy fuels on top of a $58-million public relations campaign to reduce America's oil dependence through wind power. Not coincidentally, the Texas oilman is heavily invested in natural gas and wind power.

The Pickens plan promises to dramatically reduce oil use by shifting the transportation sector from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to natural-gas-powered vehicles. This would allegedly reduce oil imports by more than 30% and would supposedly save the U.S. economy $300 billion that otherwise would end up in the coffers of oil-rich foreign countries. According to the plan, wind energy would substitute for natural gas, now generating 20% of the nation's electricity, freeing natural gas to power a third of the vehicles in the U.S. ...

Pickens' assertion that increased use of wind power would displace natural gas is based on wishful thinking. Our energy system is not a Lego game -- one piece can't replace another at whim. Even if 78 [actually, more like 124 --Ed.] other billionaires were willing to follow Pickens' footsteps and build a 4,000-megawatt wind farm -- that's the number needed to displace the current electricity production from natural gas -- there's no way to guarantee that natural gas would be the only energy source that would be displaced by all those turbines. Why not coal, or [hydro]?

Furthermore, implementation of the Pickens plan might actually tie more natural gas to the power sector. Wind is an intermittent source of power -- the wind doesn't blow 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and until and unless our electricity grid has sufficient power storage capacity, utilities counting on wind need to have backup power plants that can be powered up to fill in the gaps when the wind does not blow. This back-up power is today generally provided with natural gas.

Pickens also claims that a shift from oil to natural gas would strengthen U.S. national security. But contrary to Pickens' proclamations, in relation to its need, the U.S. is not rich in natural gas. Just as with oil, the U.S. consumes 23% of the world's natural gas but it only has 3% of the world's reserves. Its reserve-to-production ratio is less than 10 years. ...

A shift to natural gas could even weaken U.S. national security: More than 60% of the world's reserves are concentrated in five countries -- Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- countries that are already engaged in discussions on the establishment of an OPEC-like natural-gas cartel. Shifting from dependence on one authoritarian regime's energy source to another's is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire. ...