T. Boone’s Windy Misadventure And the Global Backlash Against Wind Energy

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“Over the past few days, protesters in Denmark have been camping on a wooded tract in Northern Jutland in order to prevent the clearing of a protected forest where the government plans to build a test center that aims to install a series of wind turbines 250 meters high.”

“One of peer-reviewed articles that appears in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, is by Carl V. Phillips, a Harvard-trained PhD. Phillips concludes that there is “overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate.””

“Among the most prominent critics of the wind industry on the noise issue is Dr. Robert McMurtry, an Ontario-based orthopedic surgeon. McMurtry has impeccable credentials. He’s a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada. Earlier this month he was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award.

Over the past two years, McMurtry has spearheaded the effort to stop industrial wind projects in Ontario while also leading efforts to get peer-reviewed medical studies done on the deleterious effects of turbine-produced infrasound. “The people who are forced to live near these turbines are being abused,” McMurtry told me a few months ago. “It is compromising their health.””

“Of course, the wind industry claims that it has huge opportunities offshore. That’s true if money is no object. Building offshore wind projects costs about $5,000 per kilowatt, or about the same as a new nuclear plant, even though a nuclear plant will have a capacity factor at least three times that of the wind project. Put another way, building offshore wind costs about five times as much as the $1,000 or so per kilowatt needed for a new natural gas fired generator.

Those high costs will mean high costs for ratepayers. The likely cost for electricity from Cape Wind, the controversial wind project located off of Cape Code, will be about $0.21 per kilowatt-hour – if that project ever gets built.”

“In 2008, a study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks – as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the MBTA – are being killed every year by the wind turbines located at Altamont Pass, California.

Last month, the Los Angeles Timesreported that 70 golden eagles per year are being killed by the turbines at Altamont Pass. But again, the federal government has not brought a single case against the wind industry. Wildlife biologists estimate that the region around the pass would need 167 pairs of nesting golden eagles to produce enough offspring in order to make up for all of the eagles being killed by the bird Cuisinarts at Altamont. But the region only has 60 pairs of eagles.

Indeed, the only time the wind industry has ever faced legal action for killing birds occurred last year when the state of California reached a $2.5 million settlementwith NextEra Energy Resources for the bird kills at Altamont. As part of that deal, the company agreed to remove or replace all of the turbines at Altamont by 2015.

The lack of prosecution of the wind industry for bird kills underscores a pernicious double standard in the enforcement of federal wildlife laws: at the very same time that federal law enforcement officials are bringing cases against oil and gas companies and electric utilities under the MBTA, they have given a de facto exemption to the wind industry for any enforcement action under that same statute. Indeed, over the past two decades or so, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against the oil and gas industry for violations of the MBTA. A recent example: On August 13, 2009, Exxon Mobil pled guilty in federal court to charges that it killed 85 birds – all of which were protected under the MBTA. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees for the bird kills, which occurred after the animals came in contact with hydrocarbons in uncovered tanks and waste water facilities on company properties located in five western states.

Despite the toll that wind turbines are taking on birds, the industry continues to claim that efforts to protect bird life are just too stringent. In May, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced guidelines for the siting of wind turbines, but AWEA immediately objected, with the lobby group’s boss, Denise Bode, denouncing the guidelines as “unworkable.”

Bats are getting whacked, too. On July 17, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the 420 wind turbines that have been erected in Pennsylvania “killed more than 10,000 bats last year…That’s an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and the Nature Conservancy predicts that as many as 2,900 turbines will be set up across the state by 2030.”

A study of a 44-turbine wind farm in West Virginia found that up to 4,000 bats had been killed by the turbines in 2004 alone. A 2008 study of dead bats found on the ground near a Canadian wind farm found that many of the bats had been killed by a change in air pressure near the turbine blades that causes fatal damage to their lungs, a condition known as “barotrauma.”

Bat Conservation International, an Austin-based group dedicated to preserving the flying mammals and their habitats, has called the proliferation of wind turbines “a lethal crisis.” In 2009, I interviewed Ed Arnett, who heads the group’s research efforts on wind power. He said that the head-long rush to develop wind power is having major detrimental effects on bat populations but few environmental groups are willing to discuss the problem because those groups are so focused on the issue of carbon dioxide emissions and the possibility of global warming. “To compromise today’s wildlife values and environmental impacts for tomorrow’s speculated hopes is irresponsible,” Arnett said. But Arnett added that only a handful of bat species are protected by federal law. And thus the killing of bats by wind turbines gets little attention from the media.”

“The final issue to be addressed is the one that drives the wind energy devotees to total distraction: carbon dioxide. For years, it has been assumed that wind energy can provide a cost-effective method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The reality: wind energy’s carbon dioxide-cutting benefits are vastly overstated. Furthermore, if wind energy does help reduce carbon emissions, those reductions are likely too expensive to be used on any kind of scale.

Those are the findings of an exhaustive new study from Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm. Rather than rely on computer models that use theoretical emissions data, the authors of the study, Porter Bennett and Brannin McBee, analyzed actual emissions data from electric generation plants located in four regions: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Bonneville Power Administration, California Independent System Operator, and the Midwest Independent System Operator. Those four system operators serve about 110 million customers, or about one-third of the US population.

Bennett and McBee looked at more than 300,000 hourly records from 2007 through 2009. Their results show that the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and other wind boosters have vastly overstated wind’s ability to cut sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. Indeed, the study found that in some regions of the country, like California, using wind energy doesn’t reduce sulfur dioxide emissions at all. But the most important conclusion from the study is that wind energy is not “a cost-effective solution for reducing carbon dioxide if carbon is valued at less than $33 per ton.” With the US economy still in recession and unemployment numbers near record levels, Congress cannot, will not, attempt to impose a carbon tax, no matter how small.”

In 2004, the Irish Electricity Supply Boardfound that as the level of wind capacity increases, “the CO2 emissions actually increase as a direct result of having to cope with the variation of wind-power output.”

A 2008 article published in the journal Energy Policy, James Oswald and his two co-authors concluded that increased use of windwill likely cause utilities to invest in lower-efficiency gas-fired generators that will be switched on and off frequently, a move that further lowers their energy efficiency. Upon publication of the study, Oswald said that carbon dioxide savings from wind power “will be less than expected, because cheaper, less efficient [gas-fired] plant[s] will be used to support these wind power fluctuations. Neither these extra costs nor the increased carbon production are being taken into account in the government figures for wind power.”

In November 2009, Kent Hawkins, a Canadian electrical engineer, published a detailed analysis on the frequency with which gas-fired generators must be cycled on and off in order to back up wind power. Hawkins findings: the frequent switching on and off results in more gas consumption than if there were no wind turbines at all. His analysis suggests that it would be more efficient in terms of carbon dioxide emissions to simply run combined-cycle gas turbines on a continuous basis rather than use wind turbines backed up by gas-fired generators that are constantly being turned on and off. Hawkins concludes that wind power is not an “effective CO2 mitigation” strategy “because of inefficiencies introduced by fast-ramping (inefficient) operation of gas turbines.”

“If those fat subsidies go away, then the US wind sector will be stopped dead in its tracks. And for consumers, that should be welcome news.

The wind energy business is the electric sector’s equivalent of the corn ethanol scam: it’s an over-subsidized industry that depends wholly on taxpayer dollars to remain solvent while providing an inferior product to consumers that does little, if anything, to reduce our need for hydrocarbons or cut carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, it only increases costs and complexity for the utilities, which, in turn, means higher costs for consumers.

A final point: whenever you hear people like Steve Chu complain about “NIMBYs” who don’t want wind turbines on their property, be sure to include billionaires on the list of NIMBYs.

You see, people like Boone Pickens are eager to have wind turbines and transmission lines put up on other people’s land, not theirs. In 2008, Pickens declared that his 68,000-acre ranch located in the Texas Panhandle, one of America’s windiest regions, will not sport a single turbine. “I’m not going to have the windmills on my ranch,” Pickens declared. “They’re ugly.”

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