What’s bad about wind power? More than just noise

Posted March 05, 2010, at 7:40 p.m.

Recently Gov. John Baldacci scoffed at the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power when we asked him to issue a moratorium on industrial wind power projects until adequate noise regulations are implemented. The Bangor Daily News backed Baldacci in an editorial titled “Wind Ban Wrong.” The Feb. 25 piece did acknowledge how right we are on several wind power issues, yet it still concluded that giving the state time would be wrong. We disagree with this, with the conclusion that noise is our primary consideration and with the common assumption that wind power’s supposed benefits outweigh its costs.

In characterizing us, the editorial asserts: “That opposition centers on one key concern — noise.” It also said: “At the heart of the debate is sound.” This is wrong.

While sound is obviously the central issue in our call for noise regulations and one of many wind power deficiencies, it is not the heart of our refusal to pawn away Maine’s landscape and mountain ridges for dubious compensation. There are negative impacts with any electric generating source. But those negatives must be weighed against positives.

If after careful examination of noise issues and after a public process to design and apply rules protecting the public, perhaps then low-frequency noise could be deemed an acceptable cost of creating electricity. Maybe then we could agree that we did all we could to responsibly regulate this health threat. But the state has not done such an analysis and it has not written rules. Meanwhile we are rolling out red carpet for the wind industry, using the unsubstantiated justification.

The people around the world describing their misery are not lying. The residents of Mars Hill, Freedom and Vinalhaven (many of whom wanted wind projects) are not fabricating stories. While the state writes and enforces thousands of rules on everything from livestock to insurance to education, it has declined to address an imminent threat barreling like a July thunderstorm into Maine’s mountains.

Some two dozen mammoth, sprawling wind energy projects are now prospecting sites in some of Maine’s most cherished places. The speculators’ urgency is heightened by the 2010 availability of gratuitous government handouts which make the projects temporarily viable.

Public protection should be no less urgent. We suggest starting with a review of the concerns expressed by leading physicians, including the World Health Organization and the Maine Medical Association.

The BDN says “state regulators need not call a timeout” because they can work on the issues. Yes, they can. But they won’t. The Citizens’ Task Force has civilly engaged the Legislature, regulators and the administration. But they all backhanded us because, as you correctly observe, “state government is so bullish on wind that it is turning a blind eye to problems.”

Maine has made a value assumption based on sentiment rather than a value judgment based on careful consideration of wind’s benefits and costs. This is how houses of cards are built.

The editorial referred to wind as “the next energy wave.” Waves rise and fall like fads. The wind industry has thus far exploited a disconnect between fact and perception. Hence it has ridden a wave of green idealism to gain a toehold. Alas, even the press can get caught on a wave, as shown in the editorial where the BDN tacitly accepts myths about wind replacing some oil and coal.

The Citizens’ Task Force has thoughtfully compared the positives — such as wind is free — and negatives — such as turbine noise syndrome — and we conclude that wind power is unnecessary, unreliable, unaffordable and unsustainable. Despite being temporarily fashionable, its negatives far outweigh its positives, especially in Maine.

Because we so value our environment, we might be more inclined to embrace industrial wind power if it made sense for Maine. If there were a shortage of electricity, if Maine weren’t already a leader in renewables, if wind actually did anything to reduce oil usage, if 1,800 mountain-marring turbines on 360 miles of blasted ridge could contribute more than 5 percent of the grid’s electric needs, and yes, if turbine noise did not cause harm, then maybe we’d think the benefits are worth the costs. Noise-induced illness is one of many costs that, in total, are too high.

Monique Aniel and Steve Thurston are co-chairpersons of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, www.windtaskforce.org.

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