Wind power’s benefits misrepresented

Posted July 28, 2010, at 6:57 p.m.

In recent months as I have studied the economic and ecological impacts of mountaintop industrial wind, I have been amazed at the distortions and misrepresentations of the wind developers. As an environmentalist, I have for decades supported a move away from our addiction to oil to more eco-friendly renewable energy, including wind. However, when I hear the developers spin the tragic gulf oil spill to justify their desire to use our tax dollars to destroy Maine mountaintops with as many as 1,800 400-foot turbines spread over 360 miles, I am appalled by how this “justification” is so disingenuous.

The truth is that only about 1 percent of our electricity is generated by oil. In Maine almost all of our oil consumption is used for heat and transportation.

Another favorite tactic of the developers is to promote mountaintop industrial wind as a panacea for climate change. There has never been a coal- or oil-fired power plant closed due to wind generation. Indeed, in Europe and China, where wind power has become a significant source of electric energy, greenhouse gases have actually increased significantly.

Since wind is intermittent and not reliable, it is necessary to maintain backup power or what is called “spinning reserve” to replace the wind power when the wind is not blowing. This has resulted in the need to build additional carbon-emitting power plants. In China, this has meant a new coal-fired plant coming on line each week. If the technology were available to store wind energy, the problem of intermittency could be overcome Unfortunately, this is decades away.

In the case of mountaintop industrial wind, it is necessary to add to the carbon calculation the loss of carbon-sequestering forests due to massive clear-cutting on ridgelines and the construction of roads and power lines. If the 1,800 turbines were constructed, as much as 50,000 acres of carbon-sequestering forest would have to be clear-cut. In addition, the turbines require electricity to run which does not come from the turbines, but must be generated on site by diesel generators or brought in on separate power lines. Each turbine also requires as much as 200 gallons of oil lubricant, which must be changed on a regular basis.

Finally, it is particularly disturbing to hear developers tout the economic benefits of mountaintop industrial wind. There is simply no way in a cost-benefit analysis that mountaintop industrial wind comes out as a good economic option. The cost of wind generation is two to three times more expensive than conventional power. Our tax dollars in the form of huge subsidies are the only reason mountaintop wind, with its incredibly low efficiency, is being pursued. It is ironic that our tax dollars are paying for mountaintop wind which will ultimately raise our electric rates.

Developers like to tout the benefits of jobs and local-state tax revenues. Yes, it is true that during the mountaintop leveling and construction phase several hundred temporary jobs are created, but after construction is complete about one permanent job for each turbine is created — so 360 miles of destroyed mountaintop would ultimately generate about 150 jobs.

While local property taxes may decline, this has not been documented in any place in Maine where wind has been installed. What has been documented is that home values drop from 20 percent to 40 percent within a 2-mile radius of a wind turbine. People do not want to live near industrial wind plants because of the noise and visual pollution.

State and county government may collect some tax dollars, but this will be more than offset by reduced tourism and declining recreational dollars. This is why North Carolina put a moratorium on mountaintop industrial wind.

Anybody who takes the time to seriously study mountaintop wind will come to understand its exorbitant cost and its negative environmental impact. A thorough and objective review of current literature could only lead one to the conclusion that mountaintop industrial wind is a disaster and should be abandoned.

It would be a far better investment of our $5 billion of tax money earmarked for mountaintop wind to be targeted toward conservation through efficiency and weatherization. This approach would actually decrease our oil consumption, reduce greenhouse gases, and create thousands of permanent jobs and business opportunities — things that mountaintop wind simply does not come even close to accomplishing.

Jonathan Carter is the director of the Forest Ecology Network.

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