May 22, 2011

The great green wind scam

Not only will large-scale wind power blight Maine, but it won't lower emissions or reduce our oil dependence.

By JONATHAN CARTER

Mountaintop industrial wind development in Maine is both an ecological disaster and economic boondoggle. The mountaintop wind developers, or as I like to call them, "the mountain slayers and profiteers," are foisting upon the state an Enron-esque scam. This house of cards will collapse. The only questions are, when, how much damage will have occurred, and how many billions of dollars of stranded costs will the ratepayers and taxpayers have to pick up?

From an ecological perspective there is absolutely no way one can defend mountaintop industrial wind development.

Blasting and mountaintop leveling cause irreversible damage to soils, hydrological flows and the unique assemblages of plants and animal. Thousands of bats and birds will be killed and many species of wildlife, including bear, moose and deer, will be forced to flee from the massive ground vibrations and the pulsating of high- and low-frequency noise.

If, as envisioned by the state, 360 miles of mountaintop industrial wind structures are built (resulting in 50,000 acres of clearcut), the visual pollution of 400-foot towers with flashing lights, and the accompanying noise pollution, will penetrate thousands of square miles of the Maine wild lands. It would completely alter the bucolic nature of the quiet Maine countryside.

The biggest fraud being perpetrated by the mountain slayers and profiteers is that mountaintop industrial wind will somehow reduce our dependence on foreign oil and somehow result in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Three years ago, before I started to examine the science around mountaintop industrial wind, I would have wholeheartedly agreed -- but the facts are the facts.

Mountaintop industrial wind use will not reduce our consumption of oil and will not reduce green house gas emissions. Only 1 percent of the electricity in the United States is produced by oil. In Maine we have two oil-fired electric power plants, which, because of the high expense, are only used when peak demand outstrips supply.

Three separate studies have now documented that industrial wind does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a simple concept to understand. Since wind energy is intermittent and unreliable, it cannot be counted on, and thus requires backup fossil fuel power availability.

When the wind blows, a fossil fuel plant has to be turned down or off. When the wind stops blowing (which can vary on a minute-to-minute basis), the power source has to be ramped up again. It is analogous to driving in stop-and-go traffic -- more fuel is consumed and greater amounts of carbon are emitted.

Yet the American Wind Energy Association (a lobbying group paid for by the wind developers) still is trying to paint industrial wind as a "green" renewable energy. This is analogous to the tobacco companies for years telling us that cigarette smoking is not hazardous to our health. And, like the tobacco companies, the wind industry has its paid-for scientists and environmental groups promoting its mantra.

If the ecological disaster of mountaintop industrial wind development is not enough to convince people to say no, then just consider the economic impacts.

Wind development would not even be a dream if it were not for the massive federal subsidies -- your tax dollars. If Maine constructs 360 miles of mountaintop industrial wind towers, $5 billion of your money will be placed in the bank accounts of the wind developers.

Currently, a wind developer can get 30 percent of a project's cost upfront from the U.S. Treasury. This does not include the loan guarantees, accelerated depreciation and potential production tax credits. While wind developers like to point out that they get a significantly smaller piece of the total energy subsidy pie than other energy projects, the fact remains that on a per-megawatt-produced basis, wind subsidies are 12 to 20 times greater. (Wind is subsidized at $23 per megawatt -- the next nearest subsidy is nuclear at $1.59 per megawatt).

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