Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sad Fact: Environmental Attacks On Wind Power Keep Coming, With New England The Eye Of The Storm

In Vermont, attacks are slowing its deployment, with the Governor warning the state's efforts to reduce carbon pollution is harmed. In Massachusetts, the loudest voices in opposition to wind power have come from the Libertarian Koch brothers and local environmental advocates.  Indeed, New England remains the eye of the storm for attacks by environmentalists on wind power.

While environmental attacks on wind are particularly virulent in New England, they have been launched in New York, Maryland and other states. For example, over the last 14 years, I have battled similar opposition to many of the 24 operating wind farms in Pennsylvania.

So, are the environmental attacks on wind batty? They are wrong and misguided, even though some points made against wind have merit.  Wind does require major construction, clearing of land, and often felling of trees.  Wind does change view sheds and wind turbines are not completely silent.

And each wind turbine on average will kill a small number of birds and bats, many less than cats, or buildings, or cars, but more than none.

The environmental opponents of wind have some facts on their side, but their passion causes at times an exaggeration of wind's shortcomings and impacts.  No doubt, they are passionately opposed to wind in the name of the environment.  Yet, their passion can cause more environmental harm than benefit because of the harsh realities of our often ugly energy choices.

Wind opponents refuse to look at energy tradeoffs that are a difficult fact of life.  What happens every time a single wind turbine is stopped that could generate perhaps 5 million kilowatt-hours each year?

Something else takes the place of each turbine delayed or stopped.  And it is likely coal or gas generation fills the power vacuum, and that result is a loss for the environment.

Burning coal releases mercury, soot, lead, arsenic, and many other pollutants.  It causes also substantial pollution of water.  Gas emits no mercury, lead, arsenic, soot,  but its environmental footprint is bigger than that of wind.

All energy choices have bigger or lesser impacts.  When sources like wind with low impacts are stopped, sources of energy with bigger environmental impacts take its place.  The local area where wind was stopped will be preserved, but the regional and global environment harmed. That is the ugly truth.


  1. John,

    Isn't it fair to state that the one part your analysis is missing is the environmental issues coupled WITH reliability issues?

    I think you are spot on in regards to the choice between coal and wind - clearly the negative drawbacks to wind pale in comparison to the negative impacts of coal. However, we know coal is significantly more reliable than wind. So although you mention the trade off of "bigger or lesser impacts", I think it is worth mentioning that maybe the impacts of wind, although smaller in scale, may be larger as compared to relative reliability.

    To clarify, yes coal does terrible things to the environment, but it gives us power all day and all night with no problems which clearly provides humanity incredible gains. In comparison, wind energy has a smaller environmental impact, but it still impacts the environment while only contributing a small amount of energy (Germany wind farms only running at 17% of capacity: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9559656/Germanys-wind-power-chaos-should-be-a-warning-to-the-UK.html)

    I am not sure if this can be measured scientifically, but to me the environmental impact should be considered relative to overall output/efficiency.

    1. Wind has weaknesses and strengths. It now provides 25% of the the total power in Iowa and 12% or more of the power in 9 states. It is already a vital source of electricity in these states. Grid operators know how to deal with fluctuating demand as well as supply. They have to do that with or without wind. You are right that wind is not a baseload source of power but wind turbines normally produce some electricity about 80% or more of the hours of the year.

  2. Is more than just the "Libertarian Koch brothers and local environmental advocates" which are raising opposition to wind farms in New England. A couple years or so ago there was a report in the Boston Globe that the Kennedys opposed in windfarm off of Cape Cod because it obstructed their view of the Cape. I think they call it NIMBY (i.e. Not In My Back Yard).

  3. Sigh. Wind is an inherently weak source of electric power production. The impacts of wind development are treated differently for this reason, not because critics don't understand the tradeoffs. We do. That's the point.

    Wind power simply is not an energy dense form of electric power production. It's basic physics. Air is a thin, gaseous fluid, it simply cannot deliver the kind of power to a turbine that water or steam can. That's why a wind farm proposal *may* not make sense unless the site has the capacity to host a lot of turbines and provide relatively continuous usable wind velocities.

    PA is marginal for wind power according to industry & DOE ratings. Clearing ridgetop habitat in a state like PA should be greeted with the same skeptical consideration that any conversion of such lands from non-industrial use to industrial energy production use would receive.

    If wind power in states like PA generally offered lots of power in return for the impacts, we wouldn't see the amount of controversy that we do. It's time for broad-brush wind power advocates to acknowledge that there are *inherent* attributes of wind power that can make it a very tough call in marginal regions. Only then can we have real, intelligent debates on the merits of specific proposals; instead of just lobbing pro/anti talking points back and forth.

  4. Wind power is an infinite resource that cannot be exhausted and reduces greenhouse gas emissions when used instead of electricity generated from fossil fuels. You can place wind turbines to produce electricity by harnessing the natural power of the wind to drive a generator.