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Thoughts on Windpower

By George Harvey       

Wind power is an issue in the current election campaigns in New England, but without understanding the context, it is nearly impossible to tell fact from fiction.

Practically all information on the subject is tainted by the misleading information from the fossil fuel industry. The overwhelming evidence from science blames fossil fuels for climate change, which threatens every part of the Vermont ecosystem and could cost us up to 70% of all higher species if left unchecked. The WHO says fossil fuels are killing over three million people per year through pollution. The UN is asking all governments to stop the subsidies the fossil fuel industry gets, which are over $525 billion per year in direct subsidies alone. And “distributed” power (from spread-out power generation), largely wind and solar, is a real, growing threat to those invested in fossil fuels.

Supporters of the fossil fuel industry like to say wind cannot support baseload power and needs backup power. In reality, large traditional plants need backup power, too. In fact, on a unit basis, the cost of backup power for large power plants is about three times that of wind and solar power. On top of that, the price of batteries is dropping so quickly that Barclays, an international finance bank, has downgraded the bonds of all US utilities because distributed power and batteries are becoming less expensive than grid power for increasing numbers of Americans.

The fossil fuel supporters say that wind power does not provide steady jobs. This is not true. Turbine maintenance requires steady work. Wind turbines are typically serviced on a weekly basis.

They say that without government incentives, windpower would not exist. That can only be true if the fossil fuel and nuclear industries keep getting subsidies while windpower gets none.

They say wind power is expensive. The DOE says the average wholesale cost of contracts for electricity from wind in 2013 was 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour – easily the least expensive power source in the US. Even adding the 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour wind turbines were getting in incentives, it is still less expensive than power generated by natural gas.

They say windpower drives down property values. None of the ten peer-reviewed papers I was able to find says wind farms do drive down property values. Some say wind turbines may even increase them. The largest of these was from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and the University of Connecticut, which studied over 130,000 real estate transactions in Massachusetts and showed modest increases.

They say windpower makes people sick. The position paper from the Australian Medical Association clearly blames the symptoms of wind turbine syndrome on a placebo effect resulting from “scare tactics” (their words) of anti-wind activists.

They say birds and bats are being killed. What they do not mention is that for each bird killed making a gigawatt of power from wind, 35 to 40 are killed making the same amount of power from fossil fuels.

They say mountain habitats are destroyed by wind farms. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources says the forests in those mountain habitats will be “nearly eliminated” in this state because of climate change caused by fossil fuels.

We need to act rationally, based on science. The fossil fuel interests do not want us to do that.

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