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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Points on the Windpower Moratorium

(This article appeared in the February, 2013 edition of Green Energy Times:)

By George Harvey

Unwittingly, perhaps, a local politician gave me a set of bullet points on why some people wanted a windpower moratorium. Here they are, with my comments:

1. Windpower is said to do environmental damage to birds, bats, and ridgetop habitats.

If you think about it almost all human development has some sort of associated damage. The issue should not be whether damage is done, but whether we will  do more damage by putting windpower in, or by failing to put it in.

Independent studies of bird and bat populations show little damage to them from wind turbines. But some scientists say global warming will render about one million entire species extinct.

Only a small portion of ridgetops can be damaged at all, because most of it is parkland or reserved forest. Siting laws and regulations protect what remains rather strictly. By contrast, failing to act on global warming will severely damage all eco-systems, including ridgetops.

On balance, we need windpower to protect the environment, because it saves birds and bats, and helps preserve ridgeline habitats.

2. Some people say wind turbines are ugly.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many people think wind turbines are beautiful. But I would like to point out to those who use this as an issue, that the predictions for global warming include whole forests full of dead stands of trees, and our fall colors going to uniform brown. Not having wind power installed will probably make things worse.

Lempster WInd Farm, NH. Photo: Cathy Sturgeon

3. Windpower is said to reduce land values for nearby properties drastically. At a meeting I recently attended, some people said realtors told them land prices typically go down 40% to 50% in the areas around new wind farms.

There are many independent studies on this subject. One, “Impact of the Lempster Wind Power Project on Local Residential Property Values,”was conducted by faculty of the University of New Hampshire. It concluded that there was no discernible difference in property values near that project. It also contains analysis of earlier studies covering 50,000 property transactions in 11 states, all of which produced very similar results.

There are reasons why a realtor might say values will decline drastically. One potential reason is to get worried owners to put property up for sale before it is devalued, giving the realtors more to sell. I will say this is not the only reason, but it is worthwhile to do independent research before selling property out of fear.

4. Infrasound from windpower is blamed for a wide variety of illnesses among those who live nearby.

A number of independent studies have been unable to verify increased illness near wind farms. Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of Independent Expert Panel,” from the Massachusetts EPA, states, “There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines, that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.'”

Recently, the EPA of Southern Australia released a study, “Infrasound levels near wind farms and in other environments.” They did not find increased levels of infrasound near wind farms.

5. There is a claim that wind and solar power make it hard to balance the grid.There are even utility executives who have gone so far as to say that Vermont’s goal of 90% reliance on renewable power by 2050 is unreachable, if

Kingdom Community Wind Farm, VT. Photo: Green Mountain Power Co.

wind and solar are the primary power sources, because the technology to balance the grid does not exist.

New technology is being developed very rapidly, and 2050 is still years away, but we do not have to wait until then to see how wrong this argument is. The first power grid 100% reliant on solar power was started up last year in Tokelau. While that grid is admittedly small, Scotland is planning to be 100% reliant on renewable power, mostly wind, by 2020. Other countries are moving similarly.

Perhaps what the utility executives meant was that the grid cannot be balanced under their current business plan. Windpower is threatening to utilities that cannot change with the times.

6. The most surprising claim was that it takes more power to build a wind turbine than the turbine will ever produce. If this were true, they would be too expensive to put up, relative to the value of the power they produce.

VPIRG executive director Paul Burns pointed out an obvious fact, lost in a debate sometimes driven by hysteria. Global warming is not going to slow down so we can take time to discuss the issue.

Sheffield WInd Farm, VT. Photo courtesy of Herb Swanson/SWANPIX