Power Threatens Corporate Bottom Line
seems like every time a wind farm is proposed, The NIMBYs
start screaming foul. But are these true NIMBYs, or are
they corporate wolves dressed up in green clothing? Scrutiny
of most arguments against wind energy suggests that critics
are either under-informed or dishonest.
arguments against wind power include the risk to birds and
bats, large environmental footprint, property value decline,
noise pollution, and, in the case of off-shore farms, effects
on marine life and geomorphology. The inconsistency of wind
as a flow source combined with the current lack of ability
to store wind generated power is cited as a reason for scrapping
wind energy all together. Finally, there is the specter
of government subsidies for alternative energy sources in
a little homework reveals most of these points as moot.
research by both the Department of Energy (DOE) and Western
Ecosystems Technology Inc. (WEST) revealed collision mortalities
for birds to be remarkably low, only 0.01-0.02% as compared
with 25-50% from buildings. Communication towers are a far
greater threat, but nobody is condemning the cell phone.
Migrating bats were at first overlooked, but now their vulnerabilities
are known, they are being studied extensively. (Who needs
bats anyway, really?) Even conservationists agree that if
built in the right locations and run in a sensitive way
(turbines can be shut down during migration season) turbines
won’t kill birds or bats.
“footprint”—the amount of space taken up by a wind farm—is
typically between 0.25 and 0.50 acres per turbine. This
does not include the 5-10 turbine diameters of spacing required
between wind turbines. That “dead space” is included in
the calculated perimeter of the wind farm. But actually
the land between the turbines is still usable for its original
purpose, be that farm (which is most common) or wildlife
habitat. Furthermore, the turbines can always be dismantled,
leaving behind no brownfield.
ranting to the contrary, a DOE study found that property
values actually increased faster in areas within a five-mile
radius of an existing wind farm than in similar communities
farther away. Noise generation in general has been dramatically
reduced since the inception of wind turbines in the 1970s;
turbines are quieter than most busy offices. You can have
a conversation at the base of them. Design changes have
limited low-frequency noise to below human thresholds.
is far ahead of us in this arena, both in terms of researching
existing problems and from a technology standpoint. The
Wind Turbine Noise Conference being held in Berlin this
October includes presentations on understanding the acoustical
behavior of turbine using acoustic imaging and localization,
and quantification of noise sources on a wind turbine. Get
it? Actual data, not someone’s opinion stated as fact. Oh
those whacky Europeans!
same is true with offshore wind farming. Offshore farms
are desirable because wind currents are stronger and more
consistent. Concerns for marine life are of course legitimate.
Denmark, the world’s leader in offshore wind power, addressed
these concerns directly by running demonstration
farms for the purpose of environmental impact assessment.
Again, Denmark is generating actual data, and applying it
to ensure minimal environmental impact.
power generation is intermittent and generally difficult
to predict, true, and often good winds exist in areas with
limited grid capacity. However, battery and flywheel technologies
are already available for single-turbine generated energy
storage. It’s only a matter of time, and research focus,
before the same is true of wind farm generated power.
what about the enormous subsidies pouring into the
green energy movement as a whole? This artificially lowers
the cost of wind energy to the consumer, making it seem
competitive when really it’s not. Wind power subsidies should
be stopped. Absolutely. Just as soon as we quit subsidizing
fossil fuels. Yes, you read that right.
review of ten separate studies of the amount of subsidies
going to the fossil fuel industry exposed values ranging
from $200 million per year in to a high of $1.7 trillion
(in 1999 dollars.) For comparison, the CATO Institute reports
wind power as having received $900 million worth of federal
subsidies between 1978 and 1996, for an average of $50 million
per year. Hmmm. 50 million versus 1.7 trillion. And how
many wind-farmers are rich?
is not to say that wind power is a zero-impact panacea.
Bat mortalities and long-term effects of vibration and noise
will need to be continually monitored and reassessed. Decommissioned
wind farms will retain remnants of the concrete foundations.
But these minor obstacles do not explain the vitriolic opposition
to wind energy. There appears to be another dynamic at work
are very few big names in the wind industry. Two-thirds
of the wind power industry is represented by companies with
less than ten employees. Wind power doesn’t have connections
in Washington. It doesn’t give us an excuse to start a war.
We will probably never have a wind farmer president.
of the most vocal, staunch, and cited opponents of wind
power is the Heartland Institute, an organization which
claims to be non-partisan while promoting privatized education
and touting Michael Crichton’s correctness regarding the
“panic” over global warming. Unsurprisingly, the Heartland
Institute has received about half a million dollars from
Exxon-Mobil, and their Board of Directors includes at least
one Exxon-Mobil executive. Nonpartisan indeed. Like most
raging libertarians, the folks at the Heartland Institute
forgive and generally support Republicans because they both
favor big business, and of course free-market strategy will
save us all. Too bad they mistake corporate welfare for
a ‘free-market’ policy.
recent articles have appeared in the Buffalo News and the
Rochester Chronicle, written by Tom Golisano. You may recall
Mr. Golisano as the founder of Paychex and one of the world’s
wealthiest men, or simply as the guy who lost the gubernatorial
race three times. Either way, he has become a critic of
the proposed wind farm project in the Chautauqua area. In
addition to the points already addressed, Mr. Golisano expresses
concerns about ice throws, the strobe light effect of the
turbines on sunlight, the red lights on the turbines, and
the dimensions of the towers.
Ward of WindPowerNY spoke with me and addressed each of
these. He explained that ice “throws” is a misnomer; ice
“shedding” would be more accurate. Even if the turbines
continued spinning when covered in ice, their speed would
be greatly reduced. Ice would be “thrown” maybe to the base
of the tower. But these turbines go into automatic shut
down if they become mis-weighted, as would be the case with
any significant ice build up. Once the blades stop, ice
would be deposited directly below them.
strobe effect, blinking red lights, and tower size are more
substantial concerns. Strobing happens during low sun position;
morning and evening. The effect bothers some individuals
while others fail to even notice it. The FAA requires blinking
red light to be positioned on the towers. The wind industry
is working to minimize the number of them, perhaps to every
third tower or only the peripheral towers. Both of these
issues are taken into account when siting a wind farm, and
New York State has the most rigorous review process in the
the proposed towers for the Finger Lakes project are
quite large—a requirement for economics-of-scale reasons--though
not as big as Golisano states. His article claims the towers
themselves are 400 feet, with an additional 270 foot blade.
In fact, the towers are approximately 260 feet, with an
additional 120 foot of blade, making them not quite 400
feet total height.
Golisano: under-informed or dishonest? Well... the green
power incentive was largely a Pataki initiative. And Golisano
owns a house on Chautauqua Lake. When he says “there are
more suitable and less harmful sites for these proposed
wind farms,” it sort of comes off as, “I’m not against wind
power as a concept, but can’t we find some poorer neighborhoods
to put these ugly things?”
yes! Oswego, home to a nuclear power plant, is already vying
to get the first of GE’s offshore wind turbines. The cooling
towers of the nuclear plant are large enough to dwarf the
wind turbines, and there are almost no wealthy people there.
In fact, residents there are hoping that placement of the
prototype will win them the eventual siting of the GE manufacturing
site for these turbines, resulting in many well-paying jobs.
the Finger Lakes Region could really use the wind farm money.
And Doug Ward contends that many people in Chautauqua do
want the project there. “It’s always easier to mobilize
people against something. Also, if you track across
the state, it’s the same faces at every anti-wind campaign.
Not necessarily local people.”
point Ward makes is the consequences of failing to expand
the shrinking economic base of Upstate New York. “These
people live within a resource, a potential source of revenue
for farmers.” And if they fail to make enough profit running
these farms, they will be forced to sell them to the highest
bidder, who will no doubt parcel them up into strip malls
and subdivisions. Which is uglier, a windmill or a Wal-Mart?
fact is, wind is clean source of energy. The environmental
damage of traditional energy sources is not visible on a
local level. Acid rain and global warming aren’t “visible.”
Few of us live near acid mine drainage areas or nuclear
waste facilities. Perhaps the aesthetic cost would seem
less significant if we were more exposed to these monstrous
possible that the wind farm is a less desirable option
to individual “residential” turbines at people’s houses.
But big business couldn’t make money off that either. And
then it’s our doors the corporate wolves would be at.