Tuesday, December 08, 2009

“Gone with the Windmills”:
Wrestling with a proposed wind project

Commentary by James H. Shott

My county of residence in Virginia is currently divided over a proposed wind energy project along the mountaintop involving more than 2,500 acres of the ridgeline. Not surprisingly, the project has strong sentiment on both sides.

The wind has been a tool of humans since at least as far back as 5000 BC when it was used to power boats on the Nile, then a few centuries later used to pump water and grind grain, and in the 1880s someone figured out how to use it to produce electricity.

However, the first central electricity generation facilities developed in 1881 were powered by water and coal, not wind. Wind power has an inherent weakness: it is inefficient because the wind is not always blowing to provide energy, which is why water and coal were the first methods to power electric generation. And that is why wind power is an alternative energy source, not a primary one.

Because of its negatives wind power was not considered a serious method of producing electricity; fossil fuels are far superior in efficiency and dependability. But given the manic drive for “clean” energy, based on a well-engineered but unproven fear of global catastrophe, wind, solar and other green sources have gained an undeserved degree of credibility and importance.

Obviously, if electricity can be produced efficiently and economically without pouring pollutants into the air, we must utilize those technologies to generate power. But as of now, that isn’t possible.

The recent scandal involving the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) community – specifically the Climate Research Unit in Britain and NASA in the U.S. – discredits the message of impending doom from the environmental movement and Al Gore, and increases the already substantial doubt about man’s effect on the environment. How serious a threat can AGW really be if the scientists promoting it are compelled to hide data to prevent peer reviewers from discovering its fallacies, and manipulate and distort facts in order to create a scary scenario?

And in the absence of proof, or even strong evidence that burning fossil fuels actually affects the global environment, there is no urgency to implement undeveloped technologies like wind turbines and rush them onto the market.

But even before the fraud and deceit became public knowledge, one very important figure in environmental lore turned thumbs down on wind energy.

Dr. James Lovelock, 84 year-old inventor of the 'Gaia theory' and inspiration for the green movement, now regrets his endorsement of wind projects in Great Britain, according to Britain’s (begin ital) Western Morning News(end ital). Dr. Lovelock points out that wind turbines need conventional fossil fuel-fired power stations backing them up, and those power stations must constantly burn fuel on stand-by so that when the wind stops blowing they can quickly be put online to make up the production slack and meet demand. The major advantage of clean energy technology is that it doesn’t burn fossil fuels, so to have fossil fuel plants fired up on stand-by defeats the primary advantage of wind energy. Dr. Lovelock has termed wind power “an expensive folly.”

It is curious that in the name of environmental consciousness the same people that decry mountain top mining favor wind projects, without any apparent regard for, or perhaps an understanding of, the degree of environmental damage these projects produce.

The proposed turbine towers will be more than 400 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet in diameter at their base, and each of the three blades on the turbines will be 100 to 150 feet long. They are so large and spin so fast that they are an acknowledged danger to bird populations.

Roads have to be built to the ridge and along the ridge wide enough to transport the pieces of the towers to the construction site, and each tower requires a cleared and level space of from 3 to 6 acres, and a concrete pad to support the turbine. That means that a large portion of the mountain’s ridgeline will be clear-cut, blasted and leveled. There will also have to be transmission lines and towers constructed to transmit the power from the turbines.

Does this sound "green" to you?

So, having failed in the two most important missions – producing electricity efficiently and being environmentally friendly – what compelling reason is there to desecrate the mountain’s ridgeline with the construction of sixty wind turbines?

There would be an initial burst of tax revenue and many temporary construction jobs created, but would those jobs go to local people? Maybe, but maybe not. After construction the tax revenues drop off and continue to dwindle as the equipment depreciates, and the net job creation long term would be only 10 to 15 jobs. Even the electricity produced won’t benefit the area.

When you look at the pros and cons of this project, the upshot of all of this is that there is no compelling reason for it to go forward. There is little benefit to the county, in general, and most of those who will benefit from the project aren’t county residents. Like the stimulus bills, a lot of money changes hands, but little of real substance gets done. And, we don’t need it.

Cross-posted from Observations

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