Resource Documents: General (88 items)
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Author: Heath Renewable Energy Advisory Committee
Global Warming and Climate Change: The Committee at the outset of its proceeding acknowledged the science of climate change and the necessity to transition to non-fossil fuel energy sources. These sources include solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, wave, tidal, biological and, potentially, fusion. Notwithstanding the societal need to move away from fossil fuel, the Committee could not assume at the start of its deliberations that every alternative energy source was equally available in all locations or equally benign in its impact. Since the Committee was charged with researching utility scale wind in Heath, it began its research with an assessment of the availability of wind in our region as a resource for the industrial production of electricity.
1. Wind Resource Availability: The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), a branch of the US Department of Energy, ranks the wind resource availability in all 50 States. It defines the amount of a wind resource in terms of the nameplate gigawatts of electricity potentially installable. …
Texas, for example, has a wind potential of about 1901 gigawatts, Iowa, 570 gigawatts. By comparison Massachusetts has a nameplate wind potential of one gigawatt. With a wind potential of 1/10,000 of that of the country, it ranks 35th amongst the other states. The Committee then analyzed what percent of Massachusetts’s electricity consumption could be met by the one gigawatt of nameplate capacity potentially installable in the State. Using a capacity factor of 30%, the actual output to be expected from land based turbines would be about 0.3 gigawatts. The US DOE shows that the State consumes [at] about 6 gigawatts on average. Dividing the expected 0.3 gigawatts of actual output by the 6 gigawatts needed, the greatest contribution which land-based wind turbines can make to meet the State’s electricity needs is about 5%. In assuming a 30% capacity factor, the Committee has given the benefit the doubt to the wind industry. In analyzing the capacity factors of surrounding states, New York State had an average capacity factor in 2010 of 22.7%; Searsburg, VT during the first 10 years of its operation 20.9%; and Maine 23.69% for the first three quarters of this year. The same analysis done over the eastern third of the country shows the land-based wind potential to be a negligible resource for generating electricity.
The Committee then focused on the wind resource available in western Massachusetts and Heath in particular. …. The NREL data show that the best wind potential in western Massachusetts is equal to the worst wind resource in states such as Texas and Iowa. … To put into perspective the electricity potential from wind in Heath, the Committee compared the output of Yankee Atomic in Rowe with the expected output of industrial wind in Heath. The Yankee atomic facility had a nameplate capacity of 181 megawatts and a capacity factor of 74% over its 36-year lifecycle — the actual output averaged 136 MW. If Heath were to permit an industrial wind complex the size of the 19-turbine Hoosac facility in Monroe and Florida, each turbine would have a nameplate capacity of 1.5 MW. The total nameplate capacity would be 28.5 MW. Using a 30% capacity factor, the expected output would be 8.5 MW in Heath as compared to 136 MW at Yankee Atomic in Rowe.
Our estimate for Heath is overly optimistic. Our analysis was based on the Hoosac facility, which is located on an average 2,300-foot elevation. The highest peak in Heath is 1,900 feet. Our analysis also used a 30% capacity factor, which we have shown has not been met in either New York, Vermont or Maine. In order to match the output of Yankee Atomic in Heath using wind, the Town would need over 300 wind turbines, each the size of a 40-story skyscraper (400 ft tall). Given the setbacks, with just three turbine sites, Heath would essentially need to be depopulated.
2. Carbon Dioxide Reduction: Because the wind resource in western Massachusetts is so limited, the CO2 reduction to be expected from land-based wind turbines is negligible. The Committee followed the analysis of Ben Luce, a physicist and chairperson of the Sustainable Energy Department at Lyndon State College in Vermont. The 5% reduction of fossil fuel–generated electricity, alluded to above, was analyzed for its impact on reducing CO2 emissions. The State publishes data on the contribution of each sector of the economy to CO2 emissions. Electric generation contributes 28.68% to the total CO2 load in the State. Therefore, the 5% reduction of fossil fueled generation can be expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 28.68% of 5%, or 1.43%.
The Committee then used another stream of data from Hoosac to verify this order of magnitude measure. Iberdrola, the developer of Hoosac, estimated that the Hoosac facility would reduce CO2 emissions in the State by about 100,000,000 pounds annually (or 45,359 metric tons). The State data show the State emits 84,830,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. Dividing 45,359 metric tons by 84,830,000 metric tons, Hoosac would enable 0.05% reduction in the CO2 emission of the State annually. But Hoosac is just one facility. How many Hoosacs could be installed? Using the NREL data showing about one gigawatt (1000 MW) of nameplate potential in the State, approximately 36 Hoosac-sized facilities could be built (1000 divided by 28.5). If each facility reduced CO2 emissions by 0.05%, then 36 such facilities would reduce CO2 emission by 36 times 0.05 or 1.8%. This is very strong agreement with our previous estimate using a different data stream.
This analysis is exclusively a wind resource limitation argument. It has nothing to do with the intermittency argument. The intermittency line of reason shows a marked inefficiency in the combustion of fossil fuel caused by the ramping up and down of the fossil fueled backup with the variability of wind speeds. There are studies in the literature showing that the wind resource limitation AND the inefficiencies in integrating wind-generated electricity into the grid, actually increase the consumption of fossil fuel used and CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Again, the Committee wanted to be as liberal as possible in our assessment of the benefits to be provided by wind. Our conclusion: There is no significant amount of electricity to be produced or CO2 emissions to be reduced by land-based, industrial-scale wind development in Massachusetts and in Heath in particular.
3. Wind Turbine Noise and Health Impacts: The Committee reviewed the research on the effects of wind turbine noise on human health. …
We first consider the effects of wave intensity (i.e. loudness). Loudness diminishes as a function of distance: the greater the distance the lesser the loudness, a pretty obvious assertion. But, can we quantify the relationship of distance to loudness in such a way as to roughly determine the distance needed to lower noise to acceptable levels? The answer is complicated by: 1) what we mean by “acceptable”, 2) the frequency of the sound emitted, 3) the atmospheric conditions under which the sound is emitted, e.g. wind shear, humidity, topography, etc., and finally, 4) the noise “signature” of the source (all noise is not the same).
With regard to acceptability, there is no absolute standard. Extensive literature shows that adverse community response to noise is a function of the increase of noise over the ambient noise level prior to the introduction of the new noise source. The International Standards Organization (ISO) has established standards for noise which we looked at for solar. They show that at 5 dB above ambient, noise complaints are scattered, at 10 dB noise complaints are widespread, and at 15 dB, complaints are severe. Following Kampermann and James, we used the 5 dB above ambient in our solar by-law to obviate widespread negative community reactions. The State uses 10 dB above ambient, but it is important to note that even the State uses a relational standard and not any absolute limit. So, ignoring the other three complicating factors listed above, the question is: What is the minimum distance of a wind turbine so that the noise emitted from it does not exceed 5 dB above ambient at the nearest residence or property line? We really don’t have to guess at an answer. There is an extensive empirical literature on ambient sound levels in rural environments relating distance to noise attenuation. Graphs provided by Robert Rand Associates show the results of testing the ambient noise level throughout rural New England. Twenty to twenty-five dB seems to be the average outcome. For example, Ashfield tested at 26 dB last March in a professional sound study. Using the 5 dB above ambient as a standard, and assuming a 20-25 dB preconstruction noise level, we would want to require no more than 25 to 30 dB at any property line or residence in Heath (subject of course to results of actual measurements of ambient noise at a chosen site). So, how far from a residence would a turbine have to be to comply with that standard?
Three studies in Maine are relevant here: Vinalhaven, Mars Hills, and Freedom. Each shows how noise decays as a function of distance. Essentially, they show that more than 5,000 feet (nearly one mile) is needed to reduce turbine noise levels to 25 to 30 dB level at the nearest residence. At one half mile, the noise level is between 40 and 48 dB, well above the noise level we currently experience in Heath, and exceeding even the State noise limit by 10 to 18 dB above ambient. Considering that decibels are log functions, this increase of noise level would totally transform the soundscape of our community, approaching suburban and even some urban values. These studies were conducted in relatively windless conditions at the ground level, and with only moderate wind speeds aloft. At higher values of surface wind speeds, the distance needed from turbine to receptor site would have to be considerably increased to accomplish the same noise attenuation. Also, note that these sound studies were done only for relatively high-frequency waves (2,000 to 20,000 cycles per second or Hz, the so-called A-weighted spectrum), not low-frequency waves such as emitted by wind turbines.
A study by Pedersen et al. shows that low-frequency waves (20 to 250 Hz) decay at half the rate of high-frequency waves. The low-frequency study was not done at the above sites. But extrapolating from their A-weighted values, it is not unreasonable to assume that if a mile is required to attenuate high frequency waves to acceptable values, then two miles would be required to attenuate low-frequency waves. Pedersen shows that the low-frequency component of the acoustic signature increases as the size and power output of wind turbines increase. In order to boost power output, modern turbine technology increases height in order to capture the faster wind speeds at higher elevations. Therefore, one might expect the trend of the technology to increase the low-frequency issues.
The human reaction to noise is not simply a function of loudness. The response to wind turbine noise is reported as much more adverse than the response to other industrial noises at the same decibel level. As indicated above, the decibel level measures only the perceived loudness of sound. But, there is a lot more to sound than its loudness, just as loudness is not sufficient to characterize human speech and music. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider these other parameters of sound in assessing wind turbine noise. People complain of a peculiar and particularly debilitating quality to the sound from turbines. A paper by Thorne in the journal “Bulletin of Science and Technology”, August 2011, shows that unlike other industrial noises, the amplitude and frequency of wind turbine noise is continuously modulated (AM and FM). That is, the pitch and the loudness are not steady but change continuously. … The continuous change of pitch and loudness makes it very hard for people to become desensitized or habituated to the sound, as occurs with other industrial sounds. On the contrary, sensitization over time appears to occur more frequently when pitch and loudness are modulated. Also, as wave frequency decreases, the effectiveness of barriers such as walls and windows to attenuate sound is diminished. Windows and walls are actually induced to vibrate at lower frequencies. Decreasing wave frequency is the same as increasing wavelength. As the wavelength approaches the dimensions of rooms and houses, standing waves are set up within these structures. As the waves bounce back and forth in these enclosed spaces their amplitude (loudness) increases, much as the height of a child on a swing increases each time it is given a push. They become resonant chambers in their own right, resulting in indoor noise levels higher than those outdoors.
Finally, as wave frequency decreases to 1 to 20 Hz (compared to the 2,000 to 20,000 Hz of high-frequency waves) low-level biological effects occur: tinnitus, vestibular disorders, rapid heart beat (tachycardia). In addition to the inner ear, other organs of the body are affected: cardiovascular and skeleton-muscular (bone conduction of low level vibrations). Very few industrial sources of noise reach the low frequencies that wind turbines do.
Adverse reactions to wind turbine noise have been documented in numerous peer-reviewed studies. The Committee has reviewed more than a hundred such studies, including those of Pedersen in Europe, Nissenbaum in Maine, Hanning & Evans in England, Krogh in Ontario, Canada, Ambrose and Rand in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Cooper in Australia. The constellation of symptoms is the same across the globe and across all cultures: sleep disruption, stress, anxiety, migraine, the full spectrum of inner ear disorders, ringing, vertigo, motion sickness, and balance issues. The verbalizations of the complaints are eerily the same: “The sound of a freight train”, “the sound of a circling jet plane coming in all directions but never stopping.”
There is a well respected methodology for determining the level of subjective stress to any external disturbance. It involves examining what people do in open and public ways to alleviate their inner state of health. In effect, people externalize their subjective feelings of illness by their actions. The public avenue of redress for wind turbine symptoms includes letters to the editors of local papers, petitions to Boards of Health, law suits, and in final desperation, abandonment of their homes. When a group of residents near a wind complex spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to engage an attorney to relieve the noise of a wind turbine, their complaints are real and compelling. The Committee looked at dozens of letters from aggrieved Massachusetts residents, including those from Fairhaven, Falmouth, Kingston, Scituate, Newburyport, Hyannis, Nantucket, Hancock in Berkshire County near Brody Mountain, and Lowell VT. … For example, in less than nine months of operation, the Scituate, MA Board of Health is being petitioned to either shut down the Town’s single 1.5 MW wind turbine, or curtail its night time operation. The Committee has also reviewed lawsuits against wind developers in Templeton, MA, Vinalhaven, Freedom and Mars Hills, Maine, and Herkimer County, New York. …
Ambient wind speed and direction affect the distance which noise travels as does relative humidity. A denser (water-filled) atmosphere increases the amplitude (the loudness) of acoustic waves and the distance they travel. Topography also complicates the picture. Echo effects from hills and valleys and intercepting vegetation make it virtually impossible to reliably predict the pathway of noise. Homes at a thousand feet distance may be unaffected by noise on a particular day with the wind blowing from a particular direction but a home five miles away may be severely affected. Robert Rand (in a private communication) indicated that two mile setbacks in hilly terrain may not be sufficient protection. In early November, scores of residents three and a half miles and more from the Lowell VT wind complex jointly petitioned the State Department of Public Service about the deafening sound emitted from the complex.
Wind shear further complicates the picture. … At night, the wind speed may be close to zero near the surface of the earth. But, above 100 feet, wind speed may suddenly increase over a short distance. This is wind shear. The higher wind speeds aloft may rotate the blades of the turbine and produce the characteristic turbine noise. At the same time, the calm wind condition at the surface below would not have the characteristic noise of wind to mask the noise emitted by the turbine. This is in contrast to the claims of the wind turbine industry. In fact, wind shear is the prevalent wind pattern at night in interior New England.
For all these reasons (unpredictable variations of wind speed and direction at ground level, humidity, topography and wind shear), the intensity of turbine noise is typically underestimated by developers.
The health effects of industrial wind are not limited to those resulting from acoustic waves. The Committee briefly considered the effect of seismic vibrations on nearby structures. A moderate size industrial turbine of 1.5 MW weighs about 160 tons, with seven-ton blades rotating at close to 180 MPH at the periphery. When it is installed on ledge, massive blasting or other alteration of the ridge top may be required to anchor it to the ground. The coupling of the turbine to ledge propagates the vibrations of the structure, generated by the torques of the rotating blades, to the ground beneath. Any residential structure in the path of the seismic waves would be exposed to vibration. A home near the relatively small wind turbine in Charlemont is subject to internal vibration from the basement up whenever the turbine rotates. The vibration has been likened to the ground vibration induced by a device farmers use to eject burrowing animals from their subterranean abodes.
Vibration, whether acoustic or seismic, does not exhaust the health effects of wind turbines. However idyllic they appear from a distance, wind turbines are industrial structures. A typical wind turbine contains hundreds of gallons of oil and other fluids; a wind farm, thousands of gallons. Lubricants and coolants are contained not only in the blade structure and nacelle of the body, but also in the massive electric transformers required in the complex. The potential for ground water contamination from fluid leaks can not be underestimated in assessing the suitability of this technology for Heath. Indeed, the Lowell Mountain project in Vermont had a significant oil leak last Fall.
Finally in assessing the health impact of possible industrial wind in Heath, the Committee was not unmindful of the State DPH report on industrial wind. Essentially, the report exonerated the industry of any significant health impacts. In an effort to achieve objectivity in our work, members of the Committee studied the Report. Our critique of the report, briefly stated, is as follows:
- While the Report was offered as a literature review, the Report failed to consider in its conclusions any reference to the ongoing complaints of severe health reactions to turbine noise made by the residents of our State (e.g., in Falmouth and Fairhaven). Indeed, the DPH staff which authored the report failed to address or follow up on any complaints made by citizens living in its backyard. Instead they relied almost exclusively on four studies in Sweden and the Netherlands while ignoring the evidence in cities and towns nearby.
- Of the hundreds of citations contained in the Report, most implicated industrial wind in producing health issues for residents living within miles of turbine sites. The Report ignored the results of almost all of the studies they referenced and instead relied on only the four from the aforementioned countries.
- The Report justified its exclusion of studies which were at variance with its conclusions by advocating for a methodology for assessing causation which it claimed the other studies lacked. First, it used a direct theory of causation. “X” can be said to cause “Y” only if it is “unmediated”. And so they ignored the Nissenbaum study in Maine on sleep deprivation. The report conceded that the noise emissions from turbines may be correlated with sleep deprivation, and that sleep deprivation may be correlated with illness, but it is only the direct correlation which can be construed as causal. That is, it is sleep disturbance which causes illness and not turbine noise emission. Evidently there is no transitivity in their theory of causation. More generally, in their simplistic model of causation, if “X” can be construed as causing “Y”, the biological organism is not supposed to participate in the production of symptoms. On the premise of this methodology, if a virus is correlated with illness in some people but not in others, the virus is not the cause of illnesses because differences in biology mediate its effects. Causation is direct, never mediated, on the premises of the Report.
Second, the Report used a single-factor theory of causation. Thus, if “X” is correlated with “Z” only in the presence of “Y”, then “X” can not be construed as a cause of “Z”. And so, since the Swedish studies show that wind turbine noise was correlated with adverse reactions only with visual access to the turbine, according to the DPH conclusions, the turbine noise can not be construed as the cause of the adverse reaction. That vision interacts with sound in the perception of noise is a well established psychoacoustic finding. But, that there is an interaction between the two does not preclude that each is a casual factor in the reaction. Rarely in complex systems do factors have effects independent of other factors. The Report used the same line of reasoning to discount turbine noise as a cause of illness because the effect was correlated with negative attitudes about the technology.
- The Report eschewed studies with small sample sizes. While the Committee recognizes the necessity for further research over larger populations, there is the danger that large-scale studies over-aggregate data. A large-scale study with course-grained categories has the potential to conceal patterns which would otherwise be revealed by finer-grained analysis. For example, the definition of “rural” in the Swedish studies was too general. The study attempted to show the affects of the rural character of the environment on the reaction to turbine noise emissions. But their criterion of “rural” encompassed too many differences among communities. In our own area, for example, Heath, Whateley, and Bernardston are rural. But, there are major difference in the ambient noise level of these three towns which would affect the masking of wind turbine noise, and hence residents’ reactions to that noise. The “averaging out” which dilutes these differences would make predictions of response to turbine noise in a particular rural environment highly unreliable.
- Finally, the Report denied the potential of very-low-frequency acoustical waves (infrasound) to impair human health. Infrasound is barely audible and mostly inaudible. The premise of the report is that if an acoustical wave does not get represented as sound by the human ear, it can do no harm. This position has no merit, as may be seen by analogy with electromagnetic waves. The visual senses of biological organisms are sensitive to a very narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum. In particular the eye cannot detect the higher-frequency ultraviolet waves above the color violet or the lower-frequency infrared waves below the color red. But, that the biological eye can not respond to waves outside its spectral sensitivity does not mean that these waves can not affect other organs of the body. Anyone who has experienced a sunburn from ultraviolet waves (which cannot be seen) knows otherwise. The State Report failed to give any cogent critique to the work of Alec Salt on the affect of infrasound on the vestibular system or other organs of the body involved in balance or motion.
Space doesn’t permit further analysis of the State DPH Report. In general, the Committee concluded that the State DPH Report appears only intended to bend the science to conform to policy. As such, it belongs in the same category as the industry-funded research which denied the ill health effects of DDT, tobacco, and asbestos, and the effects of fossil fuel on climate change. The Committee encourages peer-reviewed research without a policy agenda.
4. Safe Distance Setbacks: The noise coming from wind turbines is primarily aerodynamic in character. The rotating blades perturb the atmosphere and generate vortices over their surfaces. The disturbances get propagated as waves which travel miles until they are dampened down. If the turbine could be structurally encased to intercept the traveling waves, the noise emissions would be limited within short distances. But, of course, any structural encasement of a turbine would deprive it of the wind which is its source of energy. Therefore, the only way to reduce the noise and health affects is to interpolate distance between the turbine and the receiver. How much distance? Our study of noise suggested one mile for high-frequency noise and two miles for low-frequency noise. These distances are consistent with the growing consensus that setbacks should be on the order of one and a quarter miles in flat terrain and two miles in hilly terrain. These are minimum distances. The work of Kamperman and James, the Ecology Institute, and Carmen Krogh all point in this direction.
The Committee is not unaware that current setbacks are on the order of feet and not miles. But current setbacks have mostly been designed to advance policy agendas and not human health. … If the goal is to protect human health and the quality of our lives in Heath, then a one to two mile setback should be implemented … between the closest turbine and the nearest property line. …
5. Property Value Impacts: The Committee considered the impact of industrial wind on property values to be an important part of our work. Home equity is the biggest asset of middle class Americans. We took seriously any impact that would substantially reduce the real estate equity of our citizens.
The Committee reviewed over 20 property value impact studies. All except two reported substantial reduction in propriety values as a function of distance to the turbine site. The two which departed from the consensus were not done by professional real estate appraisers, but graduate students, funded by a wind lobbying group in one case and a government agency with a wind agenda on the other. The general consensus of the studies was a 25% to 40% reduction of property values within a two mile radius of the wind turbine site. The variance in the studies is explained by 1) the population density of the affected community — the more rural the area, the greater the impact), and 2) distance to the turbine site –the closer to the turbine site, the greater the impact. The two studies which were an exception to the consensus aggregated the data so as to conceal the relationship of distance and rural character to valuation impacts. …
6. Tax Revenue Impact. The projected drop in property value has enormous tax implications. …
A second response to the potential loss of tax revenue is the collection of “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PILOT). The Committee has attempted to research the potential of this revenue source. It is clear that a one- or two-turbine complex would yield no revenue to the Town, unless the Town owned the complex. The experience of Princeton, MA should be a warning to any town contemplating a move in that direction. Turbine mechanical failure together with a 25% lower output than expected and extraordinary maintenance costs has generated a cumulative debt to the Town of $1.875 million since 2009. The underperformance of the turbines has resulted in electricity rates to its citizens that are the highest in the State.
As for PILOT payment from a privately held turbine farm, the nine-turbine Monroe complex might net that Town about $122,000 ($13,500 per turbine) annually. The average compensation seems to be from $13,000 to $14,000 in other agreements the Committee has examined, but these are proposed agreements. There is no history in the State as yet of agreements that have been implemented. If the Town were to approve a 16-turbine installation, the expected revenue input would just about offset the loss in tax revenue resulting from the property devaluation (16 times $13,500 = $216,000).
And so, at best, industrial wind in Heath would be revenue neutral (best-case scenario with pilot payments from a 16-turbine complex) or revenue negative (worse-case scenario with a single turbine installation). The Committee notes one caveat in its analysis. It assumed that the impact area is the same for both a single-turbine and a sixteen-turbine complex. But, if a sixteen turbine complex were to enlarge the impact area beyond that of one or two turbines, the resulting loss in tax revenues, due to an expanded range of property value reduction, would most likely exceed the income from such a complex. Revenue neutrality would then not be achieved even for a 16-turbine complex. …
7. Other Impacts. The Committee studied a number of other impacts which it briefly summarizes as follows. Construction and transport of industrial sized wind turbines would require massive tree cutting and widening of public roads up to 80 feet. Many narrow by-ways bracketed by historic stone walls would be irreparably disturbed. The Town would have to incur the expense of maintaining public ways bearing much heavier loads for continuous repair and maintenance of these structures. There is substantial evidence that satellite communications and relay stations are impaired by the electric field set up by turbine generators. Shadow flicker when the blades intercept the sun at certain times of the day is a risk to those subject to epileptic seizures. Ice throws, blade failure, fire from lightning hits, soil erosion from ridge road construction, and the health impairment to domestic farm animals are all additional concerns that must be addressed. Finally, there is the impact on species of animals other than our own. Apart from habitat fragmentation caused by forest clearcutting for turbine installation, animals lower on the evolutionary scale depend on sound to adapt to the environment. The intrusion of low frequency and infrasound into their habitat will foul the signaling systems of most animals, forcing their emigration from the region. The setbacks we might set for ourselves would be of no avail to the animals that inhabit our forest lands and meadows. As conservators of nature, it would be of profound negligence to undermine the habitat of our animal populations, in the name of protecting the environment.
Conclusions and Recommendation. Throughout its deliberations the Committee has operated as though it were doing a cost-benefit analysis. We began our research on industrial wind right at the start with an evaluation of the potential of industrial wind to ameliorate CO2 emissions and their disastrous impact on the earth’s climate. Had we discovered a strong positive contribution, then the benefit might have outweighed the cost. If there were indeed a major reduction of CO2 emission to be had by industrializing our Town with wind turbines, then we might have argued that the costs to human health and the quality of our lives might have had to be endured for the higher good. After conducting extensive research, we see no such benefit. …
If the benefit side of the ledger is zero, what of the cost side? In the absence of any viable setbacks, we saw profound changes to the soundscape of our community. Noise levels approaching urban values would become the rule. … Commercial wind turbines are huge open air industrial machines, the size of urban skyscrapers. They shake, they rattle, they creek, they perturb the ground below, and they are illuminated at night with flashing lights. Their seven-ton blades whirl at tornado-like tangential speeds emitting volleys of acoustical energy into the atmosphere for miles around. However graceful they may appear over the horizon from a distance, their reality on the ground close-by is quite otherwise. If they were emitting chemical pollution they would be an object of scorn. But apparently their emission of massive quantities of acoustical energy saturating and fouling the auditory and vestibular systems of humans and animals alike goes unnoticed by their proponents.
On balance, the Committee sees no benefit to offset these costs. Therefore it sees no reason to promote or enable the siting of industrial wind in our Town.
Our recommendations to the Planning Board reflect this cost-benefit analysis. If it were possible to reduce the cost in terms of noise and health by implementing one or two mile setbacks, then the costs might not have exceeded the benefit: zero cost and zero benefit. Under such a scenario it might have recommended a set of regulatory by-laws providing for height and setback limitations. But setbacks of these magnitudes cannot be realized in our Town. All of the occupied dwellings and property lines in Heath are less than a mile from ANY potential location of an industrial-scale wind turbine. The Committee has determined that mandating setbacks in a regulatory by-law which cannot be realized is not only disingenuous, but would render the town vulnerable to litigation by an aggressive developer intent on industrializing Heath with wind turbines. The only reasonable alternative to a regulatory by-law is a ban. The Attorney General has already set the precedent for approving a ban in Shelburne. The Committee sees no reason why approval would not be forthcoming for Heath.
The committee suggests that a ban on industrial wind be incorporated in a revision of the current by-law on wind. …
Note: In the above text and download, National Wind Watch corrected several typos. Click here to download the original uncorrected report.
Aesthetics, General, New York, Noise, Ordinances, Property values, Siting •
Author: Town of Lyme, N.Y.
[adopted August 11, 2012; excerpts:]
It is the purpose of this law to provide the regulatory structure that ensures the protection of the Town of Lyme residents and minimizes the impacts on the Town’s environment in the siting and operation of Wind Energy Conversion Systems. Notably, this law will reduce, minimize, or eliminate negative impacts on the unique resources within the Town of Lyme including, among many, the Seaway Trail, Lake Ontario and its contiguous waterways, and the Chaumont Barrens.
The Town Board of the Town of Lyme finds and declares the following:
1. Wind is a renewable, nonpolluting energy resource.
2. Regulation of the siting and installation of wind turbines is essential for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the general public and the community at large.
3. WECS represent significant potential aesthetic impacts because of their large size, noise, lighting, shadow flicker effects, and other related issues.
4. If not effectively regulated, the siting and construction of WECS and their associated infrastructure (e.g., access roads) can cause undesirable and unnecessary impacts to farmland including, but not limited to, excessive removal of topsoil with erosion and sediment damage, and soil compaction.
5. WECS present a risk to birds, bats, and other creature and must be properly sited to minimize impacts.
6. WECS can adversely affect the value of surrounding, non-participating properties. For example, a study examining the effect of wind turbines on neighboring property values was performed by Clarkson University. Property transactions that occurred over a nine year period within Clinton, Lewis, and Franklin counties were analyzed. Findings varied from county to county. In some areas, it was found that values could be depressed by as much as 17% by the presence of wind turbines. (Published in the journals Land Economics and The B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy)
7. WECS are a significant source of noise, including infrasound. If not properly regulated and sited, the sound from WECS can negatively impact the health of residents and eliminate the opportunity to enjoy the quiet surroundings that are characteristic of the region.
8. Construction of WECS will require planning and control to minimize regional traffic problems. Town, county, and state roads will require upgrades to handle heavy equipment and restoration to state standards following completion of construction.
9. WECS can cause electromagnetic interference issues with various types of communications. (Reference: Wind Turbine Technology: Fundamental Concepts in Wind Turbine Engineering, 2nd Edition, 2009; Editor, David A Spera; Chapter 9, “Electromagnetic Interference from Wind Turbines”; Authors, Depak L Sengupta & Thomas B A Senior)
10. The installation and operation of WECS can affect ground water supplies. The Town’s sub-structure has areas consisting of unique fractured limestone bedrock with an associated high water table. WECS must be designed and sited to prevent exposing this fragile ground water system to potential pollution.
11. Setback distances must address and mitigate operational hazards including but not limited to ice throws, blade breakage, tower collapses, and fires.
12. WECS siting will affect areas available for future land use such as locations of subdivisions.
13. Industrial wind energy projects (projects) are risky financial ventures. To limit risk to equity partners, these projects are typically organized as limited liability corporations (LLCs). The financial viability of wind project LLCs is highly dependent on state and federal government subsidies, tax breaks, and other favorable treatments. Loss or reduction of any of these benefits could cause LLC bankruptcy. Multiple owners are expected over the lifetime of a project. Cash funds from the Applicant must be in the Town’s possession to cover any and all liabilities, including funds to cover decommissioning of the facility.
14. The Town of Lyme is unique, encompassing an area offering year-round freshwater and land based recreational opportunities, a small town environment, and nature’s scenic beauty and serenity. The Town of Lyme is exceptional with 53 miles of waterfront on Lake Ontario and its inland bay, Chaumont Bay. Residences line the shorelines, experiencing extensive views of Lake Ontario, Chaumont Bay, and inland regions. The Town is relatively small in total area with generally flat topography. There are uninterrupted views to the horizon that can extend to 15 miles. Structures over the tree line (approximately 60 feet high) are visible for many miles.
15. The Town of Lyme conducted a detailed survey of Lyme’s permanent and part-time residents in 2011 to determine residents’ perspectives regarding the placement of WECS in Lyme. The majority of residents stated that WECS are inappropriate for siting within Lyme. Consequently, any law allowing the siting of WECS must reflect stringent requirements that will ensure protection of the local population and the environs.
16. In consideration of all of the above factors, there may be limited areas where WECS can be safely constructed and operated. These areas are within the Town of Lyme Wind Overlay District, the boundaries of which are defined in Section 305 of the Zoning Ordinance of the Town of Lyme.
Noise Standards for WECS
The Sound Pressure Level shall not exceed 1 and 2 as follows. Permissible Sound Pressure Levels of I and 2 shall be modified if the sound includes Prominent Tones.
1) A-weighted SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL shall be less than or equal to 30 dB from the hours of 7:00pm to 7:00am and less than or equal to 35 dB at all other times, measured at the nearest, non-participant SITE BOUNDARY.
2) C-weighted SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL shall be less than or equal to the above values plus 18 dB as measured at the nearest, non-participant SITE BOUNDARY.
Sound Measurement Methods
Sound Measurements shall use sound meters that meet the ANSI Specifications for Integrating Averaging Sound Level Meters, S 1.43-I 997 for Type I instruments and be capable of accurate readings (corrections for internal noise and microphone response permitted) at 20 dBA or lower. The measurement spectrum shall be 6 Hz to I 0 kHz. The testing method shall include the following provisions:
1) The BACKGROUND SOUND is the pre-construction Sound Pressure Level measured during the quiet time for the soundscape under evaluation (typically, between 10pm and 4am) and with test duration often continuous minutes. Several contiguous ten-minute tests may be performed in one hour to determine the statistical stability of the sound environment. Measurement periods such as at dusk or dawn when bird or insect activity is high are not acceptable measurement times. Test results are only valid when the A-weighted level exceeded 10% of the time is no more than 10 dB above the A-weighted level exceeded 90% of the time during the same period. Furthermore, the C-weighted level exceeded 10% of the time minus the C-weighted level exceeded 90% of the time is not to exceed 10 dB to be valid. The Background Sound levels documenting the pre-construction baseline conditions shall be determined when the 10 minute maximum wind speed is less than 2 m/s as measured within 5 m of the microphone and at the microphone height of 1.5 m and the atmosphere is considered stable with no vertical heat flow to cause air mixing. Sound measurement points shall be taken between inflection points of the Site survey and at locations nearest Residences. For example, a rectangular parcel contains 4 inflection points (the corners) and would result in a minimum of four measurement points, one along each side of the property. A five-sided parcel would have a minimum of five measurement points, etc. Measurement points shall be quiet locations remote from streetlights, transformers, street traffic, flowing water and other local noise sources. The background sound may be measured following construction using the above method but with the WECS turned off if, with the consent of the Town, it is determined that the Background Sound level (both A and C weighted) exceeded 90% of the time has increased by more than 3 dB from those measured under the pre-construction nighttime conditions.
2) The SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL during turbine operation shall be measured when the maximum wind speed, sampled within 5m of the microphone and at its height, is less than 4 m/s. The wind speed at the WES blade height shall be at or above the nominal rated wind speed and operating at its highest sound output mode. For purposes of enforcement, the wind speed and direction at the WECS blade height should be selected to as nearly as possible reproduce the conditions leading to the enforcement action while also restricting maximum wind speeds at the microphone to less than 4 m/s.
Setback Standards for Wind Energy Conversion Systems
Each WECS shall conform to the following setbacks:
A. One-half mile (2,640 feet) safety setback from the nearest public road or right of way.
B. One-half mile (2,640 feet) from non-participating property lines and boundaries with neighboring towns.
C. 1,600 feet from any non-WECS above-ground utilities located within the project boundary.
D. One-half mile (2,640 feet) from state-identified parks, wildlife management areas, nature preserves, and wetlands.
E. One mile (5,280 feet) from the current Village of Chaumont boundary and from the Hamlet of Three Mile Bay Lighting District boundary.
F. All WECS shall be setback a minimum of one mile (5,280 feet) from
1. Schools and churches
2. Public land where people gather (e.g., public access sites, ball fields, cemeteries)
G. One mile (5,280 feet) from NYS Route 12E, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail State Scenic Byway.
H. Two mile setbacks from Lake Ontario, Chaumont Bay, and the Chaumont River.
I. Setbacks resulting from the noise limitations set forth in this law shall apply when more restrictive than the setbacks defined in Sections A through G above.
Complaint Resolution Process
A. The offended party shall first bring their complaint to the Zoning Enforcement Officer. If the Zoning Enforcement Officer finds it to be valid, he will notify the WECS licensee of the complaint. The licensee shall have the opportunity to resolve the complaint. The time frame of resolution will be dependent on the nature of the complaint. The complaints may include, but will not be limited to: excessive noise, flicker or shadow effect, change in water quantity or quality, loss of or diminished telephone, TV, radio reception, interference with a medical device, changes in value to the residence, new or increased presence of radon gas. Should it be necessary for the validity of the complaint to be verified by an outside consultant, the Town will select and employ a firm to do testing, collect data or whatever else may be necessary to determine validity. The funds for payment of these services will come from the established escrow account.
B. The Compliant Resolution Process will apply, but not be limited to, the following categories:
1. Shadow Flicker Complaint Resolution Process:
When a written complaint is received by the Zoning Enforcement Officer from a non-participant identifying a specific turbine(s) in the wind project with a complaint of shadow flicker, the licensee shall be notified within 72 hours by the Zoning Enforcement Officer. The validity of the complaint must be verified by the Zoning Enforcement Officer using outside resources, as necessary. Upon establishment of the validity of the complaint, the licensee must mitigate the violation within 72 hours. If the licensee does not comply, the Town Board may take enforcement as established in Section 930 of this local law.
2. Setbacks Complaint Resolution Process:
When a written complaint is received by the Zoning Enforcement Officer from a non-participant in the wind development project identifying that a setback requirement is noncompliant and is determined by the Zoning Enforcement Officer to be valid, the licensee within 72 hours must correct the non-compliance violation or define a process to resolve the violation. If the licensee fails to comply, the Town Board may take enforcement as established in Section 930 of this local law.
3. Noise/Sleep Interference Complaint Resolution Process:
When a written complaint supported by a log listing the times of excessive noise is provided to the Zoning Enforcement Officer from a non-participant alleging noise disturbance from a wind turbine(s), the licensee will be informed of the complaint within 72 hours after receipt of the complaint. The validity of the complaint will be determined by the Zoning Enforcement Officer. The Town may retain an independent acoustic investigation paid for with the funds in the escrow account, as necessary. If the licensee is found to be non-compliant with the Town’s wind facilities law noise standards, the violation must be corrected. If the violation is not corrected, the Town Board may take enforcement as established in Section 930 of this local law.
If the validity of the complaint requires the services of an acoustical consultant, the procedure described below must be followed:
Violations and enforcement shall be determined by measurement without undue timing constraints. The Town will use the services of an outside contractor, as necessary, to determine the violation and associated enforcement actions. The Town’s acoustical consultant shall be a member of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC) with a specialty in environmental noise, and the consultant’s project leader shall be a Member, Board Certified of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering of the USA. The protocol described below must generally be followed but may be modified as circumstances require by the acoustical engineer provided that modifications generally conform to the protocol.
1) Initially a preliminary study shall be conducted for a period of 30 minutes. During the 30 minute period, the equivalent level (LEQ) generated by the noise shall be measured. The measurement shall be on the complainant’s property line nearest the noise source. Measurements shall be entirely within the appropriate time period, e.g., during nighttime for nighttime enforcement, and the noise source shall operate continuously (if normal operation) during the 30 minute measurement.
2) If the noise source is intermittent or if the noise is not present at the time of the preliminary enforcement survey, a more extensive and detailed survey shall be undertaken to monitor noise levels over a longer period. The licensee shall fully cooperate with Town officials and their agents to ensure accurate measurements, including turning the source on and off as required.
3) For both types of surveys, the microphone shall be situated between 4 and 4.5 feet above the ground. Measurements shall be conducted within the general provisions of ANSI S1.13-2005, and using a meter that meets at least the Type 2 requirements of ANSI S1.4 and S1.4A-1985 (R2006). The instrument noise floor shall be at least 10 dB below the lowest level measured.
4) A calibrator shall be used as recommended by the manufacturer of the sound-level meter. The fundamental level of the calibrator and the sensitivity of the sound-level meter shall be verified annually by a laboratory using procedures traceable to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
5) A wind screen shall be used as recommended by the sound-level meter manufacturer.
6) An anemometer shall be used and shall have a range of at least 5 to 15 miles per hour (2.2 to 6.7 meters per second) and an accuracy of at least ±2 miles per hour (±0.9 meters per second).
7) For the detailed, long-tenn study a compass shall be used to measure wind direction to at least an 8-point resolution: N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW. Measurements shall be A-weighted, or, alternatively, in one-third-octave bands. For A-weighted measurements, the uncertainty (tolerance) of measurements shall be 1 dB for a Type I meter and 2 dB for a Type 2 meter. For one-third-octave band measurements, the meter shall meet the Type 1 requirements of ANSI S12.4 and S12.4a-1985 (R2006), and the uncertainty of measurements shall be 5 dB in each and every one-third-octave band.
8) For all measurements, the surface wind speed, measured at a 1.5 m height, shall be less than 5 m/s.
9) The report shall include a sketch of the site showing distances to the structure(s), to the property line, etc., and several photographs showing the structure(s), the property, and the acoustical instrumentation. All instrumentation shall be listed by manufacturer, model, and serial number. This instrumentation listing shall also include the A-weighted and C-weighted noise floor due to weather or other natural phenomena and the one-third-octave band noise floors, if utilized, for each sound-level meter used.
4. Electromagnetic/Stray Voltage Complaint Resolution Process:
Upon receipt of a written complaint from a non-participant alleging violations associated with electromagnetic inference or stray voltage, the Zoning Enforcement Officer will provide a copy of the complaint to the licensee within 72 hours. The Zoning Enforcement Officer will determine validity of the complaint. The Town may hire, as necessary, a certified electrical engineer consultant to conduct a stray voltage investigation or electromagnetic interference investigation at the cost of the licensee, to assist in determining complaint validity. If the complaint is determined to be valid, the licensee shall resolve the problem and return the facility to full compliance with the law within a time period determined by the Zoning Enforcement Officer. If the violation is not corrected, the Town Board may take enforcement as established in Section 930 of this local law.
5. Protection of Aquifers, Ground Water and Wells:
When a written complaint is received by the Zoning Enforcement Officer from a resident regarding disturbance of an aquifer, ground water or well water, the Town will notify the licensee within 72 hours. The Zoning Enforcement Officer will determine the validity of the complaint. The Town may hire a qualified engineer at the expense of the licensee to verify validity of the complaint. If the complaint is found to be valid, the licensee must make potable water available to resident(s) immediately and establish a course of action to resolve the complaint. If the complaint is verified and the well is found to contain toxins, the licensee and/or the Town must notify the Department of Conservation (NYS DEC) of the finding. If the circumstance falls under the jurisdiction of the NYS DEC, the NYS DEC will assume responsibility for corrective actions. If the violation is not corrected, the Town Board may take enforcement as established in Section 930 of this local law.
Author: Luce, Ben
I was a strong advocate of utility-scale wind and other renewables in New Mexico, and expected to support some level of utility scale wind development in the Northeast prior to studying the issue of wind in this region in detail.
I also believe that very aggressive action to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change is needed.
Given that I am a strong advocate of renewables, I will not address the larger debate of renewables versus other non-renewable energy approaches such as nuclear power and clean coal in this presentation.
I will be focusing mainly on wind and solar in this presentation, because I do not believe that small wind, small hydro, or biomass-fired generation represent significant renewable electricity options for the Eastern US, simply because of their very small resource potentials.
Number of “Mountain Systems” Required for 1 GW of Peak Capacity in MA (333 3-MW turbines):
• 5 turbines/mile
• ~70 miles of ridge, not counting access roads
• 10 turbines/project on average:
• ~33 Mountain Systems
Is it worth developing 33 mountain systems in MA to provide just 5% of MA electricity?
– Environmental impacts?
– Impact on people?
– Impacts on the local economy?
– Cost relative to alternatives?
– Despite impacts, would this still be “doing our part” to encourage significant regional wind development?
Note that fairly wide and fully developed road beds and wide, level clearings (of roughly equal area to the swept area of the rotors) are needed for this type of development, due to the enormous weight and length of the trucks and their loads involved. Extensive blasting and bulldozing of the mountaintop is required, which incurs extensive impacts to streams, wetlands, bedrock, and of course plant and animal life.
The impacts to ecotourism (meaning economic benefits in general related to the scenic beauty of the area) are potentially endangered by ridgeline wind development.
Many people genuinely feel the experience of seeing a project the first few times to be enjoyable, which is understandable given what these projects represent to them, the sheer scale of the turbines, and the novelty of the experience.
It’s a different question entirely whether people will like to vacation or maintain second homes in an area in the long run with extensive ridge line wind development. The study referenced on the following slides shows that, for example, vacationers in Vermont greatly value the unspoiled nature of the state.
Although the impact of low-frequency noise from wind turbines is not fully understood in physiological terms, there is peer-reviewed research indicating that low-frequency noise can couple physically to the cochlea. http://oto2.wustl.edu/cochlea/windmill.html
The following slide shows the “spectrum” of wind turbine noise. The graph shows that wind turbines created prodigious levels of infrasonic (subsonic) noise, which places them in a somewhat different category from many other noise sources.
Unfortunately, set-backs for wind projects today do not yet take into account potential impacts due to infrasonic noise.
There is also a growing body of literature suggesting that impacts to health are occurring, in particular impacts associated with loss of sleep.
Human Hearing is Logarithmic
• Quietest sound we can hear: 1 trillionth of a watt per square meter.
• Our ears are super-sensitive vibration sensors.
• It potentially doesn’t take a great deal of noise to create problems.
• Even though many do live in noisy environments already, this does not imply that noise is not a problem, and that it’s perfectly ok to increase noise in the few remaining quiet regions left.
There are serious issues with respect to the impact on species such as birds and bats.
While its true that large numbers of birds are killed by other means, this does not imply that killing more with wind turbines is acceptable. Moreover, the number of birds and bats killed by turbines could potentially rise to very significant levels if significant levels of wind generation is eventually installed. The number of birds and bats killed by wind turbines currently may be statistically insignificant, but the amount of wind power generation is also currently essentially statistically insignificant.
• Some of the billions being invested in wind were invested into weatherization and efficiency? – A true “Manhattan Project” of conservation?
• Some of the billions being invested in wind were used to help bring solar down in price, locating good sites, empowering the public?
It is, in fact, typical for our culture to quickly develop a new energy source (or any new resource for that matter), with little regard for the consequences, and then only later attempt to undo or correct for unforeseen consequences.
With the issue of inappropriate wind development, however, we have a chance this time to avoid the worst, and get renewable energy development focused back on a truly sustainable path towards a bright future.
Author: Droz, John
Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it morphs into a different shape and escapes your grasp. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved with wind merchandising.
1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as even in the late 1800s it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning, more modern needs for power. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on – 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources as horse and oxen power).
2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent catastrophic threat, lobbyists launched campaigns to favor all things that would purportedly reduce carbon dioxide. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 while generating electricity.
3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) or Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)– which mandated that their utilities use (or purchase) a prescribed amount of wind energy.
4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility companies would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to.
5 – Interestingly, although the stated main goal of these RES/RPS programs was to reduce CO2, not a single state’s RES/RPS requires verification of CO2 reduction from any wind project, either beforehand or after the fact. The politicians simply took the lobbyists’ word that consequential CO2 savings would be realized!
6 – It wasn’t too long before utility companies and independent energy experts calculated that the actual CO2 savings were miniscule (if any). This was due to the inherent nature of wind energy, and the realities of continuously balancing the grid, on a second-by-second basis, with fossil-fuel-generated electricity. The frequently cited Bentek study (How Less Became More) is a sample independent assessment of this aspect. More importantly, there has been zero scientific proof provided by the wind industry to support their claims of CO2 reduction.
7 – The wind lobbyists soon added another rationale to prop up their case: energy diversity. However, since our electricity system already had considerable diversity, and many asked “more diversity at what cost?” this hype never gained much traction. Back to the drawing board….
8 – The next justification put forward by the wind marketers was energy independence. This cleverly played on the concern most people have about oil and Middle East instability. Many ads were run promoting wind energy as a good way to reduce our “dependence on Middle Eastern oil.”
None of these ads mentioned that only about 1% of our electricity is generated from oil. Or that the US exports more oil than we use for electricity. Or that our main import source for oil is Canada (not the Middle East). Despite the significant omissions and misrepresentations, this claim still resonates with many people, so it continues to be pushed. Whatever works.
9 – Knowing full well that the assertions used to date were specious, wind proponents manufactured still another claim: green jobs. This was carefully selected to coincide with widespread employment concerns. Unfortunately, when independent qualified parties examined the situation more closely, they found that the claims were wildly exaggerated. Big surprise!
Further, as attorney and energy expert Chris Horner has so eloquently stated:
There is nothing – no program, no hobby, no vice, no crime – that does not ‘create jobs.’ Tsunamis, computer viruses and shooting convenience store clerks all ‘create jobs.’ So that claim misses the plot. It applies to all, and so is an argument in favor of none. Instead of making a case on the merits, it is an admission that one has no such arguments.
Also see the recent post at MasterResource, The Collapsing Case for ‘Green’ Energy, where California Berkeley professor Severin Borenstein warns his beloved green community that fossil fuels beat wind and solar at the jobs game.
10 – Relentlessly moving forward, wind marketers then tried to change the focus from jobs to “economic development.” The marketers typically utilized a computer program called JEDI to make bold economic projections. Unfortunately, JEDI is a totally inadequate model for accurately arriving at such numbers, for a variety of technical reasons. The economic development contentions have also been shown to be inaccurate, as they never take into account economic losses that result from wind energy implementation – for example agricultural losses due to bat killings, and job losses due to higher electricity costs for factories, hospitals and other employers.
Additionally, as with jobs, economic development in-and-of-itself has nothing to do with the merits of wind energy as a power source. Let’s say we have a transportation RES mandating that 20% of a state’s vehicles be replaced by horse power by 2020. There would be a LOT of “economic development” (making horse carriages and buggy whips, building horse barns, growing and shipping hay) that would result from such an edict. But would that be any indication that it is an intelligent, beneficial policy?
11 – Along the way, yet another claim began making the rounds: that wind energy is low cost. This is surprisingly bold, considering that if that were really true, RES/RPS mandates would not be necessary. For some reason all calculations showing wind to be “low cost” conveniently ignore exorbitant subsidies, extra backup and balancing costs, additional transmission costs, and so on. Independent analyses of levelized costs (e.g. from the EIA) have concluded that (when ALL applicable wind-related costs are accurately calculated) wind energy is MUCH more expensive than any conventional source we have.
12 – When confronted with the reality that wind energy is considerably more expensive than any conventional source, a common rejoinder is to object to that by saying that once the “externalities” of conventional sources are taken into account, wind is less expensive than those conventional sources.
To gullible sheeple, this might make sense. But consider the following two points. First, externality analyses posited by wind zealots never take into account the true environmental consequences of wind energy (rare earth impacts [see below], human health effects, bird and bat deaths, the CO2 generated from a two million pound concrete base, etc.).
Secondly, the “externalities” for things like coal are always only the negative part. If these advocates want a true big picture calculation, then they need to also add in the benefits to us from low-cost coal-based electricity. Considering that coal played a major part in our economic success and improved health and living standards over the past century, such a plus factor would be enormous.
[BTW there is some evidence that the negative externalities (e.g. about coal related asthma claims) are exaggerated. What a surprise!]
13 – A more subtle (but significant) difference is in power quality. This term refers to such technical performance factors as voltage transients, voltage variations, waveform distortion (e.g. harmonics), frequency variations, and so forth. The reality is that wind energy introduces many more of these issues than does a conventional power facility. Additional costs are needed to deal with these wind-caused problems. These are rarely identified in pro-wind economic analyses.
14 – A key grid ingredient is Capacity Value. (A layman’s translation is that this is an indication of dependability.) Conventional sources (like nuclear) have a Capacity Value of nearly 100%. Wind has a Capacity Value of about 0%. Big difference!
15 – Since this enormous Capacity Value discrepancy is indisputable, wind energy apologists then decided to adopt the strategy that wind energy isn’t a “capacity resource” after all, but rather an “energy resource.” Surprisingly, this may be the first contention that is actually true! But what does this really mean?
The reality is that saying “wind is an energy source” is a trivial statement, on a par with saying “wind turbines are white.” Lightning is an energy source. So what? The fact is that your cat is an energy source too. In this Alice-in-Wonderland reality, connecting the cat to the grid (after heavily subsidizing it, of course), makes as much sense as does connecting puff power.
16 – One of the latest buzz-words is sustainability. One has to give these marketeers credit for being persistently imaginative. The truth about sustainability is:
a) It is totally hypocritical to have wind advocates attacking fossil fuels as unsustainable, when the wind business has an ENORMOUS dependency on fossil fuels for their construction, delivery, maintenance and operation. This article explains some of it.
b) Nothing is sustainable, as this piece accurately explains.
c) Wind energy is our LEAST sustainable option!
17 – A related pitch is that our adoption of wind energy will help us break “our fossil fuel dependence.” Guess what? The reality is that wind actually guarantees our perpetual dependence on fossil fuels! In addition to wind turbines’ dependence on fossil fuels for manufacture, delivery and maintenance, the only way wind energy can quasi-function on the grid is to have it continuously augmented by a fast responding power source – which for a variety of technical and economic reasons is usually gas. It’s rather amusing that the same environmental organizations that support wind energy are also against shale gas. That’s like saying that you love Italian food but hate tomato sauce. The two are paired together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Realizing that their best defense is a good offense, some of these hucksters are now contending the inverse: that wind actually augments gas! So wind that generates electricity 25±% of the time is “augmenting” gas, which has to supply the 75±%! This immediately brings to mind the British army band playing “The World Turned Upside Down.”
18 – The claim that wind energy is “green” or “environmentally friendly” is laugh-out-loud hilarious – except for the fact that the reality is not funny at all. Consider just one part of a turbine, the generator, which uses considerable rare earth elements (2000± pounds per MW).
The mining and processing of these metals has horrific environmental consequences that are unacknowledged and ignored by the wind industry and its environmental surrogates. For instance, a typical 100 MW wind project would generate approximately: a) 20,000 square meters of destroyed vegetation, b) 6 million cubic meters of toxic air pollution, c) 33 million gallons of poisoned water, d) 600 million pounds of highly contaminated tailing sands, and e) 250,000 pounds of radioactive waste. (See this, and this, and this.)
19 – Modern civilization is based on our ability to produce electrical POWER. Our modern sense of power is inextricably related to controlled performance expectations: when we turn the knob, we expect the stove to go on 100% of the time – not just on those wildly intermittent occasions when the wind is blowing within a certain speed range.
Underlying a lot of the wind lobbyists’ claims is a carefully crafted, implied message that there is some kind of wind energy “equivalency” to conventional sources. This assumption is the basis for such assertions that XYZ wind project will power 1000 homes. Such claims are totally false. They are dishonest from several perspectives: the most obvious error being that XYZ wind project will NEVER provide power to any 1000 homes 24/7. It might not provide power for even one home 24/7.
Yet we see this same “equivalency” message conveyed even more subtly on EIA tables for levelized costs. Wind and conventional sources should not be on the same table, but they are (defended only by a small footnote). One useful analogy is to consider the cost, speed, reliability and load capacity of a single eighteen-wheeler in making daily interstate deliveries of furniture, heavy equipment or other large products. This semi-truck is equivalent to a nuclear plant.
In energy generation terms, the wind turbine equivalent is to attempt to replace the single truck with golf carts. How many golf carts would it take to equal the cost, speed, reliability and load capacity of a single eighteen-wheeler in making daily interstate deliveries? This is a trick question, as the answer is that there is no number that would work: ten, a hundred, ten thousand, a million. Exactly the same situation exists in the electricity sector: no number of turbines will ever equal one conventional electricity plant.
20 – A close cousin of the prior illegitimate contention is that “The wind is always blowing somewhere, so spreading wind projects out will result in a combination that has a dependable output.” Like essentially all the wind industry mis-infomercials do, this bald assertion has a soothing, reassuring ring. But this marketing claim is unsupported by any empirical, real world evidence. For instance, in southeastern Australia about 20 wind projects are spread out over a single 1000± mile long grid. Yet the combined result in no way even approximates the consistent dependable performance of our primary conventional sources.
Again, our modern society is based on abundant, reliable, affordable electric power. All these specious claims for wind energy are simply part of a long line of snake oil sales spiels – intended to fool the public and enable politicians to justify favoring special interests by enriching various rent-seekers (which will then return the favor via campaign contributions and other reelection support).
They get away with this primarily for three basic reasons.
1 – Wind proponents are not asked to independently PROVE the merits of their claims before (or after) their product is forced on the public.
2 – There is no penalty for making bogus assertions or dishonest claims about their product’s “benefits,” so each successive contention is more grandiose than the last.
3 – Promoting wind is a political agenda that is divorced from real science. A true scientific assessment is a comprehensive, objective evaluation with transparent real world data – not on carefully massaged computer models and slick advertising campaigns, which are the mainstay of anti-science evangelists promoting political agendas.
So, in effect, we have come around full circle. A hundred-plus years ago, wind energy was recognized as an antiquated, unreliable and expensive source of energy – and now, after hundreds of billions of wasted tax and consumer dollars, we find that (surprise!) it still is an antiquated, unreliable and expensive source of energy. This is what happens when science is relegated to a back-of-the-bus status.
Paraphrasing Dr. Jon Boone:
Let’s see the real world evidence for the lobbyists’ case. I’m weary of these relentless projections, uncontaminated as they are by reality. In a nutshell, what these profiteers are seeking to do, through methodological legerdemain, is to make wind appear to be what it is not. This is a plot lifted out of Cinderella and her step-sisters, or the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s really a story of class aspirations, but one that is bizarrely twisted: giving wind a makeover to make her seem fetching and comely when in fact she’s really a frog.
When you hear that wind opposition is all about NIMBYs, think about the above points, and then reflect on what NIMBY really means: The Next Idiot Might Be You.
But consider the sources. When a major turbine manufacturer calls a catastrophic failure like a blade falling off component liberation, we know we are in for an adventurous ride in a theme park divorced from reality.
[First published February 24, 2012, at Master Resource]