The first sentence in the Washington Post article, Wind is Given a 2nd Look as Energy Needs Grow (Aug. 3, 2008), gets right to the point: the energy industry has targeted western Virginia’s forested mountains for industrial wind energy development.
“Wind is catching fire,” said L. Preston Bryant Jr. Virginia’s secretary of natural resources. “It is literally all the rage.”
Although the Washington Post article highlights the “conflict within the environmental community” concerning this development push, it fails to provide much in the way of details concerning the basis for the objections. It also repeats a number of the industry’s deceptive talking points without offering any analysis.
The article repeats misleading claims that wind energy in Virginia has the potential to produce as much as 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs.
More than 90% of that potential is offshore, where wind energy development is not considered economically viable at present. Yet wind energy proponents cite the offshore-based estimate to support the current push for development on our forested mountain ridges. (www.vawind.org/Assets/Docs/Onshore-Offshore.pdf)
The article repeats exaggerated claims concerning the number of households that would be served by two proposed ridgeline projects in western Virginia. It states that the proposed Highland New Wind project is expected to produce enough electricity to power 15,000 homes, and that the proposed FreedomWorks project will produce enough electricity to power 86,000 homes.
These estimates are based on the unrealistic assumptions that all electricity produced will be for residential use, that electricity is not needed on days when there is no wind, and that the two projects will dramatically exceed the performance of existing Appalachian wind projects. (www.vawind.org/Assets/Docs/RESIDENCES-PER-TURBINE.pdf)
The article repeats the uniformed claim that wind power provides an alternative to new coal-burning power plants, a claim made both by FreedomWorks, Inc., on its company website, and by some environmental groups opposing Dominion’s Wise County power plant.
Although concerns about the mining and burning of coal are well founded, promotion of wind energy as an alternative is not an effective argument. It would require 2,260 2-megawatt turbines to match the output of the proposed Wise County coal-fired generating plan in August (the peak demand period of the year). That would require about 323 miles of ridgeline, about the length of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain in Virginia. (www.vawind.org/Assets/Docs/FreedomWorks.pdf)
Despite these shortcomings, the Washington Post article should be given credit for at least acknowledging that the environmental community is conflicted over the ridgeline development issue.
Also, there is ironic truth in the included statement by Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, who acknowledges that wind power “… is no longer an alternative energy source … it’s mainstream.”
The push for wind energy development is now driven by multi-national business interests, and along with that goes the usual investment in the manipulation of public perception.
In this context it will be difficult to achieve the informed public debate that is clearly needed if we are to achieve real solutions to our energy and environmental problems.