Abstract: Wind provides unpredictable energy and the wind energy industry is only viable because of so called ‘green subsidies’. Wind farms are a fraud, would say a child looking at the emperor walking naked in the streets. Whether you live in Canada, in the US, in England, France or Australia, the story is the same: publicly, no one dares to speak against the wind energy. We’ll explain how, why, and propose real, efficient and economical alternatives to the blowing wind industry.
Canada’s Minister for Natural Resources, Gary Lunn, has just announced yet another gift for the wind industry gathered at a national conference early this October 2007 in Quebec City: Cartier Energie is to get 31 millions for its Baie-des-Sables project. At the very same moment, 8000 km south. in Mar del Plata Argentina, the president of the World Wind Energy Association, Doctor Anil Kane, rejoices, « With 25% annual growth, we’re the world’s fastest-growing industry. » How can one not have but total praise for these gigantic windmills, miracle solution to greenhouse gases?
The conference attendees in Quebec and Argentina have what to rejoice about. What are they discussing anyway? Finance of the wind power industry, improvements in wind prediction and site selection of wind farms. In Quebec they also discussed participation of aboriginal people and municipalities interested in taking advantage of wind power. In both hemispheres, wind industrialists want to multiply, at least tenfold, the number of wind power projects worldwide. It’s as if, thanks to wind power, Humanity is saved!
However the truth is completely otherwise, for love is often blind. Wind turbines do not alter the greenhouse gas equation: in fact, it’s a delusion, false advertising. The wind power industry has set itself up as planetary saviour and, throughout the world, naive electors give approval without thought. Politicians even use wind turbines as banner for a new crusade. But a rigorous analysis of electricity production from wind farms shows that the new symbol of sustainable development is as insubstantial as wind itself.
It has now been almost two years that Quebec is being courted by wind promoters and many fine words have been spoken about this energy of the future. But the public, the media and our elected representatives are in the middle of getting scammed by powerful multinational wind power lobbyists who, systematically, inflate the estimated benefits and minimize the actual costs and inconveniences of the projects. In Minnesota, the firm Northern Alternative Energy has even been formally sued for having inflated electricity production figures for its wind farm.
Opponents of wind power are accused of being anti-environmentalist, ill-informed and, worst of all, of not having a scientific approach. Opposition to wind power almost seems like mental retardation as wind power seems the miracle solution for many electors and elected. Just so, a French inquiry demonstrated last week that 90% of French people favour wind power. Who would dare to speak publicly, as in the past, about the proverbial emperor’s clothes?
Whatever one says, it is not a question of the industry of the future. Did you know that there is little real research in the wind power industry? The simple reason being that wind turbines are already profitable enough without the need to do research. Wind turbine-produced electricity is difficult to manage over electrical grids, and wind turbines function at best, but one and a half days per week; they’re even made to turn without wind via the same electrical grid to show, per TV ads, that they’re working for the planetary environment. Electricity expended to make them turn is unaccounted for in production, a pretty useful bit of special treatment.
The truth is that wind farms are fattened like geese with our government’s money, and that this industry can only exist if strongly subsidized. In 2006, The Netherlands and Sweden eliminated government subsidies and almost all projects were abandoned. In the weekly, Der Spiegel, one could read recently about Germany realizing that subsidies have been poured into a bottomless pit.
This supposedly renewable, green and sustainable energy is really just a profitable financial product due to the subsidies. Promoters make more money from government largesse than from the electricity produced by the turbines. Profits are subsequently siphoned into the annual reports of oil and energy multinationals in order to green up their image. Profits are also sometimes sold or transferred to income trusts and investment funds, ethical ones, of course. Wind power is only exceptionally profitable at sea, near shore, but this entails additional costs of 30% which often makes promoters balk, as the firm FPL Energy has just announced in September 2007 regarding its Long Island off-shore project in the U.S.
Managers of the electrical grids in many countries hardly dare to speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs. The truth is that the turbines rarely produce when needed, that what they produce is often unused because not storable, and that thermal power stations have to be constantly on hand to balance wind-derived electricity over the national grids.
The experience of the Dutch, Swedes, Germans and Danish clearly shows: the wind power only pays, and is interesting in a country, if strongly subsidized by governments with millions of dollars, a situation prone to corruption. Mayors and prefects, courted by powerful industrial lobbyists are blinded by money from permits, taxes and economic repercussions. District elected representatives dance for joy at the negotiating table because of local budgets tripled, quadrupled or more thanks to wind farms. How can one remain cool and level-headed, how can one resist so much money? Why refuse what’s needed?
Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, former President of France, wrote in November 2006 to a citizens’ association fighting a wind project: « The establishment of wind power in your area answers exclusively to the powerful interests of outside lobbies. These wind turbines produce but a modest amount of non-competitive electricity. »
Peter McGauran, federal minister for Agriculture of Australia declared in June 2006 to a group of dairy farmers that wind farms are a fraud and only exist on taxpayer subsidies. « Wind farms don’t live up to the hype that they’re the environmental saviour and a serious alternative energy source. Their claims are fraudulent in regard to the environmental and energy terms. They generate next to no electricity, for heaven’s sake, when the wind is not blowing, » he said. « It can’t be stored and their contribution to the electricity grid is so small that it is hard to even measure. » He finished by saying that « The wind farms will diminish greenhouse gas emissions by so small an amount I doubt you could calculate it » A French researcher has just proven him wrong, the GG reduction that he calculated would be on the order of 0.03 %.
Michail Jefferson, policies chairman of the World Renewable Energy Network and former economist at Shell declared recently that « the industry is encouraged to exaggerate wind speeds and the amount of potential wind energy a farm can supply. » Like many other experts, he won’t dare say more publicly.
German academics have joined together and published the Darmstadt manifesto demanding the withdrawal of all forms of government subsidy because, according to them, the money could be put to better use for real research into energy efficiency and solar energy. Environmental groups throughout the world are divided. Laurie Farber, past president of the Sierra Club of New York, resigned from her position over a wind farm controversy: « I found it intensely frustrating that groups refused to even want to consider that there might be any environmental impacts. They wanted to just accept the poor substitute for science that FPL Energy and LIPA reports were offering. They were willing to be blind about this, because of a ‘renewable energy at any cost’ attitude. »
A recent study concerning the wind farms in East Anglia, England showed that 80% of the wind turbines were installed in places where the wind was unprofitable. A Canadian researcher, Dr. Kalwa, mechanical engineer and former scientist for Ontario Hydro calls wind power a monumental fraud. The researcher goes on to affirm that windmills consume almost as much electricity as they produce, because the companies make them turn, in the absence of wind, to give the illusion of functioning wind energy. This electricity utilized is not accounted for and so, actual turbine production is not measured correctly, only estimated based on theoretical maximal output data provided by manufacturers. Recent research demonstrates that, to get the true figure, you have to divide by four the one provided by promoters.
The wind speed for engagement of wind turbines is, according to manufacturer specifications, around 15 km/hr, but in reality it’s closer to 55 km/hr because government and industry standards require the blades to withstand winds of over 200 km/hr which has the effect that blades are fabricated narrower, thus raising the speed at which turbines engage, says Dr Kalwa. A subtle technicality silently passed over but that renders the turbines less efficient. Wind turbines might only have « profitable » wind blowing for 1% of the year depending on the region.
Wind farms result in lower land prices and decreased tourism. The company FPD Savills, an English real estate agency, estimates the decrease in land values to be 30%; for their part, French real estate agencies feel obligated to warn potential buyers of the existence of wind power projects in the areas of properties to be sold. A recent inquiry in the most lovely tourist region in England shows that 20% of tourists would not intend to return were there construction of wind parks.
All this is nothing but rubbish, declares the wind energy lobby. According to Gregory Wetstone, director of the American Wind Energy Association, AWEA, « Wind power is an essential element of the climate change solution. Further increasing the percentage of electricity wind produces in America will provide much needed price stability, generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for farmers and rural communities, and create tens of thousands of jobs. We should be looking for ways to accelerate wind energy’s growth rather than putting roadblocks in its path. » Many do not share this opinion of vested interests.
In 2005, this lobby disposed of approximately $600 million to promote its version of truth, and that, in the U.S. alone. Accordingly, the quality of the message is exceptional: wind energy is the saviour. Engineering labs cannot let the public have any doubts over their impartial expert reports. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Do you really believe in the impartiality of the researchers? When they’re financed by industry, their objectivity is doubtful. The wind energy lobby is very generous with its money: scientific associations, environmental organizations, pro-wind groups and media. The wind energy lobby is also generous with former politicians, recycled as « independent experts » in order to influence public opinion. The truth is that wind power development is like a dignified entrepreneurial Far West gold rush.
In France, the wind power industry has just had confirmation of inflated rates for a 15-year period. In Spain, the wind power industry has been guaranteed a similar long-term fixed remuneration; curiously, Spain also shelters the head office of the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, the Vestas group. The French energy regulatory commission calculates the profitability of wind parks at 20 to 40% per annum, after taxes and for the next 15 years.
A recent analysis of the actual production figures for California wind parks, with over 4,000 turbines, demonstrates that they produce only 24% of the time and that their real contribution to the production of electricity in California is a mere .007%. In France, similar research into the actual production of wind turbines gives even worse figures: it relates 18, 16 and even 13% actual production. In 2004 in Denmark, model country for wind power, we’re told of 20% electricity production but that forgets to say that 18.8% had to be exported to Norway because Denmark was unable to utilise it at peak periods.
Wind power is not the answer to global warming. Do we have alternatives? We certainly do have alternatives to windmills but they would disrupt the lifestyle of electors and consumers. In Paris, an article in the September 2007 issue of the medical journal, The Lancet, shows with supporting calculations that it would be better to minimize human consumption of meat, for 80% of agriculturally produced methane comes from farm animals. Wind turbines won’t even alter the greenhouse gas equation but by a mere .03%, as mentioned above. The way to reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases is to use less energy. Governments must massively invest in energy conservation measures rather than in these wind machines. According to another research, if every English household switched for one single low energy light bulb, a fossil fuel-burning electrical plant could be shut down!
Wind power would only be interesting if energy produced can be stored. It has been proposed to fill reservoirs of large hydroelectric dams, for example. An Australian method has just offered in September 2007 to store electricity in liquid accumulators. Quebec would thus be able to utilize wind energy because the major part of our electricity comes from hydroelectric dams, which is not the case for Ontario or New York where, as almost everywhere else in the world, wind power must be backed up by carbon-based generating stations.
Let’s talk about money. The subsidies, credits, allocations and diverse exemptions vary from one country to another but an independent researcher estimates that greater than 75% of the costs are paid by governments. Wind energy is artificially profitable. In fact, several financial market analysts are beginning to fear a speculative bubble for companies active in wind energy because published financial results are far from being at the level of market expectations. In 2002 and 2003, the most important wind power multinational, FPL Group, took more than 1.2 billion in deductions and various depreciations thanks to wind power, thus totally sheltering, from taxes, profits of more than 2 billion dollars. The same story goes on with other companies listed on the world’s stock markets.
Construction of wind parks has equally begun in other parts of the world, the so-called Third World. In Mexico the search for terrain is organized by coyotes disguised with ties, they offer peasants nice gifts: construction of roads, schools and wells for drinking water. Peasants have no choice whether or not to sign, for people bother less with legality and democracy in these countries; as one would expect, promises are rarely kept. Chile announced last month that it hopes to increase the coverage of its national wind park dramatically in the next few years. In China and India, a gold rush is appearing on the horizon for there exists no organized opposition in these countries. Bottom line: carbon trading is set to become the new favourite of international financial markets because carbon credits are also part of the government subsidies.
The wind power industry is here to stay and there’s money, lots of money to be made, so let’s be practical. Regionally, there is a crying need for money in small towns and municipalities. It is, therefore, a matter of knowing how to be courted without being had by promoters of wind energy. County regional municipalities already have interim regulations to oversee development of wind parks, but more must be done. Wind parks must be relegated to Crown lands, public lands where municipalities hold the rights. Wind turbines must, quite simply, be banished from cultivated land and allowed only on forested areas behind the agricultural zones. This was, in any case, the original spirit of Quebec’s law regarding protection of agricultural lands: to preserve the good farming land of this country.
How can we improve the local repercussions of wind projects? Municipalities must arrange for all their public buildings to be heated or cooled by electricity produced on wind parks, and this prior to any sale to electrical national grids. For genuine sustainable local development, local enterprises could be launched for the recharging of electric vehicle batteries using electricity produced from those very same turbines. Thus the country could be equipped with a fleet of electric buses for major metropolitan areas. There are many business opportunities but municipalities must not tolerate bullying from the promoters and let the wind farms harm their environment, their countryside, tourist potential, property value as well as the social fabric of their population.
Among farmers and landowners, some look agreeably upon this unexpected financial windfall but beware: the amounts paid by promoters vary greatly from project to project and from country to country, so one must be vigilant before signing and consult legal opinion as required. Promoters often have a tendency to behave in a region like explorers of Indian territory of yesteryears: furs are exchanged for beads and baubles. The truth is that a wind turbine can greatly improve woodland output for a farmer, but that the same wind turbine blocks and harms development of good fertile land which our country requires for agricultural independence.
Let us be clear about it: wind parks money is only welcome in forested areas away from the farms. Promoters will say that in such places the wind is not favourable, but that’s the case for 80% of wind turbines in England and, as the aforementioned study has shown, the wind industry in England still makes lots of money from it. The truth is that promoters will be happy to install wherever municipalities give them permission to. Let the huge wind parks be confined to the perimeters of the large hydroelectric dams so that the electricity produced be used to refill the reservoirs; that would really be a true long lasting energy solution for this country.
A recent European study demonstrates that modern countries could easily reduce their consumption of electricity by 20% by the year 2020 were there political will to do so. Anders Eldrup, president of Vattenfall Energy, a Danish electricity company, has even stated publicly that « wind energy cannot solve the energy problem in the near future because it is too unstable and possibly too expensive ». Isn’t he an expert, a real one, an independent one?
« Wind farms are a fraud », as a child would dare to say, seeing the emperor walking naked in the streets. Would he grab the money blowing in the wind?
Bernard Viau, Quebec, Canada
This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.