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Misplaced Faith in “Wind Energy”

Ordinary electric customers and taxpayers face a huge challenge when their interests are threatened by a phalanx that includes wind industry developers and lobbyists, the governor, electric utility regulators, electric utilities, some legislators and local government officials, and a few landowners who would profit from “wind farms” at their neighbors’ expense.

This is precisely the situation that faces the citizens of Illinois, particularly those in areas that aggressive “wind farm” developers have targeted for their projects.

Unless Illinois citizens take on the challenge, they will see millions of dollars transferred from their pockets through higher prices for electricity and taxes to the pockets of companies that own “wind farms.” Billions of capital investment dollars will be spent on projects that produce tiny amounts of electricity – electricity that is low in quality and value.

The “wind energy” saga playing out in Illinois and other states and countries is the direct result of an extraordinarily successful, decade long misinformation campaign by the wind industry and other wind advocates.

They have misled the public, media and government officials by overstating environmental and energy benefits and understating the high costs and adverse environmental impacts.

Facts about wind energy

During the past 3 years, citizen-led groups in the US and other countries where “wind farms” have been proposed or built have learned the facts about wind energy and are working to bring those facts to the public. Among the key, documented facts, which can only be summarized briefly here, are the following:

1. Tax avoidance, not environmental and energy benefits, has become the primary motivation for building “wind farms.” Currently, two-thirds of the economic value of wind projects comes from federal tax benefits.

2. Huge windmills – some 35 stories tall – produce very little electricity. All the 12,000+ windmills now scattered across thousands of acres in 30 states in the US may be able to produce about 15,000,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually. That may sound like a lot of electricity, but it’s equal to ¾ of 1% of the electricity produced in the US in 2003 and much less than the 20,000,000,000 kWh produced by Exelon’s Braidenwood generating station during 2004.

3. Electricity from wind turbines has less real value than electricity from reliable generating units. Wind turbines produce electricity only when the wind is blowing in the right speed range. Their output is intermittent, highly volatile and largely unpredictable and can’t be counted on when electricity demand is highest; e.g., during hot summer afternoons.

4. The true cost of electricity from wind energy is much higher than wind advocates admit. Advocates ignore the huge costs of subsidies and fail to acknowledge that reliable generating units must be kept available and running to balance and “back up” the intermittent, volatile output from wind turbines so that electricity always will be available when required by electric customers. Windmills use transmission capacity inefficiently, adding to costs.

5. Claims of environmental benefits of wind energy are exaggerated. For example, advocates generally ignore the fact that backup generating units must be immediately available and running at less than their peak efficiency or in spinning reserve mode, and that backup units continue to emit while in these modes. Also, under “cap and trade” rules, credits for sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides emissions that may be displaced by wind could be sold to other emitters, with NO reduction in those emissions.

6. “Wind farms” have significant adverse environmental, scenic and property value impacts that wind advocates like to ignore. People living in areas where “wind farms” have been constructed have become painfully aware that – in addition to the high cost of the electricity – “wind farms” impair environmental, ecological, scenic and property values. Adverse impacts include noise, bird kills, interference with bird migration and animal habitat, destruction of scenic vistas and ecological rarities, distracting blade “flicker” and aircraft warning lights, and lower value of properties near the huge structures.

7. “Wind farms” produce few local economic benefits, which are overwhelmed by the higher costs imposed on electric customers through their monthly bills. A few landowners may get additional income but the added cost of electricity to electric customers will overwhelm the total of these payments.

8. Wind energy has NOT been a great success in other countries. Denmark and Germany have residential electricity prices that are among the highest in the world and are experiencing many problems due to their use of wind energy. Opposition to wind turbines is also growing in other countries. Expectations that wind energy will make significant contributions toward meeting European Kyoto goals have been discredited.

9. Renewable Portfolio Standards are an insidious device. They result in enriching a few “renewable energy” producers at the expense of many ordinary electric customers.

Challenging incorrect “popular wisdom” is difficult but, in this case, well worth the effort!

Glenn R. Schleede for Pantagraph, Bloomington, ILL