From Barton, Vermont, to the German border with Denmark and from the shores of Lake Huron, to the Romney Marches of southern England, wind power advocates are fighting crosswinds from local residents.
In Barton in mid-January, a referendum overwhelmingly rejected the wind power turbines that were planned near this upper Vermont community. Vermont is one of the most scenic US states and it depends heavily on tourists and seasonal residents to keep its economy moving. It is also a state where the voice of environmentalists is heard loud and clear.
In Germany, where one-third of the world’s current wind power is generated, doubters have provoked a loud debate. The company that owns the grid that includes nearly half the wind-farms in Germany reported its wind farms generated only 11 percent of their capacity. The company said the winds vary so much the wind farm had to be backed 80 percent by the conventional power grid.
A report sponsored by the German Energy Agency* was also critical of wind power and suggested that carbon dioxide emissions reduction could be achieved more cheaply by other means. The debate inside government circles is quite heated, because the Greens hold 55 seats in Germany’s four-party coalition government.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was quick to install wind power in the southwest of the country when he was first elected, amid much controversy, but in the north and southeast of the country voters are biting back. Residents of Caithness in the north vigorously fought a wind-farm proposal.
And in the wealthy garden county of Kent, south of London, every elected body in the area, including twelve parish councils, two district councils and two county councils, rejected a wind-farm in Romney Marshes.
The main objections of those opposed to wind farms is their unsightliness, the noise they generate, their lack of efficiency and their high cost for seemingly low returns.
The supporters of wind power make the point that citizens are in favour of environmental causes but not when they affect them. This is called the NIMBY – not-in-my-back-yard – syndrome.
“It’s no longer NIMBY. For some people it’s NOPE – not on the planet earth – it’s BANANA, build absolutely nothing anywhere,” complained Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan last year. He told CanWest News Services that the NIMBY phenomenon is a “threat to the province’s energy security.”
But in Ontario some damning criticism has come from agencies concerned about renewable energy resources. One of them is Energy Probe, which conducted a seven- month study of wind production and consumer demand that was published in November 2006.**
It found that so far the capacity factor is 22 percent; periods of very low or no production were particularly common during high demand periods; high but highly variable wind production during low demand periods was common; and in most months the hourly production pattern on average declined during the peak hours of 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
It concluded: “Energy Probe is concerned that a clean and promising generating technology is burdened with unrealistic forecasts.”
There are cancellations or delays on many projects. The plan for the Saugeen Shores of Lake Huron was cancelled. A proposal in the scenic Blue Mountains was abandoned, and there is a 12-month delay in the start-up of a second project north of Orangeville that would add 88 turbines to the 45 already there.
The loudest and longest debate over a wind-farm has been in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where there is a proposal to build 130 turbines in the scenic Nantucket Sound. The debate has continued for five years and involves, among others, Senator Ted Kennedy and his family, who oppose the project.
The famous Hyannis Port resort where they play is a few miles from the proposed project. Last summer, the residents of Nantucket voted 66 percent against the project.
Even in Quebec’s GaspÃ© Peninsula, where Hydro Quebec is planning one of the largest wind-farms in the world, opposition led by the unions (including the hydro union) has popped up in RiviÃ¨re-du-Loup, one of the larger cities.
There is no saying how far the protesters will go in Germany, Canada or the US, but they seem to have gathered steam in the last few years. This is one of the few serious blows to the environmental movement in the last decade, caused not by lobby groups or governments, but by the people most affected, those in the nearby towns and cities.
* DENA (Deutche Energie-Argentur, or German Energy Agency), “Integration into the National Grid of Onshore and Offshore Wind Energy Generated in Germany by the Year 2020.” 2005.
** Tom Adams, “Review of Wind Power Results in Ontario: May to October 2006.” Energy Probe, Toronto, November 2006.
James Ferrabee was a senior correspondent for Southam News in Canada and overseas for 39 years. He writes a monthly column for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) and can be reached at email@example.com.