The American Wind Energy Association recently predicted large increases in wind-power capacity in its 2007 outlook, but industry buzz doesn’t faze the many staunch wind opponents.
Groups like National Wind Watch, Stop Ill Wind, War Against Wind, We Oppose Wind Farms, Industrial Wind Energy Opposition and many others in the United States and internationally are trying to get their message out about the negative aspects and effects of wind energy.
Critics argue that wind is unreliable. A brochure distributed by National Wind Watch says wind turbines are inefficient and will not be able to replace any significant amount of conventional energy. Another common argument is the visual impact and noise pollution.
“Almost everyone came into it the same way. It sounds like a good alternative but then someone gets involved when projects are proposed near them and they learn there are a lot of negative impacts that aren’t mentioned,” said Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch. “It’s almost always a surprise how big they are.”
Rosenbloom said in Vermont and New York lots of deforestation occurs including loss of wildlife habitat, fragmentation, drainage and water issues, and none of it is well documented.
“It’s a big construction project involving several acres cleared for each turbine,” Rosenbloom said, “That’s weighed against what you get out of it, and that’s so little it’s hardly worth it.”
In Vermont and about 11 other states, small local groups began forming as wind farms were proposed. The goal of groups like NWW is to have a central library of resources to get new groups up to speed and to network. Many states have umbrella groups, like Save Western New York and We Oppose Wind Farms.
“We have private discussion lists which are really helpful because energy business insiders, wind experts and engineers all answer questions,” Rosenbloom said.
The groups prepare flyers and encourage the public to attend permit hearings that the proposals must go through before approval. They also raise money to hire lawyers to fight decisions and talk to legislators and utilities to sway general opinion.
“I would say in places like New York, where towns are passing ordinances limiting the amount of wind development that can happen the groups are effective. The public opinion statewide, in New York particularly, may be in favor of wind, but not at a local level,” Rosenbloom said.
Of the 4,038 billion kilowatt hours of electricity generated in 2005, 14.6 were produced from wind power, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. The wind power capacity was increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent in 2007 by the AWEA. The AWEA says those statistics prove wind is now a mainstream option for new power generation.
Recent accidents in China and Scotland have led to safety studies. There is also research being done currently about possible health effects of living in close proximity to a wind turbine. But some say they’re not opposed to wind, but the practices of the wind industry. Richard Bolton, president of the Environmental Compliance Alliance in New York, said noise especially isn’t being adequately studied by wind-turbine developers.
“They’re paying consultants to get the answers they want. New anecdotal evidence shows the sound can be heard over long distances and residents are also affected by shadow flickers from the blades,” Bolton said.
Another point of contention is transmission. Bolton said that though the energy demand is higher on the East Coast, wind turbines are more effective in the Midwest.
“It is an issue, but I think that since the energy is being used on the East Coast, rather than shift all the perceived burden of hosting wind projects onto someone else it should be closer to where it’s being used,” said Thomas Gray, deputy executive director of AWEA. “It’s all a matter of how you look at it; transmission to a remote location with 10 percent greater production could be outweighed by cost of transmission.”
Gray said that while wind turbines in the Midwest are often more productive, it’s not the same in every case.
“In Vermont, for example, where there’s lots of pushback, I think there’s something to some of it, but a lot of what’s being circulated isn’t the most informed,” Gray said.
The AWEA said the potential impact of opposition groups is recognized, and both sides should seek the truth.
“Reliability is an issue; it’s not the energy resource that will be the best at all times. It’s lower than other types of generation at certain times of the year, but we need wind energy to reduce emissions,” Gray said.
By Kristyn Ecochard
UPI Energy Correspondent
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