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Wind energy and the environment 

To those who think that the installation of a wind plant, whether it be 4 turbines or 40, in what will become known as “formerly the beautiful seaside resort town of Eastham, Gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore” will cut down on the carbon dioxide load, please think again.

According to an investigation by the New York Times (12/28/06), wind power generates a big problem: it is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, for example, on the hottest days when there is peak demand for air conditioning. According to Williams Bojorquez, director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, “power plants that run on coal or gas must be built along with every megawatt of wind capacity.” That is because, when the winds don’t blow, the grid must buy electricity from the next cheapest source of power, otherwise there would be rolling black-outs. Frank P. Prager, managing director of environmental policy at Xcel Energy, which serves eight states from North Dakota to Texas and states it is the nation’s largest retailer of wind energy, says that the higher the reliance on wind, the more an electricity transmission grid would need to keep conventional generators on stand-by – generally low-efficiency plants that run on natural gas or coal and can be started and stopped quickly. A study by Elfam, Denmark’s largest utilities company, in March, 2005, found that wind plants had not reduced the country’s carbon dioxide emission levels, because it has to be backed-up by conventional energy. A report by the Royal Academy of Engineers in Britain around the same time suggested that a conventional power station produces higher emissions when it is turned down to make room on the grid for wind-derived energy, and then ramps up when the wind power is insufficient.

In other words, to date, it is simply not proven that wind -generated power is actually reducing carbon dioxide and other noxious gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Add to that the harmful effects to the bio-sphere of clear-cutting forested areas and the concomitant loss of wildlife habitats, let alone the visual despoiling of whatever natural beauty we have left in remote and unpopulated (by humans) regions, and noise pollution, one has to wonder why we are in such a rush for wind turbines. This is a highly complex issue and one that deserves to be duly considered by people before they agree to a permanent wind plant installation.

In another New York Times report of 12/30/06, it is noted that cutting emissions of carbon dioxide from electrical energy use provides little help, since only 3 percent of electricity comes from the burning of oil. The far bigger problem we have are emissions from cars, trucks and airplanes. They computed that the number of pounds of carbon dioxide saved per year by powering a home with wind energy vs. conventional as equal to the number of pounds per year produced by one car driving 46 miles a day. Yet the government refuses to impose any emissions regulations on the auto industry, and in fact, companies are being given tax incentives to purchase SUVs. In still another report (1/25/07) the U.S.’ increasing appetite for energy is charted by the Energy Information Administration as soaring, while investment by the government alternative fuel technologies research remains pitifully low. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Research Lab’s budget of $200 million is nothing compared to the cost of one B2 bomber or aircraft carrier.

That leaves much of the “research” in the hands of corporations, whose own interests cannot be discounted in research, development and impact studies. GE, for instance, one of the world’s largest supplier of industrial wind turbines, is, also, Washington’s most prolific lobbyer, having spent $118.4 million between 1998 and 2005, more than any other company (The Washington Examiner, 1/26/07).

No one doubts that our search for alternative energy sources, along with conservation measures, are imperative. But should we be trading one form of pollution for another? Have we not yet learned the lesson that an unbridled market-driven approach to the delivery of the basic necessities of life may not have turned out so well? Everywhere on our planet we see the sad results. The generation and distribution of energy that we need for a comfortable life should be a societal responsibility, and we should have well- thought-out policies governing things like water and energy resources, without which, none of us could live.

Our towns should not have to sell out the residents in order to cover financial needs like paying for education, police and fire protection, and the health and welfare of the town employees.

Francie Williamson
North Eastham, MA

Ms. Williamson is a member of Eastham Residents for a Safe Environment (ERASE the turbines).


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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