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Wind warnings: Watchdogs say answer to energy needs is not blowing in the wind  

“Wind energy” is a political buzz-phrase, tossed about like confetti, pleasing the masses and proliferating warm visions for a wannabe-green society, according to critics.

Be that as it may, it hasn’t stopped protest groups from cropping up around the world to decry the pitfalls of wind energy development, the ones they say you won’t find in any carefully crafted political media materials.

And those groups are warning Newfoundland and Labrador to tread ever-so-carefully into the wind-energy business, which they say is starting to show major signs of trouble, both economically and, yes, environmentally.

“We’re so desperate for an alternative solution to our energy needs that we are really clinging to something that seems to hold promise – people are reluctant to face the fact that this isn’t the answer,” said Eric Rosenbloom, a Vermont native who is president of National Wind Watch, an American non-profit group that focuses on the negative impacts of wind power.

“There’s a problem of desperation,” he said. “It’s basically a huge waste of money, and you will still be stuck with a power problem.”

Rosenbloom has spent the last four years delving into the perils and possibilities of wind energy, and he recently produced an essay that draws largely on a litany of wind reports and studies done around the world in places with long-standing wind power developments – like Denmark and the Netherlands.

The results, he said, were surprising.

“What jumped out at me, besides learning about the impacts of wind turbines, was that I couldn’t find any actual, clear evidence that any fossil fuels were really being saved,” Rosenbloom said.

“Not only is it hard to pin down or find any measurable benefit, but the negative impacts were also quite substantial.”

Rosenbloom points to several aspects of wind development his organization see as being of concern.

Wind turbine rotors themselves are huge, he said – some with wing spans exceeding a 747 jet – meaning they take up vast amounts of space. He said they create more noise than people might expect and are a massive threat to all types of birds – a mortality factor that intensifies, he said, when mixed with fog.

The oil and fluids required to lube and clean the equipment, he added, are a hazard, along with the dangers associated with ice-build up on rotor blade.

Additionally, he said reports have consistently shown that turbines don’t perform nearly as well near salt water, where the build up of salt can reduce power out put by up to 20-30 per cent.

He also charges that the job creation prospects for wind farms is limited at best, the power itself is “unreliable” (meaning fuel plants are left “idling”) and that the cost to produce wind power exceeds what consumers can pay for it.

“It’s definitely political,” Rosenbloom said. “It’s a perfect symbol – it’s big, it costs lots of money. It’s just this juggernaut.”

Wind is one of the key elements listed in the energy plan recently released by the provincial government.

In an e-mailed response, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro vice-president of business development, Jim Keating, explained wind projects on the island are meant to offset, not replace Holyrood’s 500 megawatt fuel generating plant.

He said it is anticipated that the two, 25-megawatt wind farms approved at St. Lawrence and Fermeuse would displace 300,000 barrels of oils a year at Holyrood, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, among others, by some 150,000 tonnes.

While he did not provide the figures, he said Hydro estimates show those wind projects “will be cost-effective for consumers and is less than the marginal cost of electricity (fuel) generated at the Holyrood Generating Station.”

He said the island grid could incorporate a limit of 80 megawatts of wind – including the 50 megawatts already in the works – before entering the realm of possible economic drawbacks.

“As more and more intermittent and non-dispatchable generation, such as wind, is added to the system, there comes a point at which the ability to maintain stability and acceptable voltages throughout the system is compromised leading to poorer service quality,” Keating said.

“Amounts of wind generation beyond this (80-megawatt) level would impose additional costs to Hydro and electricity customers beyond the cost of the purchased generation.”

Whether or not wind power becomes a factor, Keating said, is moot point as it relates to the value of hydro.

“Currently, almost 80 per cent of the energy supply on the island portion of the province is generated through hydro power,” he said, adding that wind power would be used to supplement hydro and offset thermal generation.

“Wind power also has the ability to enhance the value of our hydroelectric power sources.”

By Jamie Baker

The Telegram

11 October 2007

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

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