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Wind energy far from free

Wind is free, clean, and renewable, so say the wind turbine developers.

Most people seem to believe them, but how true is it? Certainly wind itself is free, and there will always be more of it, but huge industrial machines to capture it at $3 million each cannot be considered free. Who pays for them? You do, with your taxes. No wind power is ever developed without huge government subsidies.

Thousands of turbines built 20 years ago in California were abandoned when the subsides ran out. Most still stand, broken and rusting in the desert, some dripping oil and toxins into the soil.

At present, the electricity wind makes is the most expensive in the world. They say the expense is justified because wind power is good for the environment and will slow down climate change. But so far no fossil-fueled plants have ever closed after wind power was developed in Europe and California years ago. Turns out you have to keep them fired-up so the grid doesn’t fail due to undependable wind. The Maple Ridge (N.Y.) development has a nameplate capacity of 240 MW, but for 40 percent of the third quarter of 2006, the wind factory produced only 30 MW or less, no more than 12.5 percent of nameplate capacity. At no time during that three-month period did the output sustain the full 240 MW. The wind turbines produced more than half the rated output only 15 percent of the time. That sort of record won’t slow down climate change.

Turbines consume electricity from the grid for pumps, oil heaters, lights, operating machinery and more, even when the blades don’t spin. Some have claimed it is even possible that each turbine consumes more than 50 percent of its rated capacity in its own operation, and sometimes more than it produces and sells. Unlikely perhaps, but no one really knows since the industry doesn’t furnish data. Who pays for that grid power? You do, with your electric bill.

They consume fossil fuel too. They are made, transported and built with non-renewable materials that use plenty of oil. A single 1.5-MW turbine contains up to 200 gallons of oil for cooling, cleaning fluids and lubrication. Our turbines would be bigger and use more. The transformer at the base of each turbine contains up to 500 more gallons of oil. The substation transformers where a group of turbines connects to the grid contain over 10,000 gallons of oil each. This makes fires (usually caused by lightning) a serious danger. This won’t help wean us from Middle Eastern oil; and it’s not renewable.

A 200- to 300-foot tower supporting a turbine housing the size of a bus and three 100- to 150-foot rotor blades sweeping over an acre of air at more than 100 mph requires a large and solid foundation. On a 1.5-MW tower, the turbine housing weighs over 56 tons, the blade assembly weighs over 36 tons, and the whole tower assembly totals over 163 tons of equipment that used fossil fuel and produced CO2 in the making. Our turbines would be bigger. All these materials are non-renewable and polluting.

Enormous cement bases support the turbine. 655 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced making every ton of concrete (2006 figures). Cement plants account for 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Smaller, previously built facilities used 1,250 tons in each foundation, and 25,713 pounds of reinforced steel. Steel and concrete are made and transported with fossil fuel. Steel and concrete are non-renewable.

Where will the concrete come from? New and enlarged quarries will destroy more of our Niagara Escarpment. It is 425 million years old and definitely not renewable. Wide roads for enormous machines will pave over farmland-as much as one-fourth acre for each turbine, more gravel from the escarpment. Is the farmland renewable?

Huge holes 30 to 50 feet deep will be blasted into the Escarpment to anchor the turbines. Groundwater courses that formed in the last million years of ice ages will be disrupted, destroyed, and possibly polluted. Is the groundwater renewable? If it’s diverted or polluted, can we fix that? Who would pay for that?

Killing birds and bats is not good for the environment. “Your cats kill more,” say the developers. No, cats don’t kill eagles, hawks, owls, high-flying night migrants, or bats. But wind towers do; and lots of them. Small songbirds are obliterated like bugs on a windshield when they hit a 200 mph spinning blade tip. No one ever finds them. The only way to count them is with thermal imaging devices, and when that was tried one in every 40 migrants was killed. Are they renewable? 25 percent are already in serious decline. They cannot keep up with the multitude of ways we have devised to slaughter them and destroy their habitat.

But there is no doubt that wind factories are “green” in one respect -the green is money: big subsidies, tax breaks, mandated power sales, and other incentives to developers. That is why we find ourselves trapped in the middle of a “Gold Rush Mentality” as if big reserves of oil had been discovered under our ledge. Companies are rushing to stake their claims before the subsides run out: trying to sign land leases before we know what’s happening, the way big coal companies lease land from needy farmers, then destroy the land. Who pays? You do, with your taxes.

You would also pay with lower property values, lost farmland, destroyed environment, possible groundwater contamination, and if you live too close to one, with health problems, noise, sleep-disturbing lights, flickering sunsets, and the loss of what is a very beautiful area. We have already paid too much with alienated friends, estranged neighbors, vandalism, fears of reprisal, and a breakdown of the social structure of what used to be a community of kind, friendly people. Are all these things renewable? Will our once peaceful rural townships ever be the same again? Is wind energy really free?

Carroll Rudy

You can read the details for yourself at: http://www.aweo.org/ProblemWithWind.html

Tri-County News

4 January 2008