Is it impossible to dream of national forests as reachable stars – as places of unbearable beauty and solace to the human soul and places of sanctuary to the beasts and the birds we share the planet with?
“Man of La Mancha” aside, I have concerns regarding large-scale wind farms anywhere and the idea of locating projects with 15 or more turbines (the Deerfield Wind Project in Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, is proposing 17) in national forests across the country clearly raises red flags.
These massive towers, more than 300 feet tall with blades approaching 200 feet in length don’t grow among the trees in the forest and don’t spring up over night. And we can’t have trees in the way of the breeze, so either the forest will have to be cleared or we could place these monoliths right on our fragile mountain balds.
According to a study from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, an average of 26.7 acres is required for each 1.5-megawatt turbine. The Deerfield project calls for 2.0-megawatt turbines. At least 450 acres of national forest would be required for such a project.
Wind power proponents scoff at concerns of bird and bat mortality. They will often cite other sources like cats, buildings, habitat destruction, transmission lines, etc as having a greater impact regarding birds. This is likely true but it misses a couple of critical points. One is the loss of habitat that would occur with projects like the one in Green Mountain National Forest plus the guy-wires and transmission lines associated with such an endeavor. The second issue is, when we talk about effects that are detrimental to wildlife species we have to think of the cumulative effect. The carnage from wind turbines is in addition to feral cats, buildings, etc. And the number of bird casualties will only grow.
Estimates place the number of birds killed by wind turbines today at between 30,000 and 40,000. Today wind accounts for about one percent of the U.S.’s electrical output. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes to increase that to five percent by 2020. Does that correlate to five times as many bird deaths?
Bats in the Mid-Atlantic States appear especially vulnerable. A recent report by the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council estimated that by 2020 bat mortality attributable to wind turbines could exceed 100,000 annually in the Mid-Atlantic region.
One could exchange a North American migration flyways map for a map of wind resources and see the same outline. This is not coincidence, after all engineers and birds alike are looking for the same thing – steady reliable air currents.
Ever set out on that great sailing adventure to find your self stuck, with sagging sails, in the doldrums? No wind – no go. The same is true for electrical output. According to a Reuters’ news story, Feb. 27, 2008, “A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday.”
And what if the fickle wind blows at the wrong time? Denmark had to wholesale (at a loss) 84 percent of its wind power in 2003 despite the fact that wind produces only about two percent (1999 estimates) of the electricity consumed.
But it’s cleaner and it will save the planet, right? Well, maybe not. According to that National Research Council study the 72,000 megawatts of electricity the U.S. Department of Energy hopes to see by 2020 would offset about 4.5 percent of the CO2 emitted by powerplants. And regarding the SO2 and NOx emissions most responsible for increased ozone and acid rain the report concluded, “… only limited opportunity to achieve additional emissions reductions with wind-energy development.” Even at an accelerated pace the increased growth of wind power is not likely to keep up with the increase in power demands.
This is not to say wind power has no place in a shift to more benign and sustainable energy production. I’ve read some wonderful accounts of municipalities incorporating wind turbines into their power grids. In 2001, Hull, Mass., erected a wind turbine that now saves the city about $185,000 annually in power fees.
But it doesn’t make much sense to argue that replacing the monolithic infrastructure of conventional power stations with colossal farms of towering whirling blades is prudent, cost-effective and/or environmentally sound. And it’s even more disconcerting to think of the sprawl of those wind farms overtaking our national forests.
By Don Hendershot
Don Hendershot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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