The idea of harnessing wind to get energy is attractive. The notion of thin blades turning away on distant ridgetops, quietly generating electricity, has an almost romantic appeal.
But wishing is not a solid foundation for energy policies, as other countries have discovered. Americans should not make multibillion-dollar investments in wind power until they review that record.
As Eric Rosenbloom laid out as early as 2006, wind power poses plenty of problems.
Because of its intermittent and variable nature, wind farms are inefficient, don’t replace conventional power plants, destabilize power grids, and have what a Norwegian study called “serious environmental effects.”
“Throughout Europe, wind turbines produces on average less than 20 percent of their theoretical (or rated) capacity,” Rosenbloom wrote.
In high winds, turbines must be shut down because they are easily damaged. Dead bugs on inland blade farms and salt on offshore turbines can cut generation by 25 percent. Lightning can kill wind towers. When started, they can throw heavy ice as far as 1,500 feet.
And economically, the idea has proved too costly.
Spain, Germany and Switzerland have cut their subsidies for wind power – in Rosenbloom’s words – “as too expensive for the lack of significant benefit.”
Denmark, Europe’s green energy model, rejected further wind farm development just this month. As a paper in Scotland noted on Wednesday, Danish power bills are double those in the United Kingdom.
Rosenbloom concluded that it would take more than 100,000 1.5 megawatt wind towers, at a cost of as much as $300 billion, to raise wind’s contribution to the U.S. energy mix to 5 percent.
West Virginians should be especially wary of the environmental damage from construction of wind farms.
“A 200- to 300-foot tower supporting a turbine housing the size of a bus and three 100- to 1500-foot rotor blades sweeping over an acre or air at more than 100 mpg requires . . . a large and solid foundation,” he wrote.
Putting up a tower that can weigh more than 163 tons requires very heavy construction and extensive road-building. Furthermore, turbines must be spaced far apart so they don’t steal wind from each other.
Noise is also a problem. People standing directly beneath a turbine report a gravely swishing sound. Those farther away have described the sound as like “a brick wrapped in a towel turning in a tumble dryer.”
Mandating the use of renewable energy is easy.
Making sense is harder, and that’s the standard policy must meet.
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