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Wind turbine foes join forces

As president of the Harwich Neighborhood Alliance, Sheila Bowen helped block the installation of two 400-foot-high municipal wind turbines on water department property near her home.

That experience convinced her that the Cape needed a stronger voice to counter what she believes is spin from wind industry lobbyists, consultants and developers. Local and state governments have been sold a renewable energy source that won’t deliver on the promised environmental or economic benefits, Bowen said.

“We want to present a fuller picture about wind turbines,” Bowen said. “We want both sides to be heard – not just the side saying it will be wonderful.”

She and co-founder Preston Ribnick, who helped defeat a similar proposal in Wellfleet, have gathered 25 like-minded people into a group they call Windwise-Cape Cod. They are sponsoring a lecture series this month at Cape Cod Community College they hope will not only provide more information to the public but may help them recruit more members. All of the lectures begin at 7 p.m.

Bowen made it clear that the college, which has been trying to get its own turbine, is only supplying the needed space and is not sponsoring the lectures in any way. She also said the opinions of members in her group range from those who feel no wind turbine is appropriate for Cape Cod under any conditions to those who believe they can be successful as long as all sides are heard.

The series kicks off Oct. 7 with John Droz Jr., who contributes to numerous online sites. Droz, who has a master’s degree in physics, is retired now but worked at General Electric’s aerospace division and at two innovative computer companies.

Droz says there is little science backing up claims that wind turbines ever will replace coal, natural gas or hydroelectric power at levels significant enough to make an environmental difference. Even if the federal government meets all its goals to receive power from hundreds of thousands of turbines in the coming decades, it would displace less than 2 percent of the carbon dioxide generated by other power sources.

“That’s hundreds of billions of dollars for less than 2 percent,” he said. “This is not a sound scientific solution or a wise benefit.”

The wind industry in the U.S. is propped up by government subsidies and by states such as Massachusetts which require utility companies to have a certain percentage of their energy generated by renewables, Droz said. It’s a cost, he said, that is unfairly passed on to ratepayers and taxpayers at the expense of other energy sources, such as geothermal, that don’t get the same support but have more potential.

Eleanor Tillinghast, who will speak on Oct. 14, is the co-founder of Green Berkshires, an environmental group in western Massachusetts. Tillinghast believes the state goal of producing 2,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 will exact a toll on the landscape and on people. If and when Cape Wind gets built, it will produce 450 megawatts of that goal, leaving, more than 1,500 megawatts to be supplied by onshore turbines, Tillinghast said.

“We’re talking a huge build out,” she said. Her concern is that legislation such as the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act currently stalled in the state Legislature, would hasten development by taking away local control.

“If the goal is to reduce emissions, there are cheaper ways to do it,” she said, pointing out that natural gas prices, for instance, have dropped significantly in the last few years.

The final speaker in the series is Michael A. Nissenbaum, who will address, via Skype, his assessment of health effects of the Vinal Haven and Mars Hill wind farms in Maine on residents of those towns.