In the October 2010 Highlands Voice Bob Hamburg asks for one example where the negative impacts of wind are greater than those of coal. I suppose I should start with the impotency of wind fueled electricity. Earlier this year, a Nature Conservancy study stated that it takes seven times as much land for wind turbines to generate as much electricity as coal (including powerplants and mines) and thirty times more land than nuclear. It is well understood that wind fueled electricity is fluctuating and weather dependant, requiring backup usually from a quick starting fossil fueled source. In addition to the low expectation grid managers have for wind’s sporadic power production, wind facilities that have been operating for several years can be expected to have 5%or more of their turbines out of service at any given time.
Actually it is a complete mystery to me why wind developers come to West Virginia in the first place since, according to U.S. Government studies, we have mediocre to poor wind resources. I just returned from an eight week, eleven thousand mile trip which was, in part, a non-scientific, private citizen’s study of wind energy sites across the northwestern half of the country and Canada. I visited wind installations in eight states, many in the windiest parts of the U.S. several of which were becalmed, on the days of my visit. The majority of these installations are located in areas with minimal population on flat land. In most locations, the homes are five miles and more apart.
The last stop before my return to West Virginia was in Illinois at a wind energy facility under construction. Neatly laid out across hundreds of acres of dead-flat farm fields, were tower sections, nacelles and blades. The excavating necessary was minimal here. All that was required was to scrape off the topsoil for roads, dig foundations and trench for the connecting transmission lines. Contrast that with the blasting and massive earthmoving that is ongoing, as I write, on Laurel Mountain where the equivalent of a modern super highway is being gouged through the forest to allow the heavy steel tower sections and long blades to cross the ridges and filled valleys between them.
The small amount of coal that was in Laurel Mountain was mined decades ago. There is no question here of whether to mine coal or set up turbines. And there should be no such question in West Virginia and the rest of the Allegheny Highlands either. It is not a matter of coal versus wind. No one I know in the anti-wind community is in favor of mountaintop removal. Large scale wind energy development in a region that is poorly suited for it is not in anybody’s best interest.
John Terry, Montrose, WV
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