It would be easy to dismiss the recent report on the potential of wind power in Connecticut as self-serving propaganda. Compiled by BNE Energy Inc., the report says its new data show Connecticut is a windier place than anyone knew, and that inspired Joel Rinebold of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, author of the economic analyses supporting BNE’s wind-farm proposals, to proclaim the state can generate as much as 10 times more wind power than previously thought.
BNE’s findings might very well be scientific gospel but materially don’t change the facts: Turbines frequently produce no power because wind is intermittent, especially in the summer when demand for electricity is highest. Despite decades of government largess, wind and other renewables still account for less than 5 percent of America’s power generation. Even with giant subsidies, the kilowatt-hour cost of wind power comes at a considerable premium to that of electricity produced by fossil fuels.
The Energy Information Agency says almost two thirds of the recent national increase in wind-power generation has come in Texas, California and Washington, which are blessed with the windy, wide-open spaces Connecticut lacks.
As demonstrated by the fierce opposition to BNE’s plans to put up a handful of turbines in Prospect and Colebrook, however, people in Connecticut support wind power as long as noisy, unsightly turbines are put in other people’s backyards. (For perspective, it would take about 90 windmills running at peak capacity to generate enough electricity to power a city the size of Waterbury. But even if BNE’s fondest wishes came true, Connecticut’s wind would produce only 100 megawatts, or barely 1 percent of the demand on an average summer day. Consequently, minuscule overstates wind power’s niche.)
The furor in Prospect and Colebrook has lawmakers mulling new regulations to ensure wind farms are sited properly. The protections sought would encode NIMBYism by mandating substantial buffers between wind farms, whatever their size, and residential neighborhoods.
Still, from the White House on down, government is all in on wind power. So at some point, government will have to stop throwing good money after bad or sweep away the NIMBYs, which could be done rather easily.
Consider: the state owns some of best sites for wind power, including a good number of those scenic ridges in Litchfield County. Conceivably, it could make state parks and forests available for wind farms in return for taxes, fees, lease payments and royalties that would fund, say, bigger and better social programs or improve the compensation and working conditions of unionized government employees.
Likewise, offshore regions conceivably could be threatened by a serious renewed commitment to renewables.
More ominously, the state could wield its power of eminent domain, as redefined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. The day may come when bureaucrats, armed with BNE’s report, will seize homes and businesses for “public use,” to boost economic development, government revenues, jobs, etc., and turn it over to wind-power companies. And with entire neighborhoods wiped off the map, they wouldn’t have to worry about the NIMBYs.
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