Wind-energy projects are damaging to nature, to taxpayers and to residents, but onward they buzz.
If you want to know what’s wrong with the nation’s energy policy, look no further than Goodhue County, Minn.
Environmental activists are blocking a job-creating and profitable sand-mining operation that is vital to the newest energy technology that’s releasing copious amounts of shale gas and oil from far beneath the Earth’s surface. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is ramming through a taxpayer-subsidized, 78-megawatt wind farm that promises little in the way of abundant or affordable power.
Indeed, were it not for the sophistry of the political entrepreneurs behind America’s newfound obsession with wind, the citizens of Goodhue County might be casting their lot with the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., last seen chasing wind developers out of Hyannis Port. They might also be enjoying the economic benefits of domestic energy exploration.
Instead, it now appears that residents justifiably alarmed with the placing of more than 300 massive wind turbines in their back yards have but one last chance to stop the Texas-based AWA Goodhue Wind project.
The county is asking for reconsideration of the PUC’s June site permit allowing T. Boone Pickens to dump his surplus of GE wind turbines in Minnesota after similar plans in the Lone Star State failed a basic test of supply and demand. Let’s hope, for the taxpayers’ sake, that it succeeds.
Pickens, who has a knack for publicizing energy policies that coincidentally include his own projects is set to cash in on both federal and state subsidies for going “green” in Goodhue.
Thanks in part to Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s dogged effort in extending federal “renewable energy credits,” AWA Goodhue will no doubt share in the $23-per-megawatt-hour “windfall” reaped by solar and wind projects nationally.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Energy Information Administration reports that, by comparison, subsidies for coal and natural gas come in at just 44 and 25 cents per megawatt hour, respectively.
It gets worse.
State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, is calling on the PUC to decertify the project as a Community Based Energy Development eligible for the Minnesota’s CBED tariff (read rate hike) in the Power Purchasing Agreement between Xcel Energy and AWA Goodhue – if for no other reason that the word “community” in this case statutorily means based in Minnesota, not Texas.
The Minnesota PUC, like successive Republican and Democratic administrations, seems hellbent on ending local control over wind developments that swallow up thousands of acres, relying instead on the state’s renewable energy standards.
Enacted under the euphemistic title of “next-generation energy” legislation in 2007, the ill-advised mandate means that Minnesota utilities are now busy passing along the costs to ratepayers.
Because generating power from wind is about as reliable as, well, the weather, utilities will still need to pay for steadier sources as backup. As a result, a Beacon Hill Institute study says the average Minnesota household will have paid an extra $1,814 for electricity by the time the standards are fully implemented.
Regardless of the economics, it’s becoming quite obvious that these mammoth wind developments are every bit as damaging to Mother Nature as anything the fossil-fuel industry could dream up.
For the price of intermittent power, nearby homeowners put up with 400-foot towers with flashing lights; high-voltage transmission lines; flickering shadows from 95-foot rotors, along with the potential for dangerous ice shards flying off the blades during winter, and near-constant high- and low-frequency background noise disturbing to the human ear.
Estimates vary as to how many birds are slaughtered each year due to wind power, but it’s certainly in the tens of thousands.
The Washington Post reports that “one of the nation’s largest wind farms, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area near Livermore, Calif., has killed an average of nearly 2,000 raptors annually, including more than 500 eagles, over four years, according to federal agencies and bird watchers.” Hardly good news for the bald eagle along the Mississippi flyway for migratory birds.
Where’s the Endangered Species Act when you need it?
Meanwhile, hope for a more-sensible energy future remains hostage to a few activists who get their talking points from movies like “Gasland” (environmentalists used to love natural gas until they realized you had to drill for it). Hydraulic fracturing, known pejoratively as “fracking,” has the potential to dramatically alter America’s economic landscape by lowering the costs of domestic energy production.
The Rand Corp. (a nonprofit research organization) says there are 800 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil – three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia – in the United States alone. Remarkably, “if the full potential of domestic oil and gas production could be achieved while also increasing imports from Canadian oil, all of America’s liquid fuels could come from secure North American sources within 15 years,” notes the American Petroleum Institute in a study released last week.
One key component of fracture drilling is silica sand, ubiquitous in the sandstone bluffs throughout southeastern Minnesota. That’s why another Texas company, Windsor Permian, wants to start constructing sand mines and transportation facilities in and around Red Wing for its operations in the lucrative Permian basin. And it plans to do it with no “renewable energy credits” or state CBED tariffs.
It seems that something which is viable needs no subsidy – while all the subsidies in the world won’t make viable that which isn’t.
Alas, the Goodhue County Board adopted a one-year de facto moratorium on the Windsor project earlier this month, despite the fact that silica sand mining (primarily used to make glass) has been a fact of life in the upper Mississippi Valley for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, there are sand- and gravel-mining operations in every county in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
No matter, because for now our energy future is just blowin’ in the wind.
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