Over the past two years, there has been a sea change in opinion on Cape Cod, and throughout the world, regarding the potential benefits and adverse impacts of industrial wind energy.
Residents and public officials throughout the Cape have embarked on a crash course in the realities of wind energy. They have been surprised, and justifiably alarmed, by what they’ve learned.
In Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Harwich, Brewster and Dennis, residents, planning boards and select boards rejected once popular proposals after they fully appreciated the adverse consequences of industrial wind turbines.
In Bourne, the board of health has declared wind turbines a health hazard and hundreds residents have joined the board of selectmen there in opposing an especially egregious proposal by a private developer.
At the regional level, Cape Cod Commission has developed minimum performance standards for wind turbines and the Barnstable County government has empowered the commission to apply them in evaluating these installations as Developments of Regional Impact.
Contrary to the claims of the developers, wind turbines are not quiet and they are not benign. They are not environmentally responsible and they are not cost effective.
Wind turbine noise is highly intrusive and disruptive. It has been shown to induce many severe symptoms, including sleep deprivation, migraine headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, elevated blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
Medical researchers, acoustic and wildlife experts, real estate appraisers and journalists have now documented thousands of examples from around the world of adverse impacts to human health, to the quality of life and to property values of residents, as well as significant mortality and disruption in wildlife populations.
Wind energy is so weak and diffused that it requires a staggering array of physical resources, distributed over a vast area, to “harvest” this energy. As a result, implementing wind energy on any meaningful scale inevitably entails profound environmental sacrifices.
Consider that a wind plant that produces an average output of 500MW of electricity (about the same output as a medium-sized conventional natural gas plant, but vastly inferior in quality and reliability) would require the deployment of over 1,200 wind turbines the size of Falmouth’s machines, each over 400 feet tall, spread over an area of approximately 250 square miles.
Furthermore, this vast deployment of machinery would require excavations on an epic scale for foundations, roads and power lines to connect the machines.
In view of this massive footprint, how can anyone credibly argue that wind energy is “green”?
Wind energy is extravagantly expensive, receiving greater subsidies per unit of output than any other source of energy.
To make matters worse, wind plants require 100 percent backup from conventional sources of power – in case the wind doesn’t blow, or blows too hard – meaning that they are inevitably a redundant investment. No conventional source of power has ever been retired – or ever can be – as a result of wind energy.
But the most shocking truth about wind energy has been revealed only recently in studies of existing wind energy installations in Texas, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
These studies have demonstrated that because wind energy is so volatile and unpredictable, it forces other sources of power to burn more fuel and operate much less efficiently in order to compensate for these inherent flaws.
As a result, the actual net reductions in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions that are achieved by implementing wind energy are negligible, at best.
In plain English, they don’t work.
Wind energy enthusiasts complain bitterly that weak-minded public officials and impressionable voters have been intimidated, or misled, by “a vocal minority” of critics and that “the NIMBY virus” has killed all of these proposals. But this is only because the truth is too painful for them to admit.
Most members of Wind Wise Cape Cod are not personally threatened by any proposed wind energy developments and none of them seek personal gain. We are NIMBYs only in the sense that we share a deep, abiding love for the soul and the character of the Cape. We also believe, after having studied these issues closely, that “with knowledge comes responsibility.” We feel an obligation to share this knowledge with our friends and neighbors on Cape Cod.
We urge all Cape Codders to keep an open mind – and to consider carefully the detriments, as well as the professed benefits, of wind energy in our community.
Sheila K. Bowen is president of Windwise~Cape Cod and a resident of Harwich.