December 8, 2011
Massachusetts, Opinions

How green is my (wind) energy?

William F. Zachmann, Duxbury Clipper, 7 December 2011

Last week, the Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 to ask the Duxbury Alternative Energy Committee “to withdraw any consideration of presenting a 2012 Town Meeting warrant article” for additional funds for additional studies on building a wind turbine in Duxbury. Although narrowly about the proposed Town Meeting article, the vote was, in effect, a broad rejection by the Board of the idea of building a wind turbine on public lands in Duxbury at all – the notion that prompted the Selectmen to appoint the committee in the first place.

It is common, when someone in Town government wants to promote a project, to appoint a citizens’ committee to “study” the project and bring forward “recommendations” in favor of it. That way, instead a few individuals owning up to wanting to get it done, it can be promoted as being sponsored by a citizens’ committee, typically advised by one or more carefully chosen consultants (often paid at taxpayers’ expense), and sold to the voters has having been put forward by “these selfless citizen volunteers who have devoted so much of their own time and effort” working on the project.

However, it is rare for such a committee, once set in motion, after it has come forward with its recommendation, subsequently to be discouraged by the Board of Selectmen from pursuing the project. So what is different in this case? What issues does it raise? What can we learn from it?

The obvious explanation is simply that well organized, articulate opposition by citizens opposed to the project last week convinced two of the three Selectmen, Chris Donato and Ted Flynn, that it would be best to drop the wind turbine idea altogether. Both were happy to accept what do seem like some pretty far-fetched claims by opponents that wind turbines pose health hazards including “sleep disruption, fatigue, hearing loss, mood disorders, depression, stress and heart palpitations” even though, clearly, neither was entirely convinced by such claims.

But that does not necessarily mean Flynn and Donato were wrong to vote as they did. Health hazard or not, wind turbines are big, ugly and potentially noisy structures that just do not make good neighbors. But there are two other good reasons to oppose such a project. First, siting a wind turbine on public land is far more likely to benefit private contractors, consultants, and utilities than to benefit Duxbury’s taxpayers and citizens. Second, the promise of renewable energy from wind turbines suffers from the same problems afflicting many other supposedly “green” and “renewable” energy schemes.

Like all government-promoted projects influenced more by industry lobbyists than by authentically concerned citizens, so-called “green energy” legislation stacks the deck in favor of private parties in pursuit of profit and against local municipalities. Wind energy in Massachusetts is an example of this.

But worse, however appealing to folks who adhere to “Green” as an ersatz religious belief with “rather die than think” conviction, much purportedly “green” technology has real energy costs much higher than advocates claim and rely on very un-green component technologies. Solar cells and electric cars are egregious examples. Wind turbines are another. In the present state of the technology, none genuinely delivers economically justifiable alternative energy. That’s why they all require government subsidies and incentives even to get them considered, let alone broadly adopted, by normal, sensible, people.

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