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Wind energy downfalls provide different view

MOREHEAD CITY – Speakers associated with a conservative think tank visited the coast Tuesday to give a “different perspective” of wind energy than one being presented by an environmental group.

Daren Bakst, John Droz and Dr. David Schnare spoke to a crowd of about 60 regarding the downfalls of both land-based and offshore wind farms, including poor performance, depreciation in land value and failure to have a meaningful impact on reducing pollutants.

But it wasn’t an opinion shared by some of those in the audience, including the president of the N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition, who said the presentations were “heavy on emotion, light on fact.”

Mr. Bakst, director of legal and regulatory studies with the foundation, mainly discussed the shortfalls of Senate Bill 3, which passed in 2007 almost unanimously and mandated the use of renewable energy sources. The percentage mandated by the General Assembly was so high, he said, that wind power had to be one of those sources.

One of the more obvious effects of wind power is the visual impact it could have on the coast. In the mountains, he said, there is a law prohibiting the construction of tall structure along the ridgeline.

“There is no protection at all for the coast,” he said, adding that the structures will be about 500 feet tall and could be as close as one or two miles offshore – a point which some audience members countered later in the meeting.

“We’re talking about basically a city off the shore of Wilmington,” Mr. Bakst said.

Wind energy is significantly more expensive than typical energy sources, he said, and utility companies will pass those costs on to the consumer. “It is quite simply an energy tax,” he said, adding that it will hurt the poor in particular because they spend a larger proportion of their income on energy.

Mr. Bakst told the audience the government shouldn’t be picking which energy sources should be used and which shouldn’t.

Rather, he said, the market should decide.

“We should just go with low-cost electricity and see what happens.”

Mr. Droz, a fellow at the American Tradition Institute with degrees in science and mathematics followed. He said the nation has energy and environmental issues, but the problems need to be solved using “genuine science.” Instead, he said, lobbyists and political agendas are dictating policies.

Mr. Droz said when he first heard about wind power he was a supporter, but the more he looked into it the less he supported it. He said it isn’t a technologically sound solution to provide electricity, nor is it economically or environmentally responsible.

One downfall of wind energy is it can’t provide energy on demand, as there is no way to store the energy. So if the wind isn’t blowing, the electricity has to come from another source, such as gas.

And the higher amount of wind power used, the higher the cost is for the consumer, he said. Denmark, for example, has been lauded for being a leader in wind technology, but energy rates in Denmark are three times higher than in the U.S., he said.

Mr. Droz said mandating wind power is like mandating citizens and businesses use 12.5 percent horse-drawn vehicles by 2021. “If you and your business use a horse, everything would change, and very little of it would be better for you,” he said.

The final speaker was Dr. Schnare, director of the Environmental Law Center at the American Tradition Institute and a longtime employee of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dr. Schnare included a slide show with his presentation, in which each slide showed an image of a wind turbine that had caught on fire or collapsed.

He said wind power is touted as being free, safe, clean, able to replace foreign oil and the cure for global warming.

“If that were true, I’d be out banging the drum for this stuff,” he said.

And while those in favor of wind power often claim it will create jobs, Dr. Schnare said studies show it will destroy more than it will create. In Scotland, he said, the country lost 3.7 jobs for every one created by wind, while Spain lost 2.1.

He said this is because energy is more expensive, so businesses have less capital to invest in employees.

Dr. Schnare said wind energy wouldn’t improve the air quality of the state, as no counties exceed EPA levels for sulfur dioxide, particulate matter or lead. The Charlotte area exceeds levels for ozone, but Dr. Schnare said that was related to vehicles. “We’re already OK and we’re burning coal and natural gas all the time,” he said.

In fact, he said, wind turbines could increase pollution. Generators using gas have to remain on line to kick in whenever the wind dies. That stopping and starting causes the engines to work inefficiently he said, like a car in heavy traffic.

And in addition to disrupting military radar signals at sea, wind turbines kill bats and predator birds, like hawks and eagles.

The sound of the blades and the light flickering through them could also impact the health of residents near the turbines, he said.

Following the presentations, the three speakers sat at a table to take questions from the audience. Most of the audience members who spoke were critical of what they had just heard.

The first to respond said wind farms are not being considered 1.5 miles off the coast, as was stated; rather, he said they would be about 15 miles off. A presentation given by the Sierra Club states most wind farms are being proposed 10 miles offshore.

The audience member also said that while bird kills are a concern, organizations like the Audubon Society favor turbines over fossil fuels because they will have less impact.

The speaker also said that transportation has moved from wagons to canals to railroads to highways. Each industry opposed the next one, he said, and he asked whether they would also have been opposed.

Mr. Droz said unlike wind energy, the government didn’t mandate the changes, but one audience member said eminent domain and not market forces played important roles in those changes.

Betsy McCorkle, economic development coordinator with the N.C. Solar Center who attended the meeting, said there are about 2,000 jobs in the state related to the wind industry, mostly component related. The number of jobs related to clean energy is closer to 50,000, she added, so it would appear the industry is creating jobs in the state.

Also, Ms. McCorkle said admirals and generals have put a strong emphasis on renewable energy. She asked whether the panel had the expertise to counter those opinions.

Dr. Schnare said military officials operate from a set of commands coming from above them, and that he has spoken with some who are not happy with the potential of losing some of their radar capacity in Florida and Texas because of wind turbine disruption.

Regarding jobs, he said the question to ask is whether those people with jobs related to clean energy would have jobs if those weren’t available. “Most jobs in wind are translatable to other areas,” he said.

“The real question is what about a loss of jobs. When the cost of electricity goes up, we lose jobs, and that’s part that’s never talked about.”

Brian O’Hara, president of the N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition, said the conversation from the panel was “incredibly one sided” and ignored a number of economic and environmental benefits. He said there are no offshore wind sites being considered closer than seven miles from the coast.

He also said there is a network of retired generals and admirals that support the expansion of renewables as a national security measure.

Bob Cavanaugh, president of the Crystal Coast Tea Party, which had a large gathering at the forum, asked Mr. Droz about a recent presentation he gave to the General Assembly.

Mr. Droz said he gave the presentation at the request of Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, the speaker of the N.C. House. “They were receptive,” he said.

The forum at Carteret Community College was the second one held this week. The first was held in Wilmington.

A recording of the Wilmington event can be viewed at carolinajournaltv.com.