The heavily funded and admittedly effective US industrial wind lobby portrays its product as descending from old-world windmills. Close your eyes and you’ll surely imagine these magnificent machines gently turning in the breeze . each kilowatt arriving at your reading lamp courtesy of a rosy-cheeked Hummel child. Existing solely to save the planet by generating clean, affordable and environmentally friendly electricity, you can be sure that any addition to the plant owner’s bank account is purely accidental.
Hogwash! In reality, the US industrial wind business traces its roots to Ken Lay and Enron with profit as its core goal. As Gabriel Alonso, chief executive of Horizon Wind Energy LLC – one of America’s biggest wind developers, often reminds his employees … their goal isn’t to stage a renewable-energy revolution … “This is about making money!” (1)
I was not always this cynical. I wanted to believe that industrial wind would replace fossil fueled power plants and, until two years ago, defended its arrival here. Like many West Virginians, I wanted the destruction of our mountains by those who profit from the blue diamond stopped … NOW! I believed industrial wind offered the best opportunity to accomplish that goal and, even recognizing industrial wind also consumes our forest lands, it seemed an excellent alternative to the coal industry’s horribly destructive mountaintop removal mining process.
Sadly, once the layers of “woulds, coulds and shoulds” were peeled back, I found industrial wind failed to keep its environmental promises. Save the canned boilerplate responses to criticisms, the wind industry offered nothing conclusive to demonstrate it would significantly reduce emissions or close fossil fueled plants. There is no conclusive evidence that one coal plant has been closed as a direct result of the installation of tens of thousands of wind turbines. Not one! I’ve asked advocates to name one facility. Answer … zippo!
I fully expect advocates to point to many studies which validate their “woulds and shoulds.” But the studies they point to carry their own fair share of “woulds and shoulds” as well. We’re even asked to disregard the increased emissions generated by fossil fueled plants as they inefficiently try to compensate for wind’s constant variability and accept that, on their word alone, when the wind is blowing, a coal plant, somewhere, is not running. That’s equivalent to some self-appointed Giraffe Control Officer bragging that not one has been spotted in Charleston during his watch.
Consider this measure instead. US industrial wind capacity at the end of 2010 exceeded 40,000 MW (2). The US has some 490 coal power plants with an average size of 667 MW (3). A direct one to one trade would have closed some 60 coal plants. Again … name one!
Bringing this closer to home … Edison Mission Energy is heavily invested in Appalachian coal fired power plants even as it grows its Appalachian wind plants. Can we expect Edison to replace its fossil plants as it opens wind plants with equivalent MW capacity? Will any of the major players holding significant interest in both fossil fueled plants and wind plants make this commitment? I suggest they will not, as long as there is profit to be made from each.
The sad truth is that industrial wind does not replace fossil fueled electricity generators. It does not reduce emissions. It does not provide affordable, on demand electricity. The relatively miniscule amount of electricity generated typically arrives when it’s not needed and cannot effectively be stored. Industrial wind, true to Ken Lay’s intent, is a profit center founded on favorable legislation, mandated renewable energy goals and funded by taxpayer subsidies.
I did not come to the “dark side” willingly. At the suggestion of a friend, I attended a presentation on industrial wind at which the speaker systematically destroyed any notion that industrial wind has earned a seat at the US energy table. Expecting yet another NIMBY rant, the presenter instead based his case that industrial wind is a failed technology on science alone. There was little mention of view-shed, bat/bird kills, noise or health issues, all of which I’ve since learned are serious issues in their own right. The presenter focused primarily on the poor performance and high cost of industrial wind and the fact that they could never replace current generators, my main reason for initially supporting industrial wind.
Knowing that the two key representatives of our proposed wind plant were introduced as being in the audience, I could hardly wait for the question and answer session. This was going to be a knock down for the ages! Just wait until they set this clown straight!
Then, the presenter wrapped up and said the magic words I’d been waiting for … Any Questions? My gladiators stood up and walked out! Not a word! No defense! How could they let this brutal attack stand?
That was my turning point. Suspicion drove me to read any article I could find about industrial wind and the more I learned the more I disliked these monstrous contraptions which were scheduled to invade my Appalachian Mountains by the tens of thousands.
Before this event, I was willing, like many of my friends, to sacrifice a mountain view, some bats and birds and even the hard earned tax dollars these wind folks would pick from my pocket if it meant the greater good would be served. What I learned, however, lead me to the conclusion that there is no trade.
- Coal plants will continue to exist at pre-wind levels and the mines will remain open in order to supply them.
- Emissions will not be reduced as a result of industrial wind. When asked if wind power was reducing carbon emissions, Deb Malin, a Bonneville Power Authority Representative, answered, “No. They are, in fact, creating emissions.” (4)
- Not only will the surface destruction brought about by mountain top removal mining not be reduced as a result of wind plants, industrial wind will bring destruction well above the ground in areas not previously impacted by mountain top removal. (5)
- The cumulative impact of long stretches of deadly 450 foot tall whirlybirds along our fragile mountain ridges will set a deadly gauntlet for many migratory species with no real benefit to show for the sacrifice.
- The arguably unnecessary remote wind installations require long runs of forest fragmenting high power lines required to bring the occasional electricity generated to a point of use.
- My picked pocket only serves to benefit the wind developers.
I cannot abide the suggestion that we must sacrifice our environment in order to save it. This is an absurd argument enabling this energy imposter’s invasion of delicate habitat with little return. Sacrifice is, after all, a forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim. Environmentalists must consider the possibility that industrial wind, by its failure to perform to stated goals, does not then qualify for this sacred consideration.
My comments here are my own. I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Allegheny Highlands Alliance (6), but do not speak for the organization in this commentary. I serve as editor of the Allegheny Treasures blog (7), an amateur site intended not to answer questions, but instead to stimulate discussion of industrial wind among readers, as I hope to do in this piece.
I arrived at my opinions after all consideration to the argument presented by the AWEA and other industrial wind support groups. I’ll be the first to admit I could be wrong, as I was when I supported industrial wind just two years ago. If a persuasive argument can be made to sway me back, I assure you I’ll happily move. But I should warn you, the argument must begin with a list of coal plant closings and not easily manipulated speculative “data.” Empty promises will not justify consuming even one more square inch of Appalachian forest.
Oh, before I’m criticized on the property rights issue … I firmly believe that you should be allowed to do anything you wish with your property as long as it brings no harm to others. But whatever you choose, don’t ask me to underwrite your adventure with my tax money in the form of subsidies, grants, or any other considerations from which you profit.
I should note that I am not insulted at the NIMBY (Not in my back yard) moniker the wind advocates apply to me. I would take it one step further and suggest they call me a NOPE (Not on planet Earth)! I believe we are all responsible for our environment and must challenge every intrusion. We cannot accept, without question, the possibility that what has been portrayed a solution may, in fact, create additional ills, no matter how much we want to believe.
We should do all possible to move this country away from fossil fuels. Choosing an alternative with no proven track record in accomplishing this effort, especially one with industrial wind’s potential for serious environmental destruction, is simply not an acceptable choice.
Editor’s note: Mr. Morgan lives in Keyser, WV. In his cover letter offering this commentary he says, “It is my hope the piece will stimulate further discussion on the very important and timely topic of industrial wind in the Appalachians.”
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