Windmills make some of us feel good, for better or worse. Turbine supporters consider wind a “green” source of electricity that is renewable, sustainable and less damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.
Those considerations are up for debate. Windmill farms substantially alter the landscape. Giant turbine blades, which weigh up to 12 tons each, are notorious for attracting birds and pulverizing them. The Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, a Scottish organization that encourages renewable energy, found that windmills have caused 35 human fatalities in the United States since 1970. Nuclear power plants, which generate far more electricity, caused zero fatalities on American soil during the 40-year study window. The Department of Energy’s Information Administration estimates that electricity from wind costs 100 percent more than from natural gas, if we include costs of capital, operation and fuel involved in the manufacture, transportation, installation and climate control associated with turbines. Those costs, in other words, largely involve conventional fuels these windmills are supposed to replace.
Nevertheless, state government requires that Colorado Springs Utilities generate 10 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The Utilities board (aka Colorado Springs City Council) wisely rejected a plan in February to buy 50 megawatts of wind power under a long-term contract that was likely to cause a 2 percent rate hike for average customers, most of whom have no interest in subsidizing wind farms. The new proposal, for 25 watts of wind power, involves no long-term contract. That means the deal would lack the price-stability that was ensured under the larger, long-term contract. But the new proposal would pass along costs only to those who desire to subsidize wind power.
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told The Gazette that about six commercial customers, in a city of 420,000 residents, have asked for wind power. But the option could be attractive to prospective employers who support “green” energy.
This is a good solution. It helps the utility build its sustainability portfolio, while providing a wind option for customers who want it and are willing to pay for it. They should know, however, that energy to their facilities probably doesn’t come from wind. The plan would buy electrons from a wind farm, which would put them into the grid. There, they would mingle with all the other electrons – most of which are generated by coal.
“In reality, nobody knows what electron goes where,” Forte conceded. “An electron doesn’t know what color it is – whether it’s green or brown.”
At least the new plan won’t burden those who oppose an experimental energy source that kills birds and changes the countryside. Given the state mandate, and the values of some customers, The Gazette supports this plan.
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