May 3, 2012
Opinions, West Virginia

Industrial wind — critical thinking needed

By Wayne Spiggle, The Highlands Voice, (pdf) May 2012

“Nearly half of our electricity comes from coal, 30% of that from Appalachia. Mountain top removal has destroyed 500 mountains, a million acres of forest and 2000 miles of streams. The cost to health and the environment comes to 345 billion dollars annually”.– George Beecham, PBS Presents

I believe we all accept this statement. Multiple studies and factual information stand behind it. Coal mining, particularly by mountain top removal and long wall methodology, is a pox on our mountains that will subvert the health and welfare of generations to come. Recent moves of the Environmental Protection Agency to more carefully control coal combustion pollutants deserve our appreciation and active support.

Many of my friends are convinced that the answer to coal is swaying in the wind. Industrial scale wind advertising has popularized the assumption that wind is environmentally friendly and can replace coal, answering the challenge of global warming.

In an October 2010 briefing for President Obama, then Secretary Larry Summers lays out a scenario that commercial wind can reduce carbon combustion, but the cost to the public is very great. Using the 845-megawatt, $1.9 billion Shepherds Flat project in Oregon as an example, the report cites a public cost of $1.3 billion while the developer “would provide little skin in the game (equity about 10%.)” The briefing calculates 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions through 2033. “Carbon reductions would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies. More than six times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules.)”

Does the government assumption that industrial scale wind can reduce carbon combustion make it so? Some think so and some think not. Members are invited to share what they consider to be verifiable facts on this matter.

And even though the industry says industrial scale wind is “free and clean” does that make it so? The American Bird Conservancy says not. Quoting United States Fish and Wildlife studies the ABC predicts that by year 2020 over one million birds will be slaughtered each year by turbines unless they can be sited where the birds aren’t present. They are petitioning the Federal Government for rule making that will ask for turbine installation to be limited to “bird smart” areas. Others claim that the extraordinary acreage consumed by the installations and transmission infrastructure will change forever what we mean when we sing “The Beautiful WV Hills”. Many discount this as a concern.

The PJM Grid has studied summertime wind in the Highlands and reports a 13% efficiency: “Currently effective class average capacity factors are 13% for wind and 38% for solar units.” –PJM Manual 21, May, 2010: Wind Efficiency as rated by the PJM.

What does that mean for the ability of Appalachian commercial wind to live up to the large amount of electricity generation each existing installation has promised? How many acres of highland forests are we going to lose over the next couple of decades?

How should we protect our Highlands?

This is the main question that faces your West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Board. So it is that the board wants more information.

WVHC is a membership organization and we turn to our membership in the process of making policy. We are asking you to say to yourselves, “This is how I feel, but what facts do I have to support how I feel? And please, while this is an opportunity for the Board to be heard by the membership. it is not the place to be mean spirited. Unfortunately, that has happened in the distant past and we all expect it not be repeated. Opinion backed up by verifiable fact will be taken respectfully and seriously.

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