Berkeley, Calif., May 30, 2012 – Presidents Bush and Obama both supported wind power development by publicly referencing a Department of Energy (DOE) study that contains serious flaws, according to a new environmental book by UC Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner. GREEN ILLUSIONS (University of Nebraska Press, June 2012) draws upon previously unpublished interviews with the DOE. According to Green Illusions, the DOE report renders a picture of wind energy that is up to six times more impressive than the department’s own field experience would indicate.
Fifty environmental groups and research organizations formally backed the report, including the Sierra Club and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. However, during his investigation, Zehner found that an appendix in the DOE report contains projections that are incongruent with DOE field data. The report therefore greatly underestimates wind turbine costs and overestimates wind power yields.
The DOE report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, concludes that the U.S. could fill 20 percent of its electrical grid with wind power at “modest” cost. However, Zehner contends that, “the federal report extrapolates a select few years of data into the future without acknowledging the industry’s maturation. It’s as problematic as extrapolating the growth of high school students to show that by college they will stand taller than giraffes.”
The DOE commissioned Black and Veatch to create the wind energy datasets. The consultancy assumed that experience from installing wind turbines would improve yields and decrease costs well into the future. “While it is well accepted that this occurred through the 1980s and 1990s, the learning curve has since flattened,” explains Zehner, “as the DOE itself documented in other reports.”
Zehner does not stand against wind energy, but insists there are better options to reduce fossil fuel use. “Hype surrounding wind energy might even shield the fossil-fuel establishment – if clean and abundant energy is just over the horizon, then there is less motivation to clean up existing energy production or use energy more wisely,” says Zehner. “It doesn’t help when the government maintains two ledgers of incompatible expectations. One set, based on fieldwork and historical trends, is used internally by people in the know. The second set, crafted from industry speculation and unconstrained by history, is disseminated via press releases, websites, and even by the president himself to an unwitting public.”
Instead of pushing for energy production, Zehner argues that nations should prioritize urban designs for walking and biking and institute energy taxes. He also draws connections between environmental goals and seemingly unrelated endeavors such as financial reform and women’s rights.
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