A recent article in The Caledonian-Record about NVDA’s recent deliberations about wind characterized me simplistically as someone who “opposes utility-scale wind power.” This is incorrect. I spent over a decade passionately and successfully advocating for utility-scale wind generation for the Eastern Plains of New Mexico (part of the Great Plains), and I still support such development when it is sensible from an economic, environmental, and societal viewpoint.
I do strongly oppose what is euphemistically called “high elevation wind” in Vermont and the Northeast because, as a scientist who spends virtually all of my research time studying renewable energy technologies in detail, I do not conclude that it is justified. In fact just the opposite: I believe that the massive rush to industrialize our ridge lines for wind generation under way now will eventually (perhaps soon) be widely seen as a historic misstep in renewable energy development. This misstep will have devastated many of the most ecologically sensitive and valuable parts of the Northeast, divided communities against themselves, undermined the local, and, on top of it all, diverted literally billions of energy dollars away from investments in more effective and appropriate renewable energy technologies that would have really had a chance to significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption in the Eastern U.S.
There are a whole range of reasons for my conclusions, including quantitative analysis of the set of renewable energy resources available in this region, the actual economic costs and the cost trends of wind power and alternatives, and the myriad impacts of wind on mountaintop ecology and the communities that surround them. In short, ridgeline wind is extremely destructive relative to the energy it provides, it is not cost effective and likely will never be, it does not have good overall resource potential in this region, and there are much better alternatives that do have a good cost and resource outlook.
If you are curious to know the details, you can find one of my presentation slide sets on the blog of the Newark Neighbors United (Google ‘em).
Finally, I also believe that Vermonters are being intentionally misled by energy industry officials who consistently exaggerate the costs of and downplay the potential for more sustainable, distributed forms of power generation (which their industry instinctively feels threatened by), and who pursue large corporate-owned generation for their own ends. Developing hundreds of miles of ridge lines in this region for wind generation should have been a last resort at very least, and an option for which the potential impacts were studied very carefully for years beforehand. Instead, corporations are exploiting the well intentioned but technically naive support for wind to grab up our mountaintops before everyone wakes up. But there is in fact a much better path to reducing emissions and bringing about a renewable energy future.
Ben Luce, of Lyndonville, Vt., has been a professor of physics at Lyndon State College since 2008. He has been a renewable energy advocate for over 15 years. He was a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the director of the New Mexico Coalition For Clean Affordable Energy.