In a stunning move the British government announced October 30 a halt to land-based industrial wind projects. “We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities,” Energy Secretary John Hayes stated, adding that few if any new industrial wind projects will be approved.
This follows last month’s statement by UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson that industrial wind projects “may have a worse impact than climate change,” and are causing “public insurrection.” And it welcome news for Hawaii, where the islands of Molokai and Lanai are battling a huge HECO/Abercrombie industrial wind project, the Big Wind/ Interisland Cable.
Referring to wind farms and climate change, Environment Secretary Paterson added that “some of the steps we are taking might actually cause more damage than the original problem itself.” Wind projects, he added, “blight rural lives” and have, among other negative environmental effects, “significant impacts on the rural economy and the rural environment.”
“We need to understand communities’ genuine desires,” Energy Secretary Hayes noted, buttressing Paterson’s earlier statement that the industrial wind industry’s “never-ending gravy train of green subsidies” must end.
The decision reflects a major change in British government policy, formerly in favor of industrial wind. Industrial wind in the UK, studies show, has led to no reductions in greenhouse gases or fossil fuel use, but has led to huge environmental problems and massive human health impacts, as well as a 30 percent increase in coal-fired generation, according to the Renewable Energy Foundation.
Similar studies in Denmark, the Netherlands, and elsewhere have also found that industrial wind projects do not lower CO2 emissions and may even increase them. An analysis last year of 300,000 data points across the U.S. found that “wind energy saves very little CO2 and has only minimal impact on other air emissions”.
This is because wind is so erratic that fossil-fuel plants must run constantly to back up wind projects – in some cases consuming more fuel and creating more CO2 than had they generated the power directly.
Though wind projects provide no environmental benefit, they have very negative impacts on human health, families and communities, tourism, property values, the environment (particularly birds, bats and other wildlife) and local and national economies. Despite over $100 billion in U.S. taxpayer subsidies, wind projects are still not financially feasible, and need further subsidies. But they do make billions in tax-free profits for their corporate backers, with no risk, while raising electricity rates and burdening electricity customers with enormous debt.
The worst of these subsidies are the “Renewable Portfolio Standards” that have been peddled by energy companies to Hawaii and other states. These standards require that a certain percentage of electricity be produced by “clean” or “renewable” energies, and that electricity customers must pay for the huge costs involved. In Hawaii, this goal is 15 percent by 2015, 25 percent by 2020, and 40 percent by 2030. But unfortunately these goals could do more harm, as Britain’s Environment Minister has stated, than the problem itself.
Hawaii Needs a 5-Year Moratorium on Wind Projects
HECO’s highly-touted wind project, First Wind’s Kahuku, may now have shut down permanently after only 18 months of operation. Although it only produced 15 percent of its promised power when it was operating, Hawaii rate-payers will continue to pay millions for it. And Oahu’s North Shore residents are up in arms over another First Wind “atrocity”, a new HECO wind “farm” they say violates beautiful historic Waimea.
While abandoned wind turbines litter our islands, HECO now wants to build more and bigger wind projects that will turn major parts of rural Maui, Molokai, Lanai and perhaps the Big Island into industrial zones, all supposedly connected to a multi-billion-dollar undersea cable through the Hawaii National Humpback Whale Sanctuary. Strongly pushed by Governor Abercrombie and the PUC, this Big Wind/ Cable project would cost $16 billion – $35,500 per Hawaii electricity customer – and saddle us with massive debt we may never be able to repay. It will cost more than the entire damage done to our nation by Hurricane Sandy.
So if the impacts of industrial wind projects on Hawaii could be greater than climate change, and if the costs are so enormous and unreasonable, shouldn’t we choose another method of making electricity? When so many better methods are available? When every Hawaii rooftop is a potential power plant?
Rooftop solar will soon able to provide nearly 50 percent of Hawaii’s total electricity needs. Solar prices continue to fall, and according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar will soon be as cheap as coal or gas. Solar is 83 percent of new clean energy projects approved by Japan. Last year, Europe increased its solar generation by 46.1 GW, more than 115 “Big Winds” – and enough to power all of Austria.
The Big Wind/ Cable is a “huge raid on Hawaii tax funds benefitting big corporations,” Honolulu City Councilman Tom Berg stated recently, one that sticks electricity customers and taxpayers with the costs and the developer’s profits, “whether or not it ever carries a single Watt of electricity.”
Why should Hawaii suffer catastrophic costs, environmental destruction, “public insurrection” and “significant impacts on the rural economy and the rural environment” for industrial wind’s obsolete, expensive, dangerous and destructive technology? How many more Kahuku disasters do we need?
To move forward, Hawaii should impose a 5-year moratorium on industrial wind projects. Across North America, from Vermont to Ontario to Idaho, industrial wind moratoriums are being imposed. European nations are backing out of industrial wind as fast as they can.
An industrial wind moratorium would give us time to learn more about the health risks, environmental impacts and true economic costs of wind projects – particularly when Hawaii faces huge budget shortfalls. It’s certainly time for Governor Abercrombie, the PUC and HECO to stop pushing industrial wind, and learn more about its catastrophic costs and social and environmental impacts on Hawaii.
About the author: Mike Bond is a renewable energy expert, the former CEO of an international energy company and adviser to more than 70 of the world’s largest utilities and energy companies. He lives on Molokai.
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