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Turbine opponents criticize federal subsidies for wind energy

ST. JOHNS – Ken Wieber, 49, grew up on the mixed-use dairy and cash-crop farm he operates on 540 acres in Clinton County, a few miles north and west of Forest Hill Energy-Fowler Farms proposed wind-turbine project.

An active leader of the opposition, Wieber said he focused on the health, safety and property rights of residents living near the proposed project after the county “failed miserably” to do so in the recent revision of its zoning ordinance.

Wieber said the project’s opponents compromised on the zoning ordinance because “we realize we can’t stop these things (wind-turbine developments).”

“We understood early on that if we propose something that is entirely restrictive and unrealistic then we’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “We have to allow wiggle room. We have to have a compromise in there somewhere.”

One of the biggest comprises, he said, was a zoning provision that allows neighboring landowners to waive the setback requirements that otherwise would prohibit erection of a tower on land leased to Forest Hill Energy.

If Forest Hill then had “to go out and get more waivers from the neighboring people and if that costs them more money, so be it,” Wieber said.

Apart from noise, tower heights and setbacks from property lines, Wieber questions the fundamental economics of industrial-grade wind-turbine farms.

“They always talk about this as ‘harvesting the wind’ or one more crop that they can harvest. The only thing being harvested here is the federal incentives. That’s what’s being harvested and that’s being done by Forest Hill Energy,” he said.

“Do we really want as a county or state or nation to base our future economy on an industry that provides an expensive, intermittent and inefficient product and is entirely depending on government subsidies for its existence?”

In floor remarks delivered to his U.S. Senate colleagues on Dec. 14, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, echoed Wieber by criticizing the federal government and “the brazenness of those who have been receiving this giveaway money.”

Alexander said the federal tax credits established in 1992 were intended to provide a temporary subsidy for a new form of energy. Over the past 20 years, wind energy has matured, Alexander contended, to the point it now should compete with natural gas, nuclear power and other forms of power.

“Yet along came the wind developers who have benefited from this giveaway for 20 years” asking for the subsidy to be phased out over the next six years at a cost Alexander estimated to be an additional $50 billion.

“Put that in a little perspective,” Alexander said. “The federal government spends only $6 billion a year on all energy research. We could be spending it there. We could be reducing the debt. Instead, we are continuing to subsidize this mature technology.”

Forest Hill Energy has not applied for nor received any green energy financial incentive from any unit of government for the Clinton County project, said Tim Brown, managing partner.

If, however, the federal production tax credit “is extended and the project is eligible for it, we would consider utilizing it,” Brown said.