Oliver Appaix calls for “bold action” to build more wind farms in Massachusetts. I would argue that as a nation we have already taken bold action – misguided, in my opinion. Wind power has grown exponentially in response to subsidies and tax credits for its construction and mandates that require utilities to purchase the electricity generated. Furthermore, these mandates have only begun to take effect. The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind by 2030, up from 3.5 percent in 2012.
In Massachusetts, five legislative actions have been passed to promote renewable energy – the Green Communities Act, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Green Jobs Act, the Oceans Act and the Clean Energy Biofuels Act. In order to satisfy these mandates, Gov. Patrick has set a goal of 2,000 MW capacity for wind power by 2020, up 20-fold from the current 100 MW capacity.
Wind power comes in three sizes – small-scale, community-sized and commercial.
Small-scale, or “micro-turbines” promoted for rooftop installation, like the one Mr. Appaix proposes for the top of the Porter Exchange building, produce insignificant amounts. By definition they are less than 20 KW (0.02 MW), but some are as small as 10 watts (0.00001 MW). It would take 200,000 10-KW micro-turbines to reach the governor’s goal.
Mr. Appaix mentions “four wind turbines of some significance” in Boston. These turbines are all in the community-sized category. The tower prominently located on the Southeast Expressway, built by the IBEW as a training facility, has a capacity of 100 KW, or 0.1 MW. We would need 20,000 of these turbines to add up to 2,000 MW.
Massachusetts has no commercial wind projects, but we purchase wind power from places like the Stetson I Wind Farm in eastern Maine. Stetson is the largest in New England, with 38 towers that are 390-feet tall, visible from five miles away. That’s more than half the height of the Prudential Building. Each turbine has a generating capacity of 1.5 MW, an average size. Gov. Patrick’s plan would require 1,333 turbines of this size, or 35 wind farms the size of Stetson. And this would only reach the 9 percent goal.
The three countries that have invested the most heavily in wind power – Denmark, Germany and Spain – have shown it is possible to generate significant amounts, approaching 20 percent, of electricity with wind. This experiment, however, has not been a great success. An article in Der Spiegel summarizes, “Germany’s aggressive and reckless expansion of wind and solar power has come with a hefty price tag for consumers, and the costs often fall disproportionately on the poor.” Electricity in Denmark costs 41 cents/KWH versus 12 cents in the U.S.
I have many concerns about commercial-scale wind power – it is expensive, intermittent, requiring redundant capacity as backup, deadly to bats and birds, in particular, large raptors, with unknown health risks to humans from low frequency noise and shadow flicker. I am particularly alarmed about the issue of land usage.
Wind advocates cite the “direct impact area” or the “permanent clearing” of around .25 acres for each wind tower. This doesn’t count, however, the much higher “total wind plant area.” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates 25 to 125 acres per MW of capacity. Gov. Patrick’s 2,000 MW of wind will, therefore, require from 50,000 to 250,000 acres. The smaller Stetson II project under construction in Maine (17 1.5-MW towers) is sited on 4,800 acres, or 188 acres per MW —roughly the size of Cambridge (4,563 acres). For comparison, Seabrook Nuclear produces twice as much electricity as 2,000 MW of wind on 900 acres, even on calm days.
Wind advocates claim that the acreage of wind farms can be used for grazing, agriculture or recreation, if they’re not on private property behind razor-wire fences, but one use definitely not recommended is housing. Setback laws vary but, in general, commercial wind turbines cannot be located closer than 1.5 miles from the nearest dwelling. After we squeeze two Stetson-sized wind farms into the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation, where would we put the other 33? Obviously, we won’t. Commercial wind farms will be built in the least developed parts of New England, not in Porter Square.
I have spent a lot of time canoeing the wild rivers of Washington County, Maine, where you can go for four or five days, see no one and cross perhaps one road. The “towns” have names like T5-R8. It’s big country and there might be room for a couple wind farms. Covering hundreds of thousands of acres with wind turbines will, however, destroy Maine’s wilderness character. It is strange that the same people who oppose snowmobiles in the Great North Woods encourage the construction of industrial wind farms in our beautiful farm country and wilderness regions.