Normally, it’s Democrats who want the public to know more about the effects of energy production near people, flora and fauna, but not so much on wind energy.
That irony came to visit when Rep. Paul Lundeen brought a bill this session to create a state-approved online clearinghouse of credible information – good, bad or indifferent – about the public’s health in proximity to wind farms.
In Lundeen’s sprawling El Paso County district, residents near Calhan are complaining about headaches, stomach aches and circulatory problems since the 145 turbines at the Nextera wind farm began to spin in 2015. Livestock roam the plains landscape and dozens of residents live nearby.
The Republican lawmaker from Monument doesn’t think it’s asking too much for the state to give people information they can rely on, rather than forcing them to roam the internet for answers that could be posted by a partisan, a crackpot, or both.
The state could curate credible, peer-reviewed studies and link to legal documents that often aren’t easy to find with a simple Google search, he contends.
“Making things easier for the people – that’s exactly what this legislation would do,” Lundeen pleaded to the Democrats on the committee moments before they killed his bill on a party-line vote.
Colorado’s $6 billion of private investment in wind energy production has provided “a hockey stick” curve on a growth chart, Lundeen said. The political left doesn’t want to discuss it unless oil, gas and coal are in the mix.
It might look like a political mousetrap from the outside. I suggested that to Lundeen, and I read people well. He has no reputation as a schemer but a terrific statehouse reputation as a problem-solver.
The situation just exposed the partisan scar tissue around energy that has hardened mindsets of both sides.
“This was the perfect bill for me,” he said the next day on the bench on the south side of the chamber, after House Speaker Crisanta Duran gaveled members out for the weekend. “Because it’s this policy question about what wind energy means to us. We’ve gone since 2000 from 22 megawatts in this state to, in 2016, more than 2,000 megawatts. That’s 131 times growth, so this is a big issue coming to a front yard near you soon. So what are we going to do about it?”
Rep. Joann Ginal knew how Lundeen felt.
In 2013, she and fellow Democratic Reps. Mike Foote of Lafayette, Jonathan Singer of Longmont and others presented a bill to have the state determine if people who live near oil and gas operations are as healthy as those who don’t. The state study would have examined epidemiology reports from Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Arapahoe counties against one or more control groups elsewhere.
House Bill 1275 was drowned like a rat on the Titanic by a solid Republican bloc who picked off stray moderates from the Democratic majority to kill seven oil-and-gas bills that session.
Ginal tried and failed again the next year. She would support an all-of-the-above look at what energy production is doing to us. The daughter of a New England cop, she’s practiced in pharmaceutical and medical fields for more than two decades, specializing in reproductive endocrinology.
“We don’t offer a compilation of research in this state that’s really helpful in that area, as well,” the physician said of renewable energy.
Government has regulated – and academic and advocacy interests have studied – the effects of traditional fuels as far back as 150 years. Massive wind farms and growing fast on Colorado’s horizon.
We haven’t heard the last of this. Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates – Jared Polis and Michael Johnston – are pledging to get all of Colorado’s juice from renewable sources by 2040. A handful of cities are pledging to get there sooner.
Tom Darin, the Western states policy director for the American Wind Energy Association, says his trade association maintains a bibliography it’s eager and willing to share with policymakers and the public. The credible information supports the industry as safe, he said.
“We are entrusted and given some credibility in bringing in and how to do $6 billion in investment in Colorado,” Darin said.
Rep. Terri Carver, another El Paso County Republican, said unbalanced information doesn’t tell the whole story. And how. Partisan salesmanship has poisoned the oil-and-gas discussion, as the left and right continue to extend spewing pipelines of money into Colorado for PR and lobbying.
I trust the Wind Energy Association. The literature about health and safety is stacked up on their side, just like the information handpicked and stacked up by the oil-and-gas industry.
I did a Google search about wind energy and public health, because I’m cynical. The first article was from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
“Canadian family physicians can expect to see increasing numbers of rural patients reporting adverse effects from exposure to industrial wind turbines (IWTs),” it stated. “People who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction. Some have also felt anger, grief, or a sense of injustice.”
Now I don’t know who to believe.
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