Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lies, damn lies, and wind turbine lies

Picture: Bro Dyfi Community Renewables, Machynlleth, West Wales

US climate pollution emissions fell in 2008, although not for the right reasons. Obviously, because we're in, or just coming out of, a recession, less factory wheels and other kinds of wheels are turning and that reduces fossil energy consumption, which has reduced emissions.

However, in the same government report in which this information was released, a further reduction in climate pollution was attributed to increased deployment of wind power facilities.

This is important because here in Maine, one of the several spurious claims that are often made against wind turbines by wind power opponents at town meetings is that they will not actually reduce climate emissions. Those of us who knew something about electricity production and consumption know this to be an obvious falsehood, but it sounds good, and you can twist the facts to make it seem true, in much the same way that Mrs. Palin of Alaska turned end-of-life counseling into "death panels," Maine wind power opponents have latched onto this and other claims against wind turbines and pedaled them shamelessly in public debate.

The fallacy is obvious, and common-sensical, because if you think about it, if you put any additional renewable power generation capacity in a grid where there is fixed demand, then fossil power generation will naturally be displaced.

The only way new wind turbines couldn't reduce emissions would be if there were only enough of them to meet the growth in electrical demand. The originators of the fallacy took this point, that demand was growing and so unless wind turbines were deployed fast enough, faster than the growth in demand, then no, climate emissions overall would not actually be reduced.

This is still BS, of course. There would still be less emissions than if we had met the growth in demand with extra fossil fuel generation.

Anyway, the new report is proof-of-concept, as if proof were actually needed, that wind turbines do reduce climate emissions. Here's the specific quote, fresh from the Department of Energy:

"The decrease in the emissions intensity of generation of 1.1 percent in 2008 reflected, among other factors, an increase in wind-powered generation."

About time. I'm sick of hearing the lie.

The pedaling of these fallacies and others is bad and sad because as our wind power research is showing, many Maine hilltops would make good sites for community-owned turbines, which would feed power into the grid, reduce emissions and make quite a bit of money for towns. A single town-owned wind turbine of 1 or 1.5 MW on a piece of town land or leased land that happens to be on one of our Wind Power Density Class 4 or 5 hilltops can easily make $300,000 a year in profit for the town, or more, depending on the bond rate, the wind power density, and so on.

In Jackson, my home town, where our town budget is less than a million dollars, this would comprise considerable tax relief.

For only one turbine!

The commercial wind power development companies, of course, left to their own devices would litter our hillsides with far too many of these things, make a lot of noise for neighbors, and ship all the profit out of state, but with good planning and noise modeling and lots of careful, thoughtful work by volunteers like the community wind groups I work with every day, a few community-owned wind turbines would be very different, and an asset, not a liability.

You would certainly think we could interest our townsfolk in saving money like this.

The first Maine community-owned wind farm will come on line this fall in Maine on the Fox Islands and we should start to see the news of that plant's successful operation begin to condition the debate.

I expect that when some townsfolk see how they have been bamboozled and led down the garden path by some of their neighbors, and especially when they see that they could have made or saved some money for town coffers, reducing taxes to boot, then the folks who peddle these lies will begin to receive back some of their own medicine.

Undoubtedly, there will be quite a bit of shouting, and probably more lying, before this happens.

But it will happen.

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