Wind turbines no help to Vermonters

The Burlington Free Press
May 1, 2005

Barbara Grimes, general manager of Burlington Electric Dept., is not very convincing about the benefits of wind power development (opinion, April 18). She begins with the inarguable statement that it would be better if the money we pay for electricity stayed in state. Unfortunately, turbine manufacturer GE is not local and Vestas is in Denmark, Enxco (Searsburg expansion, Readsboro, Lowell) is based in France, UPC (Hardscrabble in Sheffield) in Italy, Endless Energy (Equinox in Manchester) is from Maine, and the local companies behind industrial wind development are already in the power business, already raking in plenty of our electricity dollars. Their desire for more is not a compelling argument.

She insists that there will not be a string of giant turbines from one end of the state to the other, but some proponents have said we need 50% of our electricity generated by wind. That would require precisely the endless string of towers that Grimes dismisses as "scare tactic." Even VPIRG's goal of 20% would require hundreds of turbines (see below). It would also require violating a lot of heretofore protected land. The facts and goals of the industry itself are quite enough to scare the public.

She points to Searsburg as an example of wind energy in action. Searsburg's towers are indeed, as Grimes acknowledges, much smaller than those proposed today. Significantly, they don't require safety lighting. Each tower for the new turbines is a couple stories higher than the whole assembly of one of Searsburg's machines. The blades reach 1 2/3 higher and chop through an acre of air -- more than 3 times those of Searsburg and correspondingly more noisy and visually intrusive.

Searsburg's 11 turbines, with a capacity equivalent to the 4 turbines proposed for East Haven, produce power equal to 0.2% of Vermont's electricity use, and it is less every year. To get to 20% would therefore require at least 400 giant new turbine assemblies; 50% would require 1,000 of them, costing about $2 million each and requiring new roads, substations, and high-voltage transmission lines.

This is hardly a sustainable solution. It certainly does not protect the environment (each foundation, for a start, would likely have to be blasted into the mountain rock and then requires many tons of concrete and steel). And because wind-based production doesn't coincide with demand, it wouldn't even provide much electricity that we would actually use (e.g., western Denmark had to dump 84% of its wind production in 2003).

So, with little persuasive argument, she evokes "Vermont" values and the working landscape, as if that is not a feature everywhere that humans dwell. New Jersey has a working landscape. What is unique to this state are the wild mountain tops for which Vermonters old and new have worked for a hundred years to restore and preserve. The desire to violate them not with manured hay fields but with collections of 330-foot-high steel and composite wind turbines -- for insignificant benefit other than profits for a few -- reveals a set of values that some people do not find attractive, wherever they come from.

Eric Rosenbloom

More pages on this site about wind power in Vermont:
letter to The Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury), by Bill Eddy
editorial by the Burlington Free Press
notes on some surveys about wind farms
report on the poor record of the Searsburg wind plant
comments about proposed East Haven wind project and projects in Vermont in general
letter to the Manchester Journal, by Hugh Kemper, and response by Andrew Perchlik, with commentary
outline of large wind projects targeting Vermont and vicinity
letter to the Burlington Free Press, by Eric Rosenbloom
Also: Vermonters with Vision

back to "A Problem With Wind Power"