Moratorium on wind power needed

Manchester Journal
March 19, 2004

To the Editor:   This letter replies to Putney resident John Berkowitz's letter entitled "Vermont can benefit from wind power," which appeared in the Manchester Journal on March 12 [click here]. Mr. Berkowitz argues against a three-year moratorium on wind power in Vermont and in favor of wind power because it will (1) help Vermont and America stop and reduce global warming, (2) help our economy by providing construction and permanent jobs, (3) help secure our energy future, and (4) help our wildlife. Finally, Mr. Berkowitz urges us "to learn more about the issue."

On this last point, we agree. All Vermonters need to become engaged in the wind power debate. That is why we need a three-year moratorium on wind power. A moratorium, which would delay but would not necessarily stop construction, would provide an opportunity for all Vermonters to get the facts and to make an informed decision. Importantly, a moratorium would provide Montpelier with an opportunity to formulate an energy plan for Vermont that is both responsive to the state's long-term energy needs and consistent with Vermonters' environmental concerns.

The wind power debate is not about wind power's credentials as a source of clean, renewable energy. This is an indisputable fact. The debate is about whether wind power makes sense for Vermont, i.e., whether the advantages of wind power in Vermont outweigh its disadvantages. From my perch, for Vermont, wind power's disadvantages considerably outweigh its benefits. Let's look at wind power in Vermont:

(1) Vermont's wind power capacity is small (Vermont ranks 32nd among states in wind resources) for the simple reason that there are a limited number of ridgelines in Vermont deemed suitable for wind power. Wind power currently contributes a fraction of 1 percent to Vermont's energy needs. Taking current wind power proposals into account, wind power could account for only 1 percent to 2 percent of Vermont's electrical power. Vermont's energy consumption, in turn, is small when compared to that of our more industrialized neighboring states. In short, wind power in Vermont will not meaningfully increase Vermont's or New England's energy supplies.

(2) Wind power is, at best, a supplement to, not a substitute for, current energy sources. Wind power is intermittent, i.e., it is available only when the wind blows. Traditional and more reliable sources of energy will remain in place.

(3) Wind power in Vermont will not affect the major sources of global warming, which is caused principally by transportation emissions and Midwest coal-burning plants. Nor will Vermont wind power eliminate acid rain, which also blows in from the Midwest.

(4) Huge towering and expansive wind plants in Vermont will alter drastically the scenic beauty of our ridgelines, will illuminate the night sky, and will disrupt wildlife habitats and migration patterns.

(5) Wind power in Vermont will not contribute meaningfully to Vermont's economy and may, in fact, significantly damage it. While it is true there are large construction costs, only about 20% of these will (or more accurately, may) be spent in Vermont. Most of the construction costs will be spent outside the state on the required technology. Furthermore, there will be few, if any, permanent jobs. While requiring periodic maintenance, wind power facilities are essentially unmanned. [One or two technicians could probably cover the whole state. --ER] More importantly, wind power poses a very serious threat to tourism, a critical component of Vermont's economy, as well as to property values.

(6) While it is true wind power facilities will pay their share of taxes per the Grand List, it is also true the savings to taxpayers is diminutive. For example, should the Glebe Mountain project proceed, the estimated savings would be only $50 per parcel per year for the owners of Londonderry's approximately 1,600 parcels. Given Londonderry's budget concerns, there is no guarantee that Londonderry residents will pay lower taxes in the future. The residents of Londonderry's neighboring towns receive no tax benefits.

While some wind power proponents will concede that wind power in Vermont is not a solution to global warming, acid rain, and/or Vermont's or New England's energy costs or supplies, they argue that Vermont, the environment state, needs to 'set an example' and 'do its share.' They argue that such a symbolic gesture is important. In truth, the opposite is the case. Vermont, as the leader in environmental protection, should know when to say no; i.e., to say no to an energy source which offers marginal benefits at best when weighed against its significant threats to the very environment Vermont is supposedly dedicated to preserving. When the threat posed by wind power to our environment is added to the threat posed by wind power to our tourist-based economy and the quality of our lives, 'symbolic' gestures for an otherwise noble cause simply make no sense.

Wind power is the most critical environmental issue currently facing Vermont. It is also a critical economic and quality-of-life issue for Vermont as a whole and very definitely for the towns where wind power is sited. And there is no reason to rush ahead. As mentioned above, wind power will not replace existing, more reliable sources of energy. These energy sources will remain available for the foreseeable future. This is why a moratorium makes sense.

Last week, the Glebe Mountain Group (of which I'm a member) sponsored an ad that urged area residents to support a petition in favor of a three-year moratorium on all wind power projects in Vermont. This petition effort is currently under way. By signing this petition, you will be joining your neighbors in sending a clear message to Montpelier that you need time to study the facts and make an informed decision.

Hugh Kemper, South Londonderry

Response by Andrew Perchlik
Fair Wind Vermont discussion list (sign-up required), March 24, 2004
Manchester Journal, April 2, 2004
[with comments by Eric Rosenbloom]

To the Editor:   Hugh Kemper's recent letter to the editor regarding wind power had many factual inaccuracies and misleading statements. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm for the Glebe Mountain Group in their quest to prevent development and push their aesthetics upon others.

[Kemper says "let's look at wind power in Vermont" and encourages discussion, whereas Perchlik arrogantly says (below) "here is the truth." His tone of righteous victimization is laughable. The Glebe Mountain Group and other opponents are not pushing anything. Yes, they are trying to prevent development, because Perchlik's clients are pushing to install industrial power plants on ridges that are normally completely off limits to such major development.]

I agree that the debate is about whether the advantages of wind power in Vermont outweigh its disadvantages. However we can't have such a debate when groups like the Glebe Mountain Group make up information and call it "facts."

Here is the truth regarding wind power:

[This opening line hardly suggests an interest in debate.]

(1) Vermont's wind power capacity is tremendous. While it is true that Vermont ranks low among states in wind resources this is simply because of Vermont's size compared to other states. Vermont has the same average wind speeds as the top ranked states, just not as much land. Vermont could easily produce 20% of our electricity with wind power. Wind power in Vermont can meaningfully increase Vermont's energy supplies over the next fifteen years during a time when Vermont will need substantial amounts of new power.

[The American Wind Energy Association says that Vermont has 5,000 gigawatt-hours/year of wind resource, which is about 90% of the state's current total electricity need. According, however, to Mathew Rubin, developer of the East Haven wind project, one half of the resource is on federal land, one fourth is on state land, and one eighth is otherwise restricted from development. If half of what remains were to be approved for development, that would represent 5% of the state's electricity use. Getting to 20% would certainly not be "easy."]

(2) While it is true that wind power is supplemental to other energy sources, it is also true that it will be a substitute for polluting power. That wind power is intermittent has no effect on its ability to replace polluting sources of power. Kemper and others like to ignore that hydropower is also intermittent and confuse reliability with intermittency. Wind power is extremely reliable, modern wind turbines are available to produce power close to 100% of the time. Nuclear power stations in comparison are only available 80%-85% of the time. Wind plants like the ones proposed for Londonderry will be producing power more than 80% of the time. When the turbines are producing, that is power that will not be purchased from other sources on the margin, which in the New England Power Pool is natural gas power.

[Hydro's intermittency is seasonal, whereas wind's is hourly and daily as well as seasonal. Similarly, when a nuclear or fossil-fuel plant is shut down, it is typically planned and orderly, so it does not adversely affect the grid. Wind generators may be reliable, but the wind is not and the turbines produce on average only 25% of their rated capacity. The wind plant at Searsburg actually produces any electricity at all barely 60% of the time. Mechanically, they are reliable enough, but as a source of electricity they are not.]

(3) Nobody is claiming that wind power in Vermont will solve our global warming problem, or eliminate acid rain. What we are saying is that every kilowatt generated by wind power is a kilowatt not generated by polluting sources. Wind power is just part of the solution. Global warming and acid rain will only get worse if we deny that Vermont can be part of the solution. Wind energy opponents often choose to ignore that there are several coal plants in neighboring states that do pollute Vermonter's air and increase acid rain levels.

[Actually, at an "informational" meeting in Kirby, Perchlik was claiming that wind power in Vermont was essential to fighting global warming and acid rain. Many of wind's supporters in Vermont still present wind power as a solution to those problems, or at least, as Kemper puts it, a sign of "doing our part." It is true, as Perchlik here says, that if wind power actually contributed a significant amount of energy, then it would mitigate the use of energy from other, more polluting, sources. Vermont gets more than a third of its electricity from hydro (nonpolluting), a third from nuclear (whose waste is not just polluting but dangerous but otherwise emits no greenhouse or acid rain gases), and almost all the rest from wood (renewable) and natural gas (very low polluting). About one or two percent comes from oil burning and none from coal. The result is that wind power in Vermont -- even if it were providing 20% or even more of our electricity -- would not mitigate global warning or acid rain at all. While Vermont's electricity is already relatively clean, 80% of Vermont's total energy use is not for electricity, and those sources of pollution, such as manufacturing and transportation, as Kemper points out, would not be affected by wind power.]

(4) Yes, wind projects in Vermont will change the look of some of our ridgelines. However, the majority of Vermonters are not opposed to this change. The majority either enjoys the looks of turbines or they are willing to accept them because they understand the benefits. The turbines do need to be lighted as per FAA guidelines but the wind developers are working with the FAA to limit the lighting as much as possible. They will not "illuminate" the night sky. There is no proof that turbines will disrupt migration patterns, and disruption to wildlife, if any, will be minimal.

[The majority does not live right under those ridges. It's a lot easier to reconcile yourself to them if you see them only at a distance or not at all. Where there is currently nothing but trees and darkness, their impact would be huge for all those who appreciate trees and darkness. There is ample proof that turbines kill a lot of birds and bats. Migration patterns of most birds, which travel at night, are unknown. And one has to admit that cutting down trees, building roads, blasting foundation holes and filling them with tons of concrete and steel is likely to be disruptive. Of course the area will recover and adapt to some degree, but that's like arguing it's OK to punch someone in the face because it will mostly heal.]

(5) Wind power can contribute meaningfully to the Vermont economy. Producing 10% of our electricity with wind (6 wind farms, spread across the state) would generate: 140 jobs during development, 300 during construction, and 40 for operations thereafter. These wind farms would produce annually: $2.7 million to land owners, $2.2 million in property taxes, and $0.7 million in state taxes. In addition, having wind farms in VT is critical to having a wind farm industry in VT. We won't likely entice a large turbine manufacture to VT, but we could build on our current collection of small-to-medium sized businesses that service the wind energy industry (the fastest growing energy industry in the US and world). If VT was the first state to get 10% of its energy from wind power we would gain international attention and would be successful in bringing companies here to be part of a cluster of wind energy related companies. If we don't have any wind farms, we will not have any more wind energy companies and could loose the ones we have to states that have wind farms.

[Perchlik and other representatives of multinational energy consortia such as Enxco are obviously doing well, but the only other local jobs during construction are for forest clearing, road building, and hauling concrete. Most of the project will be handled by technicians from the turbine company. As noted in Kemper's letter, operating the plants after they are connected might require only a couple of people statewide. There are many small-scale alternative energy companies in Vermont, and it is they the state and renewable energy advocates ought to support and not the giant industrial developers.]

Contrary to the scare tactics of the Glebe Mountain Group wind energy does not pose any threat to tourism or to property values. I challenge them to produce any independent study to back up their claims. All the surveys and studies that I've seen from around the world show that wind farms will not harm our tourism industry or property values.

[Perchlik should be subject to the same challenge. Because it is common sense that tourism and property values would decline in the face of giant wind facilities, most polls are sponsored by the wind industry desperately trying to prove otherwise. Even by those polls, tourism would likely decline somewhat, perhaps up to 10%, which is a significant loss.]

The Glebe Mountain Group's call for a moratorium is just a way to avoid the permitting process that is based exclusively on facts. The existing permitting process deals with very issues that Kemper and the Glebe Mtn. Group are raising. The permitting process is there to expose the facts on the costs and benefits of proposed projects and then to make an informed decision based on those facts serving the best interests of Vermont.

[The moratorium called for is for three years. Sure it's a delaying tactic, but there is no impending crisis in Vermont's energy picture that requires immediate action. On the contrary, wind development has been suddenly thrust upon us, and the residents of the many affected communities have had to scramble to educate themselves about the issue to make the informed opinions Perchlik says he supports. It makes sense to give people and their legislators more time to get familiar with the many issues involved. It makes sense to give the administrators of our environment the time to study wind projects around the world before making decisions based solely on Perchlik's claims of fact.]

I think that the future of wind energy in Vermont should be debated and discussed. Unfortunately, I fear that many wind power opponents are not interested in a discussion as much as they are in prohibiting any changes to their view, regardless of the facts about the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy.

[Perchlik dismisses the concerns of others as lies and selfish aesthetics. He wants "discussion" only if he can browbeat someone into agreeing with him. He clearly can not be part of any useful debate.]

Andrew Perchlik
Director, Renewable Energy Vermont

Response by Eric Rosenbloom

To the Editor:   In the spirit of what he calls "debate," Andrew Perchlik, whose trade group Renewable Energy Vermont boasts the multinational energy consortium Enxco as a member, provided "the truth" regarding wind power in Vermont (letter, April 2).

He says "Vermont could easily produce 20% of our electricity with wind power." The American Wind Energy Association says that Vermont has 5,000 gigawatt-hours/year of wind resource, which is about 90% of the state's current total electricity need. But according to Mathew Rubin, developer of the East Haven wind project, one half of the resource is on federal land, one fourth is on state land, and one eighth is otherwise restricted from development. If half of what remains were to be approved for development, that would represent only 5% of the state's electricity use. Getting to 20% would certainly not be "easy."

He says wind is as reliable as hydro and more reliable than nuclear. Mechanically, that may be true for the turbines, but for the wind itself it is not. Hydro's intermittency is seasonal, whereas wind's is hourly. Yes, nuclear and other plants are often shut down, but it is a planned and orderly process that does not disrupt the grid. Perchlik says a plant at Londonderry will be producing electricity "more than 80% of the time." The plant at Searsburg, however, produces electricity barely 60% of the time, and much of that is an erratic trickle.

Perchlik insists that wind power in Vermont will help mitigate global warming and acid rain, but he also points out that it is coal plants in other states that pollute our air. Only one or two percent of our electricity comes from oil and none from coal. Further, 80% of our energy is not for electricity at all, and wind would have no effect on that use.

He says that the majority of people do not mind the turbines going up. Of course the majority does not live right under those ridges and will rarely if ever see or hear them or have their water poisoned by them. He states against all sense that clearing wild mountaintops, building wide solid roads, blasting holes and filling them with tons of steel and concrete will not disrupt wildlife. Nor will they, he believes, disrupt bird migrations, even though most occur at night and are unknown. He does not mention the ever-growing documentation of the large numbers of bats and birds that the turbine blades kill and maim.

He touts the jobs and taxes. Even for the unlikely case of wind plants producing 10% of our electricity, his numbers are exaggerated. Except for forest clearing, road building, and concrete hauling, for example, most of the installation work will be done by imported technicians from the turbine companies. Operating the facilities after they are connected will require at most one person per facility; one or two technicians could easily manage the whole state. And any gain in taxes must be balanced against the taxes paid to support wind power and the loss of property value and tourism it causes.

Perchlik challenges the Glebe Mountain Group to produce an independent study to back up the claim of lost property value and tourism. That would indeed be difficult, because all such studies are sponsored by wind supporters desperate to prove that the obvious is not true. Even by their polls, tourism would decline, perhaps by 10%, which is a significant loss.

Finally, he argues that the call for a moratorium is a delaying tactic. Yes, it is. If the existing permitting process is to be effective, as Perchlik says he wants it to be, then everyone -- citizens, legislators, and administrators -- first needs time to become familiar with the many issues involved so that they can appropriately question the developers. Alas, while calling for open debate and discussion, Perchlik dismisses the concerns of others as lies and selfish aesthetics. As a spokesman for Enxco, however, he can hardly be considered a neutral font of "truth."

Eric Rosenbloom, Kirby

More pages on this site about wind power in Vermont:
letter to The Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury), by Bill Eddy
letter to The Caledonian-Record, by Bill Klein
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
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"