The High Cost of Wind

Editorial -- Burlington Free Press
February 18, 2004

At first gust, wind power sounds like an environmentalist's dream. An endless supply of clean, renewable energy that will help reduce pollution and lower dependence on greenhouse- gas belching power plants and radioactive-waste generating nuclear facilities.

Unfortunately, such promised benefits are largely illusory and wind power actually presents severe environmental risks of its own.

Wind power has become a major topic in Vermont, where many advocates see huge wind turbines as an integral part of the state's future scenic and economic landscape. The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee holds a public hearing in Rutland today on the issue. The Agency of Natural Resources is analyzing whether to place wind towers on state property.

While the issue needs to be thoroughly vetted by policymakers, they should note that on close investigation the assumed environmental advantages of wind power quickly dissipate.

The main problem is that wind is highly unreliable and can generate power only under specific conditions. Wind currents too weak produce no power; wind too strong forces a shutdown for fear of toppling the equipment.

That unreliability -- which in Vermont tends to happen during peak-use summer months -- mandates that wind power be close to 100 percent redundant. Every kilowatt-hour from wind requires a backup network, usually the old standbys of coal, gas, hydro or nuclear. Since the power grid requires a constant level of energy flow to function properly, wind's unreliability means it will not replace any generating facility. Aside from contributing little to helping the environment, wind power is a serious threat to Vermont's natural beauty.

As envisioned by some wind promoters, Vermont would be host to hundreds of wind turbines grinding away atop vast stretches of the Green Mountains. These are massive industrial operations that require large expanses to work effectively.

A proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, for example, seeks to build 130 towers over more than 24 square miles of ocean. The facility would produce only 450 megawatts of power, a relative pittance compared with total demand.

To erect a similar-sized facility on a Vermont mountain ridge would require a major road-building project, site clearance and maintenance for support structures and space for heavy transmission lines to carry the power out of the area. For a state heavily dependent on tourist dollars, such visual pollution would be devastating.

Another environmental cost of large-scale wind power in Vermont could be a slaughter of wildlife. Experiences in places as different as Spain and West Virginia find wind turbines slicing and dicing bats, birds and other creatures in alarmingly high numbers. The Audubon Society wants a moratorium on wind development in bird-sensitive areas -- which would include most of Vermont.

Most of the environmental promises of wind power blow away when closely examined. However well-intentioned, wind advocates would cause more harm than good to the Vermont environment.

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
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"