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More in Community
Wind turbines spin in all directions
Part I of a series
Since the town of Industry is a potential wind farm host, I volunteered to join the committee tasked with creating a wind ordinance. To be an effective committee member, I decided to do some research on wind-generated electricity.
Although I have not formed a hard and fast opinion about the use of wind power in Western Maine, I am attracted to the potential of wind power. The ideal of electricity provided by a nonpolluting, free fuel that cannot be manipulated by speculators, or be monopolized or exploited, is powerfulóif reality can match the ideal.
Judging wind power's merits inevitably involves hot-button topics: property rights, the cost of electricity, land use, economic and environmental impacts, the politics of climate change, and the role of energy subsidies.
Is wind energy the tax-sucking ìmountain slayerî described by activist Jonathan Carter of the Forest Ecology Network, or the greenhouse gas slayer and planet saver promoted by the wind industry? Or does reality lie somewhere between those extremes?
Carter's contention is that our natural outdoors is the goose-that-lays-our-golden-eggs tourism draw, worth far more than landscape-marring turbines, which don't produce enough power to be worthwhile and do not reduce greenhouse gases as promised.
When we are for or against something in Maine, we often play the tourism card. So, why are we going broke if we have a backyard full of gold-laying geese?
The evaluation of energy sources often begs the question, ìcompared to what?î Carter thinks smaller, community-scale wind turbines that leave the ridge-lines untouched are more appropriate choices for Maine. It sounds like a reasonable idea to explore.
Carter also prefers natural gas-fired generators over large-scale wind, citing the cost difference. Should we sacrifice the environment of others while failing to save our own? The hydraulic fracturing required to make gas wells productive is a big environmental issue in somebody's backyard.
Even though natural gas emits only half the CO2 (carbon dioxide) of coal when burned, it is still too much, and leaking natural gas (methane) is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Wind's critics cite the Colorado Bentek study on CO2 reduction as proof that adding wind power to an existing 50percent coal-fired electric grid does not reduce overall CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. What the study actually proves is that coal plants are not designed to efficiently cycle up and down in response to changing loads.
Coal as we know it is an environmental obscenity and on its way out. There is little value in studying existing coal-plus-wind grids. In any case, the electric grid we live in, ISO New England, relies on coal for only 6 percent of generated power.
The goal which makes wind power of interest is to reduce greenhouse gases at a reasonable cost. Faulting the intermittent nature of wind, which some existing power plants deal with poorly, is turning that goal upside down, putting clean power sources secondary to the needs of high pollution sources.
There are valid arguments both for and against wind power in Maine, likely more against than for. Wind's critics should stick to valid arguments.
For good or bad, the wind power companies are following the usual patterns. A hot idea comes along, gets public support and subsidies, and off to the races we go. If Congress does not renew the subsidies for wind power, the industry is expecting a "wind crash" in 2013.
The boom pattern also applies to natural gas. The marketing hype of a 100-year supply will disappear into the global market as fast as they can get it out of the ground and build shipping ports and compression plants. The gas will not last 100 years, it will become more expensive, and they are leaving a mess behind.
There are no cheap, silver energy bullets that will meet the goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Sorting through the alternatives will take time and experience to find the best solutions. We should work to limit the magnitude and cost of our errors along the way.
The next column in this series will look at wind power in the context of Maine's energy profile and will present an overview of the electric supply grid in New England.
Your letters to the editor and emails are always welcome.Dave is a resident of Industry and can be reached at email@example.com.
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