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The answer is not blowing in the wind

  • by Dr. Donald Perry
  • March 03, 2010

“The underlying problem remains that wind power is far too dependent on taxpayer subsidies. Thus it can’t stand on its own feet, yet is growing like mad. That’s the definition of a bubble.” Vincent Fernando – Business Insider, January 27, 2010

Here in upstate New York it would be difficult not to notice the forests of steel, concrete and whirling blades that are materializing over vast stretches of land, often replacing forests of wood, leaves and wildlife. And so the war continues between “green” technology and the green earth. Numerous pro and con articles have appeared debating the many aspects of power produced by windmills, but even those who object to windmills concur that the power produced by them is truly “clean” energy. As a biologist and an environmentalist, I disagree.

Even a third-grader knows that wind-driven turbines produce clean energy, right? It is plain to see that the majestic tower and its spinning blades burn no fuel that would spew dirty CO2 into the atmosphere. The major problem is that Congress does nothing to correct the misleading information now circulating around the country. With a third-grade mentality, our leaders herald windmills as the miraculous solution that will curtail our growing dependence on oil, coal and natural gas, the main contributors to an increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

One of our biggest national fears is dependency on Middle Eastern oil. With tax incentives and grants funneling taxpayer dollars into the development of windmills, Congress hopes to reduce that dependence. Ironically, the government is spending trillions of additional taxpayer dollars on a war with a main goal of tapping into Middle Eastern reserves for as long as possible.

It is absurd to claim that wind farms will reduce oil dependence. In 2002, for example, of 3.8 trillion kilowatt hours of generated electricity (the total for the United States), only 95 billion kWh were produced by oil-fired facilities. That’s only 2.5%. By 2008, electricity generated with oil was reduced to 1%. The oil-fired electricity plants that produce this power are typically on standby, yet they must be ready to switch on at any time with increasing daily demand. Windmills can’t do this, so they play no role in reducing our dependence on oil.

Greenhouse warming and rising ocean levels have incited additional fear. Here again lobbyists promise that wind power can help. But the rise in CO2 emissions is an international problem. The second largest emitter behind the U.S. is China, which produces 15% of the world’s total, but they show little interest in making significant cuts in CO2. The trajectory of China’s industrial growth suggests they may catch up with the U.S. (25% of world total) in a few years. They argue that Americans and Europeans should take the economic hit necessary to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions.

Over the past 38 years, global CO2 emissions have increased 100% from 16.3 billion metric tons in 1970 to 31.6 billion in 2008. At the same time, world population grew from 3.7 to 6.7 billion. This 81% increase accounts for much of the increase in CO2 emissions. Even if (and that’s a big if) wind power could reduce CO2 emissions, it is more than likely that future gains will be offset by population growth. That growth undoubtedly will increase dirty energy usage.

To stop the growth of atmospheric CO2 concentrations would require approximately a 40% reduction of all CO2-producing activities worldwide. The burden of emission control would fall on developed nations. It would require fewer cars, large-screen digital televisions, computers, hot tubs, home heaters, and electronics that leak power. One hot shower a week would help, as would the elimination of suburbs and the stagnation of business growth.

Habitat destruction and slash and burn deforestation produce approximately 20% of the world’s annual emissions, which is nearly as much as U.S. total emissions. As people are encouraged by industry to consume like Americans and Europeans, and as more and more habitat destruction occurs due to population growth, what is the likelihood that earth’s inhabitants will unite to curtail business growth and other activities in order to reverse the production of CO2? We can’t even unite to stop rising highway tolls. Nothing short of a vast pandemic or a nuclear winter promises to halt the inevitable rise in atmospheric CO2. Of course, I cannot mention the taboo subject of reducing an overpopulated planet’s population. This solution to the world’s many problems, including energy issues, water shortages, collapsed fisheries, and the pollution of land and sea with garbage and sewage is not seriously considered.

There are approximately one trillion tons of recoverable coal worldwide, with a minimal value of 100 trillion dollars, as well as vast supplies of natural gas. It is highly unlikely that any country will abandon this wealth. In fact, most countries are calculating how long their cheap energy reserves are going to last. So contrary to popular and governmental rhetoric, all available cheap energy will be consumed; its stored carbon destined for the atmosphere.

If it is true that human activity is the culprit behind melting glaciers, the shrinking of Greenland’s ice cap and rising ocean levels, we probably reached the point-of-no-return more than a decade ago. This leaves future climate change at the mercy of potential natural disturbances that can release huge amounts of CO2 both above and below the oceans, such as volcanic activity. The release of methane from hydrates has been implicated in climate changes of the distant past, and vast amounts of methane hydrates lie in wait on the ocean floor. Methane is 10 times more damaging than CO2 as a climate-warming molecule. If released, the oceanic storehouse of these hydrates would dramatically increase the greenhouse effect. As I write, Siberia’s shallow seabed, which contains billions of tons of these hydrates, is heating up and beginning to release its stored methane. The ball is rolling regarding rising oceans and efforts at devising alternate sources of energy are at best a Band-Aid on a metastasizing tumor.

In guilt-ridden America and Europe, the avid support of wind power is a front for leaders who don’t want to be accused of doing nothing if ocean levels rise. In practice, our government lacks concern about rising oceans. When import restrictions on goods produced by dirty energy were recommended, congress denied them. Wall Street helped relocate U.S. industry to China and other countries that use dirty energy, then lobbied relentlessly to allow the import of those goods. It is neither ecofriendly nor economically friendly to ship goods from so far away. Many of these items could be produced here, and shipping contributes substantially to ocean pollution.

Congressional policy is this: allow corporations to benefit by taking advantage of the dirty -energy policies of other countries, ignore American job loss, condone ocean pollution, and tax Americans to produce ineffectual “clean” energy. When Congress begins to fret about CO2 and embraces wind farming as a hypothetical solution, rest assured something else is motivating them.

From a biological point of view, wind power is merely a dirty parasite that has latched onto the body of the green movement. We’ve seen these parasites before in the form of Enron, CDOs and derivatives – favored products of Wall Street. To keep taxpayer money flowing into wind power, the green-wash must be maintained.

A critical failure of wind power is its unreliability. Clipper ships lost favor as a means of oceanic transport in part because no one likes to wait: not for the arrival of a becalmed merchant ship, or for the air conditioning to cool down the room, or for the computer to turn on, of even for the tea water to boil. Actually, no one likes to wait for anything. So when the wind dies down, we must fall back on our old standbys — oil, gas and coal. In order to satisfy our needs, no coal, natural gas or oil plant will be closed, and this inefficiency raises the price of electricity.

The dirty secret about wind turbines is that they are not exactly clean. Heat (BTUs) is needed to manufacture the components of windmills. The construction of their huge concrete bases is an energy-hungry process. (Concrete production emits 7% of the planet’s total annual CO2 emissions). Power poles must be harvested from forests. Rock must be extracted from the earth, then crushed, then smelted, then drawn into wire, thousands of miles of wire that must then be coated with insulation. Similarly, huge steel towers require ore to be mined, transported, smelted, forged, then transported again. Massive machinery must be used to make roads, clear forests, move earth, erect poles and construct new power grids. Where does the power come from to complete these tasks? Dirty, CO2-producing BTUs!

Each and every windmill begins life in abysmally deep, dirty BTU debt. No one knows how large this debt is because the data is either hidden or simply has not yet been calculated. Nevertheless, for a windmill to be a certifiably clean-energy producer, it must first pay off its dirty energy debt. Let’s assume that in eight years a windmill can produce enough clean BTUs to cancel out its dirty BTU debt. Issue two: how long do they run without an overhaul? The data is unavailable. Remanufacturing and maintenance will incur substantial additional dirty BTU debt. Add a couple more years to the debt for the overhaul and it may take at least a decade before a windmill can get a green card.

There is plenty of hope that windmills will remain viable for that long. Yet behind the scenes, companies aren’t taking any chances. So they lobby Congress into supplying the real green quickly, before the bubble pops. Not only do they get a five-year, double-declining, balance-accelerated depreciation that allows recovery of capital costs in about five years, they also receive numerous other incentives paid for by taxpayers and electricity users.

Windmills are also stealing jobs away from our economy at a time when they are desperately needed. Wind power is sucking away stimulus money, the money that was supplied to help create badly needed jobs in the U.S. As stated in a letter by U.S. Rep. Eric Massa (D- New York), much of the equipment for wind generators is purchased from foreign suppliers.

A few years ago the miracle of wind power stood as a shining green knight who would solve our energy needs. But politicians are beginning to hear rumblings from people who, unlike Congress, have actually researched wind-power technology and become knowledgeable about its shortcomings. In location after location, the unlucky citizens who live near wind generators, regardless of political persuasion, are spreading these truths via the media, especially the internet and public gatherings. They are steadily washing the green image off the wind-power industry.

A huge political bomb looms in the property-value arena. Many of us suffered dearly when Wall Street’s real-estate bubble popped. In many locations property values plummeted by fifty percent or more. Nevertheless, when the money began to dry up Wall Street clambered into the lifeboat with yet another toxic asset that destroys land value – wind power. Landowners within close proximity to a windmill can expect to lose up to 80% or more of their property’s value. This is leading to yet another real-estate disaster.

Presently, windmill companies claim that property values are not affected, but since property near windmills has ceased to sell, few records exist to document this decline. But the truth can be found in the fine print. While landowners get ample verbal assurance of stable values, they don’t get a guarantee in writing that prices will not decline. Windmill companies want to pad their wallets at the expense of landowners. They believe landowners should roll over and take an 80% hit on their property value and even file bankruptcy, all for the “higher good”.

Why do property values near windmills fall? The blades of windmills are huge fans atop 200-foot towers, some are higher. As the sun sets, their shadows grow longer and cross property after property. Even miles away, a treasured sunset can become a disturbing flickering panorama. Any time of the day your living room’s peaceful ambiance can be invaded by a maddening strobe light. That’s not green.

Wind power is claimed to be silent or very quiet. Yet the unfortunate residents who live near them complain of low-frequency sound that is viscerally disturbing. Many report jet-engine-like noise or loud whooshing sounds day and night. That’s not green.

Wind Turbine Syndrome is the name now given to the disruption of sensory input. Symptoms include sleep problems, headaches, dizziness, exhaustion and depression, in part due to loss of property values. There are reports of “pulsations laying down in bed and when the turbines get into a particular position, tremors going through your body.it feels like something is vibrating your body, like sitting in a vibrating chair but your body is not moving.”

Another feature damaging to property values is the appearance of windmills. People who wish to purchase in rural areas are usually looking for a site with attractive scenic vistas. Windmills directly and dramatically reduce the appeal of a property. As the dirty truths about windmills become known, their image will worsen, and so will property values.

The preposterous claim that wind power is green falls apart when one observes a littering of windmills over a destroyed landscape. Windmills would need to cover entire state-sized regions in order to meet the nation’s power needs. That would be far from green. But locating them in lower Manhattan would be very green! Clearing some room for them there would solve many of our other problems as well.

A clutter of windmills across the horizon is reminiscent of a gigantic advertisement of Wall Street’s disrespect for others, an abstract parade of towering Bernie Madoffs flipping the bird at residents and nature. In this land of beautiful, spacious skies and amber waves of grain, we, the little people, have become no more important than the plight of migratory birds.

Add up strobe-light flicker, disturbing visceral noise, destruction of vast land areas, dirty BTU’s, a failed business plan, job loss, fraudulent allocation of taxpayer dollars, and destruction of property values and one can say unequivocally that wind power is bad business and not at all green. As more and more landowners experience negative health effects and enter into bankruptcy because of wind power, and if thousands and thousands and of square miles of the earth’s green face become trashed with windmills, political fallout will follow.

With a possible taxpayer revolt led by “tea baggers” in the making, keep a close eye on the toxic products of the green windmill myth. Shorting opportunities on this technology are quickly maturing.

Dr. Donald Perry, a biologist, author and inventor, lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York State known for its magnificent scenic beauty and growing ecotourism. Right now, wind power companies are seeking permits to build, or have already built, on some of the most-scenic vistas in the region. As far as he knows, his property will not be affected directly. He does not own any securities or short positions in the wind industry.

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