The great green wind scam
Op-Ed By JONATHAN CARTER
Director, Forest Ecology Network
Mountaintop industrial wind development in Maine is both an ecological disaster and economic boondoggle. The mountaintop wind developers, or as I like to call them, “the mountain slayers and profiteers,” are foisting upon the state an Enron-like scam. The only questions are: When, how much damage will have occurred, and how many billions of dollars of stranded cost will the ratepayers and taxpayers have to pick up?
From an ecological perspective, there is absolutely no way one can defend mountaintop industrial wind. Blasting and mountaintop leveling causes irreversible damage to soils, hydrological flows, and the unique assemblages of plants and animal. Thousands of bats and birds will be killed and many species will be forced to flee from the massive ground vibrations and the pulsating of high and low frequency noise. If, as envisioned by the state, 360 miles of mountaintop industrial wind is built (resulting in 50,000 acres of clearcut), the visual pollution of 400-foot towers with flashing lights and the noise pollution will penetrate thousands of square miles of the Maine wild lands and completely alter the bucolic nature of the quiet Maine countryside.
The biggest fraud being perpetrated is that mountaintop industrial wind will somehow reduce our dependence on foreign oil and result in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Three years ago, before I started to examine the science around mountaintop industrial wind, I would have whole-heartedly agreed, but the facts are the facts:
Only 1 percent of the electricity in the United States is produced by oil. Since wind energy is intermittent and unreliable, it cannot be counted on and thus requires back-up fossil fuel power availability. When the wind stops blowing (which can vary on a minute-to-minute basis) the power source has to be ramped back up. It is analogous to driving in stop and go traffic – more fuel is consumed and greater amounts of carbon are emitted. Yet the American Wind Energy Association (a lobbyist group paid for by the wind developers) still is trying to paint industrial wind as a “green” renewable energy.
If the ecological disaster of mountaintop industrial wind is not enough to convince one to say no, then just consider the economic impacts. If Maine constructs 360 miles of mountaintop industrial wind, $5 billion of your money will be placed in the bank accounts of the wind developers. Currently, a wind developer can get 30 percent of a project’s cost upfront from the U.S. Treasury. This does not include the loan guarantees, accelerated depreciation, and potential production tax credits.
The bottom line is that mountaintop industrial wind energy is two to three times more expensive than conventional sources. This becomes even more absurd when one considers the fact that Maine already has a surplus of energy – yes, we are a net exporter. In truth, the economic benefit to Maine thus far has been small – only a few hundred temporary construction jobs. The irony is that once these projects are completed, they create very few permanent jobs.
By any measure, mountaintop industrial wind is uneconomical. It will not only raise electric rates, it will also have the unintended consequences of undermining Maine’s most reliable and profitable industry: Tourism and recreation. It is our “quality of place” which brings 34 million visitors each year and generates $10 billion in sales each year. If we destroy the “golden egg,” our competitive advantage will disappear and folks will no longer want to come to Vacationland where every mountain has monstrous 400-foot towers with flashing lights. Might as well stay home in New Jersey!
Another unintended consequence of mountaintop industrial wind is its impact on property values. Recent nationwide studies have documented that property values plummet 20 to 40 percent within a two-mile radius of industrial wind turbines.
I believe strongly that we need to move away from fossil fuels. We need to pursue renewables – residential/community wind and solar, geothermal, micro-hydro etc. Energy conservation and efficiency should be our top priority. Unfortunately, intermittent and non-storable mountaintop industrial wind is not the answer. It is not the benign “green” industry some would like to have you believe. The environmental damage to this place we love and call Maine will be catastrophic and must be stopped before Maine is transformed from a wild and bucolic paradise to an industrial wind wasteland.— Jonathan Carter is director of the Forest Ecology Network based in Lexington Township. The purpose of the Forest Ecology Network is to protect the native forest environment of Maine through public awareness, grassroots citizen activism, and education, promoting practices that respect the ecological and aesthetic integrity of the Maine woods.
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