Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Great Wind Scam

Thanks to my friend, Genevieve Frere in Canada, who submitted this post.

The Great Wind Scam
By Jack Kelly

11 January, 2011

England is experiencing its coldest winter in a century. The cold has been all the more biting for some because many of the 3,150 wind turbines Britain increasingly depends upon to generate electricity haven't been working.

"With demand for power at record levels because of the freezing weather, there have been days when the contribution of our forests of wind turbines has been precisely nothing," wrote Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail Dec. 27.

"It gets better," Mr. Littlejohn continued. "As the temperature has plummeted, the turbines have had to be heated to prevent them from seizing up. Consequently, they have been consuming more electricity than they generate."

No nation has placed greater emphasis on wind and solar energy than Spain. On eight separate occasions early in his presidency, Barack Obama cited the "green" policies enacted by Spain's socialist government as the model for what he wants for America.

President Obama doesn't talk so much about Spain anymore. Could this because Spain has, at over 20 percent, the highest unemployment rate of any major country in Europe? (The average for the 27-member European Union is half that.) Because Spain has a debt so huge it is on the brink of default? Or because Spain has the highest electric utility rates in the EU?

When Gabriel Calzada, an economist at a private think tank in Spain, issued a report in 2009 which said each wind energy job the government created cost Spanish taxpayers $1.4 million in subsidies, and destroyed 2.2 jobs in the private sector, the Zapatero government went ballistic. But a government report leaked last May indicated the job loss has been even greater than Mr. Calzada feared. Spain is now cutting subsidies for wind and solar power.

The Calzada study also prompted panic in Obama appointees in the Department of Energy, who worked with wind energy lobbyists to craft responses to the study and to a column George Will wrote about it.

"What this shows is a shameless politicization of what should be a professional bureaucracy," said Investor's Business Daily in an editorial. "Instead of staying objective, they sought to scupper facts for ideologically motivated junk science."

I suppose it is natural for politicians to be attracted to wind power, since so many of them are blowhards. But if you think wind energy could replace a substantial amount of the fossil fuels we use, you must have slept through physics class in high school.

John Droz Jr. is an environmentalist who wants to find replacements for coal. But John Droz Jr. is also a physicist. All energy sources should be evaluated on their technical performance, the economics of the power produced, and their full environmental impact, he thinks.

"All independent evidence to date indicates that industrial wind power fails on all three of these critical counts," Mr. Droz says on his Web site,

Shivering Britons could give you an earful about technical performance. The wind doesn't blow all the time. Our Department of Energy assumes wind turbines will operate at about 30 percent of capacity, but actual experience in Europe and America has been much lower.

Further, the wind often doesn't blow when energy is needed most. Extreme wintertime cold comes from high pressure weather systems, which don't generate much wind.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the cheapest way to generate a kilowatt hour of electricity is to burn natural gas in a combined cycle unit. Clean coal is 43 percent more expensive; nuclear is 50 percent more expensive; wind is 88 percent more expensive.

The biggest problem with wind turbines is environmental. They're eyesores. They kill a lot of birds and bats. And they can make humans sick.

Dr. Nina Pierpont (an MD with a Ph.D in biology), in her book, "Wind Power Syndrome," documents that "low frequency noise and vibration generated by wind machines can have an effect on the inner ear, triggering headaches, difficulty with sleeping, tinnitus, learning and mood disorders, panic attacks, irritability."

Industrial wind turbines require enormous space. The electricity needs of a city of 300,000 can be met by a 500-megawatt coal plant, which would cover about 300 acres. Science writer Kurt Cobb estimated the wind turbines needed to generate 500 megawatts of electricity would cover 55 square miles (35,200 acres).

The only thing "green" about wind power, Dr. Droz says, "is the substantial profit being made by the developers and their paid supporters" as a result of government subsidies and mandates.

How high do you think the odds are that the 112th Congress is going to put an end to the Great Wind Scam soon?

Note: TTPer Skye on the Forum has posted a comment to this column that makes such a great addition you've got to see it. Thanks, Skye. Here it is:

Wind power has another inherent problem: big turbines increase water loss from the soil by about 30% downwind. Note that the wind belt in the US is a huge agricultural producer, and that in many years, rainfall is the limiting factor in crop production. A drought that could be tolerated without wind turbines could become a total loss for farmers downwind of the turbines.

Why does this happen? Simple - and unavoidable - physics. Because of friction, winds near the ground have less velocity than those a couple of hundred feet higher. That is why wind turbines are put on tall towers. The wind turbines necessarily mix higher altitude higher velocity air with lower altitude lower velocity air, thereby raising ground level air velocity.

Yes, energy is extracted from the wind, lowering its velocity at higher altitudes, but nevertheless, ground velocities are increased when towers of practical heights are used and the blade radius is a large percentage of the tower height. The increased ground level wind velocity causes increased evaporation from the soil and increased evapotranspiration from vegetation. The increased water loss is about 30%.

Lets suppose that you are growing wheat, and normally have 30" per year of rain. Let's suppose that you have a drought year that reduces the rain to 24" - big problem, but you can still bring in a reduced crop. Now suppose that your wheat farm is near to and downwind from a wind "farm". The increased water loss means that you now have, in effect, 17" of rain - wipeout.

In areas where irrigation is used, this means increased pumping and draw down of the aquifer. Oh-oh.

The environmental costs of wind power exceed the obvious noise and dead birds; in the American Midwest and West, increased water loss will be a big problem, particularly in years with below average rainfall.

Note, too, that the extensive subsidies (and State renewable portfolio mandates) will increase the use of this energy source and hence increase its environmental harm. The US has huge supplies of natural gas, and combined cycle (gas turbines with the hot exhaust heating a boiler that powers a steam turbine) power generation is most economic and environmentally sound.

Unfortunately, these subsidies have created a market for political influence peddling, just as has happened with the corn fuel ethanol mandates and subsidies. If the Republican house cannot defund the corn ethanol subsidies and enforcement of the Federalie mandates, there is little hope that they will be able to do the same for wind power.

In the case of corn fuel ethanol, the environmentalists - even including Al Gore - are unanimous in their opposition. Corn fuel ethanol will be a test case as to whether the House Republicans have the political will to eliminate a truly terrible program.

IMPORTANT: A great many investors - including farmers - have put huge amounts of their savings into corn-to-ethanol plants that would become worthless if the corn fuel ethanol subsidies and mandates are killed.

Under current tax law, capital losses can be written off against regular income to the extent of only $5,000 per year. A simple tax law change would make the end of corn fuel ethanol more palatable to these investors: allow the capital losses to be written off against regular income without limits, and allow these tax losses to be sold to the highest bidders.

A farmer in the 25% tax bracket could sell his capital investment loss in a corn-to-ethanol plant to someone in the 35% tax bracket, thereby mitigating that loss. Yes, this would cause a reduction in income tax receipts - but the law that limits the capital loses that can be deducted against regular income is terrible and should be repealed anyway. The Federalies are taxing capital gains without limit, but limiting the capital loss write off against regular income to only $5,000 per year. -- Skye

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette .

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