Benefits of wind power are unproven, hypothetical

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A recent report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation states that allergy sufferers may have to get used to early seasons such as the one experienced this year in the Northeast.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is quoted in the April 15 issue of the Portland Press Herald as saying that,” This is one of the many emerging public health concerns related to pollution and climate change.”

One of the most common alternative energy sources promoted by the U.S. government and the current Maine administration is wind power. In a paper that she wrote last February called “Wind Turbine Neuro-Acoustical Issues,” Mills, an ardent proponent of wind power who denies sleep-related disturbances due to wind turbine noise, wrote that wind turbines in Maine would decrease the incidence of many diseases including asthma, allergies, lung cancer and cardiac diseases.

The statement was based on the assumption that wind power in Maine would displace conventional electrical power plants’ fuel of coal, oil and gas, and that the sacrifice of the mountain ridges for the erection of thousands of turbines was a necessary trade-off for the health benefits that would accrue to Mainers from the decreased pollution.

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On the surface, that seems like a reasonable position. But for those of us who have dug deeper into the hypothesis, the facts paint a very different picture that shows there is no connection between the goal of 2,700 megawatts of installed wind turbine capacity in Maine and improved air quality for Mainers.

First of all, there are no after-the-fact studies showing a correlation between the increase in electric generation from wind turbines and the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and chronic disease. Those assumptions are purely hypothetical, untested and unmonitored by any government agency. There are no state or federal standards in place to verify the reality of those hypotheses. Mills’ statements about the climate benefits of wind power are not based on peer-reviewed studies, but are merely opinions without concrete substantiation.

Secondly, it is important to recognize that industrial wind turbines are gigantic machines weighing several hundred tons, not including the foundations, which are heavily reinforced with mats of steel bars. The Siemens turbines proposed by Angus King for his Record Hill Wind project in Roxbury weigh 304 tons. More than 6,600 tons of steel must be smelted and forged to build the 22 turbines proposed for that 50-megawatt wind project, which will actually produce about 12 megawatts at the 25 percent capacity factor achieved by land-based wind turbines in Maine.

To make that steel would require about 3,000 tons of “coking” coal and 9,000 tons of iron ore. More than 35 million tons of steel have been used to build the steel towers used for wind turbines in the period 2007-09. Steel production requires the use of coke, which is a byproduct of pulverized bituminous coal. Coke production is a major source of pollution in the production of steel. Air emissions such as coke-oven gases, naphthalene, ammonium compounds, crude light oil, sulfur and coke dust are released from coke ovens.

Steel production is a major user of coal, the very villain polluter that wind energy is supposed to suppress.

Are you beginning to get the picture? There are no demonstrated climate benefits in Maine, but substantial production of greenhouse gas emissions in the production of the turbines themselves.

Mills tells us that wind power will reduce the incidence of chronic diseases related to pollution because wind power displaces other pollution-producing power plants. That, in fact, has never been scientifically measured nor proven, and we know that no power plants have closed because of wind-produced electricity. To be more specific to Maine, wind power is generally more available at night, when grid demand is low. Because Maine already produces most of its electricity at night with renewable hydro and biomass, wind power will not replace fossil fuel generators, but rather will cause biomass plants and hydro-electric facilities to reduce output, providing no benefit but costing jobs in the forest industry.

Without taking into account the enormous amount of real pollution created by manufacturing turbines, and coupled with the absence of any proof that wind turbines in Maine will reduce fossil fuel use in electricity production, Mills’ claims seem misleading.

Mills has dismissed the complaints of people in Mars Hill, Freedom and Vinalhaven about the impacts on their lives from living too close to the turbines in these towns, and at the same time has advocated for the destruction of Maine’s treasured mountain landscapes for the benefit of an industry that relies heavily on government subsidies for its existence, while demonstrating none of the benefits attributed to it.

Rather than deluding us with unsubstantiated, non-peer reviewed and non-patient correlated epidemiological predictions about CO2 emissions and early allergies, Mills should sit down with the real people in this state who have been sleep-disturbed by the presence of those massive steel turbines.

Monique Aniel of Mexico is co-chairwoman of The Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power.

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