In recent months, as I have studied the economic and ecological impacts of mountaintop industrial wind, I have been amazed at the distortions and misrepresentations of the wind developers which, unfortunately, have been accepted without question by many in the media.
As an environmentalist, I have for decades supported a move away from our addiction to oil to more eco-friendly, renewable energy, including wind. However, when I hear the developers spin the tragic Gulf oil spill to justify their desire to use our tax dollars to destroy Maine mountaintops, with as many as 1,800 400-foot turbines spread over 360 miles, I am appalled by how this “justification” is so disingenuous.
The truth is that only about 1 percent of the state’s electricity is generated by oil. In Maine, almost all of the oil consumption is used for heat and transportation. Generating 2,700 megawatts of mountaintop wind will not reduce oil consumption or prevent ecological disasters such as the spill in the Gulf.
Another favorite tactic of the developers is to promote mountaintop industrial wind as a panacea for climate change. While it may seem counter-intuitive, this also is a false promise.
There has never been a coal- or oil-fired power plant closed down due to wind generation.
Since wind is intermittent and not reliable, it is necessary to maintain back-up power or what is called “spinning reserve” to replace the wind power when the wind is not blowing. This has resulted in the need to build additional carbon-emitting power plants.
In China this has meant a new coal-fired plant coming online each week. When the wind is blowing, it is necessary to reduce power from conventional sources. It is simply not possible to just turn on and off the oil and coal power plants in response to constantly changing winds. They can be ramped down, but their efficiency is compromised and the amount of carbon emitted actually increases.
In the case of mountaintop industrial wind, it is necessary to add to the carbon calculation the loss of carbon-sequestering forests due to massive clear-cutting on ridgelines and the construction of roads and power lines.
If the 1,800 turbines were constructed, as much as 50,000 acres of carbon-sequestering forest would have to be clear-cut. In addition, the turbines require electricity to run, which does not come from the turbines and must be generated on site by diesel generators or brought in on separate power lines.
One study done in Colorado actually determined that wind power increased carbon emissions by 10 percent.
Finally, it is particularly disturbing to hear developers tout the economic benefits of mountaintop industrial wind. There is simply no way, in a cost-benefit analysis of mountaintop industrial wind, that it comes out as a good economic option.
The cost of wind generation is two to three times more expensive than conventional power. Our tax dollars in the form of huge subsidies are the only reason mountaintop wind, with its incredibly low efficiency, is being pursued.
It is ironic that public tax dollars are paying for mountaintop wind which will ultimately raise electric rates.
Developers like to tout the benefits of jobs and local and state tax revenues. Yes, it is true that during the mountaintop leveling and construction phase, several hundred temporary jobs are created, but after construction is complete, about one permanent job for each turbine is created. So 360 miles of destroyed mountaintop would ultimately generate about 150 jobs.
While local property taxes may decline, this has not been documented in any place in Maine where wind has been installed. What has been documented is that home values drop from 20 to 40 percent within a 2-mile radius of a wind turbine. People do not want to live near industrial wind plants with their noise and visual pollution.
State and county government may collect some tax dollars, but that will be more than offset by reduced tourism and declining recreational dollars. That is why North Carolina put a moratorium on mountaintop industrial wind. They realized that mountaintop industrial wind would destroy the economic engine fueled by their pristine mountains.
In the end, the only people who will benefit are the developers who will walk away with millions of our tax dollars. Mountaintop wind can be called nothing less than an economic scam, concocted by a few mountain-slayers and profiteers.
It would be far better to target the investment of the $5 billion in tax dollars earmarked for mountaintop wind toward conservation through efficiency and weatherization. That approach would actually decrease our oil consumption, reduce greenhouse gases and create thousands of permanent jobs and business opportunities — things that mountaintop wind simply does not come even close to accomplishing.
Jonathan Carter is the director of the Forest Ecology Network. He lives in Lexington Township.