"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.” — Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
In a recent op-ed, Jonathan Carter charged wind advocates of “distortions and misrepresentations” in making the case for wind power, but then went on to make a series of assertions that defy logic and have no basis in fact (July 25). Let’s separate fact from fiction:
He says that almost 30 acres of forest would have to be cleared for every turbine installed. In fact, the real figure — based upon actual experience in Maine — is closer to 3 acres, including roads and the area immediately around the turbine.
Claims are made that we will lose the carbon-reducing potential of the forest, cut to make way for the turbines, thereby offsetting the carbon gains from wind power. But here again, the fact is a typical wind project will provide 200 times the clean air benefit of not doing the project. A single 120-megawatt project, for example, will offset about 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year versus 450 tons held by the trees on the site if the project doesn’t happen.
Probably the most egregious misstatement wind opponents make is that there really aren’t any pollution savings from wind power — that the reserves necessary for when the wind stops cancel out any gains in carbon savings.
One Maine editorial put this claim in a nutshell: “nonsensical.” When the wind is blowing, the energy directly reduces power produced somewhere else and, in Maine and New England, that’s almost always fossil fuels (usually natural gas). The argument Carter makes has become an article of faith for wind power opponents, but it’s flat-out untrue. Study after study — and real life experience both here and in Europe — has proven that the amount of online reserve necessary to make up for the fact the wind doesn’t blow 100 percent of the time is very small (about 2 percent) and getting smaller all the time, as grid operators learn to manage wind as a part of their energy mix.
Additionally, “... wind power now produces about 3 percent of Texas’ electricity, enough to avoid about eight million metric tons of global warming pollution per year.”
The same website quoted above also asks what sustainable energy sources would be most capable of producing a significant percentage of our electrical energy. The answer? “Wind power and solar power are both quite viable sources of energy. At present, wind power probably has the edge.”
Ironically, both of these quotes are from Carter’s own Forest Ecology Network website. It looks like he was for wind before he was against it, as the man once said. Now he says, well, he’s against mountaintop wind. But that’s where the strong, reliable wind is; this is like being for hydropower, just not in rivers.
Carter says that because China has invested heavily in wind power and is still building coal plants hand over fist, it proves that wind power doesn’t offset fossil fuels.
This one gets a zero on the believability scale. The demand for electricity in China is growing so fast that the Chinese are building everything they can to meet their needs — including coal, nuclear, gas, solar, hydropower and wind facilities. To imply (as Carter clearly does) that China is forced to build the coal plants because of the wind projects is just ludicrous.
Carter claims that property value declines of “20 to 40 percent” have been “documented” near wind projects. We are unaware of any such case and, in fact, the best actual documentation on this question is a recent national study conducted by the Department of Energy, which looked at more than 7,000 home sales near wind projects and found no significant property value effects.
Putting aside Carter’s claims, why should we develop wind power in Maine?
Simply because 87 percent of the total energy we use (about 55 percent of the electricity) comes from oil and natural gas — of which zero comes from Maine. Zero. As we move toward electric heat and cars, the demand for electricity will grow, even after a solid dose of conservation. So we must ask ourselves: Where will the new power come from? Of the options available — more natural gas, more oil, a new nuke or a coal plant — wind is an essential part of the answer to help meet the needs of our environment, economy and energy security; it’s clean, renewable, plentiful and, most importantly, made in Maine.
Rather than heeding Sen. Moynihan’s wise words, Carter seems to follow his own creed: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Jeremy Payne is executive director of Maine Renewable Energy Association in Augusta.