Craig Rucker is executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. In this brilliant and succinct piece of analysis, Craig lays out precisely why these things do not work, on any level: economic, social or environmental.
Wind Power: Our Least Sustainable Resource?
25 October 2016
A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like the 315 Fowler Ridge units, involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and tower, plus nearly 1,100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation. Grand total for the entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe, 752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons. Offshore installations of the kind proposed for Lake Erie would likely require twice the materials needed for their onshore counterparts.
The alter ego of climate change in these renewable energy debates is sustainability: the argument that wind and other “renewable” energies are sustainable, whereas oil, gas and coal are not.
This assertion may have had some merit a few years ago, when it could plausibly be claimed that the world was running out of fossil fuels. However, it is now clear that several centuries of economically recoverable coal remain to be tapped – and the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process ensures that at least one or two centuries of oil and natural gas could be recovered from shale deposits around the world. “Imminent resource depletion” is no longer a plausible or valid argument.
Indeed, fracking provides abundant natural gas that can fuel power plants, lower carbon dioxide emissions and keep electricity prices low. Heavy reliance on wind energy (offshore and onshore) would raise electricity prices, while doing nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, since backup generators running on standby but ramping up repeatedly all day long run inefficiently and emit more carbon dioxide.
However, there is another aspect to sustainability claims, and when common environmental guidelines, policies and regulations are applied, it is clear that wind energy is our least sustainable energy source.
Land. Wind turbine installations impact vast amounts of habitat and crop land, and offshore wind turbines impact vast stretches of lake or ocean – far more than traditional power plants.
Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant generates 3,750 megawatts of electricity from a 4,000-acre site. The 600-MW John Turk ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in Arkansas covers a small portion of 2,900 acres; gas-fired units like Calpine’s 560-MW Fox Energy Center in Wisconsin require several hundred acres. All generate reliable power 90-95% of the year.
By contrast, the 600-MW Fowler Ridge wind installation (355 turbines) spans 50,000 acres of farm country along Indiana’s I-65 corridor. The 782-MW Roscoe project in Texas (627 turbines) sprawls across 100,000 acres. Oregon’s Shepherds Flat project (338 gigantic 2.5 MW turbines) covers nearly 80,000 wildlife and scenic acres along the Columbia River Gorge, for a “rated capacity” of 845 MW.
The 625 to 1,600 turbines planned for Lake Erie will impact hundreds of thousands of acres, planting bird and bat killing machines across miles and miles of lake habitat – while future Canadian wind farms on the Ontario side of the lake will affect hundreds of thousands more acres, and millions more birds and bats.
Raw materials. Wind installations require enormous quantities of steel, copper, rare earth metals, fiberglass, concrete and other materials for the turbines, towers and bases.
A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like the 315 Fowler Ridge units, involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and tower, plus nearly 1100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation. Grand total for the entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe, 752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons. Offshore installations of the kind proposed for Lake Erie would likely require twice the materials needed for their onshore counterparts.
To all that must be added millions of tons of materials for thousands of miles of new transmission lines – and still more for mostly gas-fired generators to back up every megawatt of wind power and generate electricity the 17 to 20 hours of each average day that the wind does not blow.
Money. Taxpayers and consumers must provide perpetual subsidies to prop up wind projects, which cannot survive without steady infusions of cash via feed-in tariffs, tax breaks and direct payments.
Transmission lines cost $1.0 million to $2.5 million per mile. Direct federal wind energy subsidies to help cover this totaled $5 billion in FY 2010, according to Energy Department data; state support added billions more, and still more billions were added to consumers’ electric bills. The Other People’s Money well is running dry, and voters and consumers are getting fed up with cash-for-cronies wind schemes.
Energy. It is extremely energy-intensive to mine, quarry, drill, mill, refine, smelt and manufacture the metals, concrete, fiberglass, resins, turbines and heavy equipment to do all of the above. Transporting, installing and repairing turbines, towers, backups and transmission lines requires still more energy – real energy: abundant, reliable, affordable … not what comes from wind turbines.
Some analysts have said it requires more energy to manufacture, haul and install these Cuisinarts of the air and their transmission systems than they will generate in their lifetimes. However, no cradle-to-grave analysis has ever been conducted, for the energy inputs or pollution outputs.
Health. Environmentalists regularly make scary but wildly speculative claims about health dangers from hydraulic fracturing. However, they and wind energy companies and promoters ignore and dismiss a growing body of evidence that steady low frequency noise from wind turbines causes significant human health problems, interferes with whale and porpoise navigational and food-finding systems, and affects other wildlife species.
Sudden air pressure changes from rapidly moving turbine blades can cause bird and bat lungs to collapse. In addition, serious lung, heart, cancer and other problems have been documented from rare earth mining, smelting and manufacturing in China and Mongolia, under those countries’ far less rigorous health, workplace safety and environmental regulations.
To date, however, very few health or environmental assessments have been required or conducted prior to permit approval, even for major wind turbine installations, much less the grand “visions.”
Environment. Raptors, bats and other beautiful flying creatures continue to be sliced and diced by wind turbines. However, government regulators continue to turn a blind eye to the slaughter, and the actual toll is carefully hidden by wind operators, who treat the data as trade secrets and refuse to allow independent investigators to conduct proper studies of bird and bat mortality. Furthermore, wind turbines are increasingly being installed in sensitive wildlife habitat areas, like Lake Erie and onshore areas like Shepherds Flat, as they are often the best remaining areas for relatively abundant, consistent wind.
Jobs. The myth of “green renewable energy jobs” is hitting the brick wall of reality. While turbines installed and maintained in the USA and EU create some jobs, many of them short-term, the far more numerous mining and manufacturing jobs are in China, where they are hardly “green” or “healthy.” Moreover, as Spanish and Scottish analysts have documented, the expensive intermittent electricity generated by wind turbines kills 2.2 to 3.7 traditional jobs for every “eco-friendly” wind job created.
Electricity costs and reliability. Even huge subsidies cannot cure wind power’s biggest defects: its electricity costs far more than coal, gas or nuclear alternatives – and its intermittent nature wreaks havoc on power grids and consumers. The problem is worst on hot summer afternoons, when demand is highest and breezes are minimal. Unable to compete against cheap Chinese and Indian electricity and labor, energy-intensive industries increasingly face the prospect of sending operations and jobs overseas.
All of this is simply and completely unsustainable.