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Wind turbine lobby: We need more facts and fewer slogans

Ipswich should be focusing on how to get the average kwh cost down to 10 cents or less, not wasting time on some politically correct marginal trifle that will do nothing to achieve electric rate relief.

For the past few weeks theChronicle has been a billboard for the wind turbine lobby led by Jason Wertz and Eric Krathwohl of ICARE (Ipswich Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy). If nothing else Jason and Eric have been indefatigable champions.

Jason puts up an altruistic but irrelevant defense of the Ipswich wind power proposal. His claim that wind power in Ipswich, displacing kilowatts sources from fossil fuel power plants, would reduce harmful air emissions in Ipswich has about as much practical appeal as a 1950s mom admonishing her children at dinner time, "eat your vegetables - think of all those starving kids in Africa."

Since Ipswich sources virtually all of its power from power plants in the Northeast Grid, perhaps he could tell us which specific power plant will reduce its coal consumption by the 415 tons annually he references due to the Ipswich wind turbine. Better yet, which power plant has agreed to buy shares in Ipswich wind turbine for the privilege? This is over $3.0 million of real money, not some symbolic citizen petition or slogan for a political rally.

On the other hand at first blush Eric seems more pragmatic. Yet his advocacy relies largely on a value... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
For the past few weeks theChronicle has been a billboard for the wind turbine lobby led by Jason Wertz and Eric Krathwohl of ICARE (Ipswich Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy). If nothing else Jason and Eric have been indefatigable champions.

Jason puts up an altruistic but irrelevant defense of the Ipswich wind power proposal. His claim that wind power in Ipswich, displacing kilowatts sources from fossil fuel power plants, would reduce harmful air emissions in Ipswich has about as much practical appeal as a 1950s mom admonishing her children at dinner time, "eat your vegetables - think of all those starving kids in Africa."

Since Ipswich sources virtually all of its power from power plants in the Northeast Grid, perhaps he could tell us which specific power plant will reduce its coal consumption by the 415 tons annually he references due to the Ipswich wind turbine. Better yet, which power plant has agreed to buy shares in Ipswich wind turbine for the privilege? This is over $3.0 million of real money, not some symbolic citizen petition or slogan for a political rally.

On the other hand at first blush Eric seems more pragmatic. Yet his advocacy relies largely on a value judgment whether the Meridian Associates analysis was "conservative," presumably instead of "optimistic."

So, rather than debate qualitative abstractions, let's focus on a few facts and isolate what we know and what we don't know. We know that the turbine project will require the town to carry new debt upwards of $3.5 million. We do not know how that debt will be repaid, except of course as a last resort from town of Ipswich tax revenues. While apparently there are many possible sources other than using general tax revenues to retire the $3.5 million bond, all of those possibilities are unavailable, improbable, unreliable or overstated, despite the assurances from the wind turbine lobby.

For example, Eric mentions that the presumed kwh cost of power from the wind turbine would be lower than the kwh prices in supply contracts that Ipswich has recently acquired, providing an opportunity cost reduction. But if those supply contracts are of the "take-or-pay" variety, Ipswich is locked into a commitment for a set number of kwhs at a fixed price. So, how could Ipswich cash in on the opportunity cost reduction? Could Ipswich re-sell those kwhs to some other utility? Sure, if the spot price were to be higher than the Ipswich contract price - but it would have to be for exactly the number of kwhs produced by the wind turbine that Ipswich doesn't need. Otherwise, if Ipswich needed more power, it wouldn't sell high-priced contracts in exchange for even higher-priced spot power. If the town needed less power, prices would probably be falling and the wind turbine wouldn't be running. So Ipswich would be stuck with those obligations in any event, wind turbine or no.

For whatever future power demand that remains to be bought on the spot market, who can forecast with any certainty what those prices will be? The Meridian Report predicts wind turbine produced power may cost as much as $.15 per kwh. Who is prepared to guarantee that over the next 20 years, spot prices will be above $.15 per kwh? That would suggest sustained surging demand unrelieved by new construction or conservation for 20 years, which is just not a believable outlook.

By the way, anyone care to recall the unhappy sagas over Seabrook power contracts or the Northeast Solid Waste Consortium? More importantly, has anybody seen wind turbines in Rowley or Middleton where residential rates are less than 10 cents kwh while Ipswich is 14 cents? Ipswich should be focusing on how to get the average kwh cost down to 10 cents or less, not wasting time on some politically correct marginal trifle that will do nothing to achieve electric rate relief.

Finally, Eric further asserts a "97 percent certainty" on the adequacy of Ipswich's prevailing winds. The probability distribution discussed in the Meridian report is nowhere near a 97 percent factor. Or are we now to believe there is a new study with more credibility to overturn the 30-plus pages of analysis in the Meridian Associates report that concludes Ipswich's prevailing wind at 5.6 to 5.8 m/sec is far lower than the ideal 7 m/sec?

Over the past 25 years, energy conservation has been the cheapest and most abundant means to meet demand growth instead of investing in new generating capacity. Conservation through energy-saving electric appliance and building materials standards has produced documented financial paybacks, without taxpayer subsidies, and has actually supported new manufacturing and service sector jobs.
And as a cost reduction strategy, conservation has no competition - who can argue with zero? But apparently someone is arguing with zero, otherwise this wind turbine adventure would never have gotten beyond Page 1. Meanwhile energy conservation is nowhere to be found.

Are you ready to bet $3.5 million on a noble aspiration or cost reduction speculation? How can Ipswich taxpayers make an informed judgment amidst all this noise? Here are four basic questions regarding the wind turbine project that need to be answered:

    1) What specific sources of cash other than general tax revenues will be available to satisfy the $3.5 million bond?

    2) How will those specific sources of cash be both secured and segregated from other operating costs or debt service requirements of the town?

    3) What guarantees will be provided to ensure the wind turbine is the lowest cost alternative to acquire electric power for the next 20 years and, if not

    4) will Ipswich taxpayers see higher taxes to pay off the wind turbine bond or will Ipswich Electric Light ratepayers see rate increases to pay for a stranded investment?

When we get clear, relevant and politically unvarnished answers to these four questions it will be perfectly obvious why the wind turbine proposal deserves to be tabled indefinitely. Or sent to the Good Government Study Committee for a proper burial.

Geoffrey P. Hunt of Ipswich, a self-described paleo-conservative, is one of the Last of the Mohicans in Massachusetts. He is a lifelong student of political and moral philosophy and business ethics.
   


Source: http://www2.townonline.com/...

MAR 30 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1941-wind-turbine-lobby-we-need-more-facts-and-fewer-slogans
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