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Why energy conservation trumps windmills

If you really want to cut energy consumption, reduce pollution, improve public health and protect our environment, it’s time to contact your elected officials, educate them about the lessons of Denmark, Germany and elsewhere, and tell them you want tougher energy efficiency measures instead of wind power plants.
Otherwise, in the next few years, you’ll be looking at wind turbines in some of your favorite places, with the knowledge that they’re doing little more than funneling your tax dollars to a few lucky corporations and landowners, and away from better solutions.

Proposals for wind power plants are springing up in western Massachusetts, southern Vermont and upstate New York.  [1] In a few years, we could see some of our most prominent ridgelines and hilltop farms industrialized with wind turbines.

If we cover our mountains and farms with wind turbines, what will we accomplish?

Let’s look at examples of other places that have been converting their countrysides into industrial zones.

Denmark. Denmark is somewhat smaller than the combined land area of Massachusetts and Vermont. [2] In the late 1970s, it began a massive subsidy program to encourage wind power development.[ 3]

By the end of 2003, Denmark had about 4,300 onshore wind turbines (plus about 200 offshore). [4] Wind turbines accounted for more than 24 percent of its installed electrical generating capacity, yet they produced less than 13 percent of the country’s total annual electricity output. [5]

Since Denmark’s wind power is often generated when it can’t be used, most is dumped to neighboring countries,[6] sometimes below cost or even free.[7] This means all those turbines accounted for just over 3 percent of actual electricity consumption in Denmark. [8]

Denmark’s main fuels for electricity production are coal, oil and natural gas,[9] and its levels of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, [10] have been rising over the past 15 years.[11] Of all the major European Union countries, it is expected to be the farthest from compliance with its Kyoto Protocol standards for greenhouse gases.[12]

In 2004, Denmark’s average electricity cost for residential customers was the third highest in Europe. [13] That year, the national government cut subsidies to the wind industry, and just five turbines were built. [14]

Germany. Germany is about twice the size of New England.[15] Since 2000, its installed wind power capacity, supported by heavy subsidies,[16] has more than doubled.[17] As of the end of 2003, it had 15,387 wind turbines [18] that were able to cover just under 4 percent of the country’s demand for electricity.[19]

As Germany has discovered, because of the unreliability of wind power, so-called “shadow power stations” must be maintained at a total level of more than 80 percent of the installed wind power capacity. [20] Germany remains highly dependent upon energy imports, especially oil and natural gas. This dependency is expected to increase in the future.[21]

Despite all of those wind turbines, the European Environment Agency has warned that Germany may exceed its greenhouse gases limit set under the Kyoto Protocol. [22]

As reported by Bloomberg News, Germany also has volatile electricity prices because of its high number of turbines. [23] The German government just commissioned a report which suggests that if Germany goes forward with its plan to double the number of wind turbines, annual energy costs for consumers will more than triple.[24]

The report also undermines arguments that wind power is a good way to reduce air pollution, because it details how the same clean-air benefit could be achieved at lower cost by installing modern filters at existing fossil-fuel power plants.[25]

United Kingdom. The U.K. has 1,186 turbines at 94 locations,[26] spread over some of its most spectacular landscapes. Collectively, these turbines produce about as much electricity as one moderately sized natural gas plant.[27] Scotland, at less than half the size of New England, [28] has 332 turbines,[29] and 6,472 more have been proposed or are in the pipeline. [30]

California. California generates nearly one and a half times as much electricity as the New England states combined.[31] It has more than 13,000 wind turbines, [32] which, in 2003, produced less than 1.3 percent of the state’s electricity usage.[33]

California continues to have high levels of air pollution, in large part because of car and truck emissions. [34] Scientists project that, in five years, a third of the smog-forming ozone over California will come from Asia. [35]

Vermont. The Searsburg wind power plant in Vermont is the only industrial-scale facility in New England.[36] Its 11 turbines are about 10 miles north [37] of the Hoosac wind project proposed by Enxco in the Massachusetts towns of Florida and Monroe. Built in 1997, [38] its highest output was in 1999, and production has been dropping ever since.[39] By the end of 2003, it was operating at about one-fifth of capacity [40] and generating 30 percent less electricity than promised. [41]

Whether you look abroad, nationally or regionally, the lesson should be clear: Blanketing our countryside with wind turbines will not solve any problem. We should focus, instead, on the underlying issue: the need to curtail escalating energy consumption.

The New England electricity grid operator forecasts that energy demand in the region will increase nearly 10 percent over the next eight years.[42]

New York’s population will grow less than 4 percent during that period, [43] but its electricity use is expected to increase more than 10 percent. [44] Under the state’s recently adopted renewable-portfolio standard (a legal requirement that utilities in New York buy a certain percentage of their power from “renewable” generating sources), the impacts will be huge: An estimated 1,850 1.5-megawatt turbines will have to be built in rural New York by the end of 2013. [45]

That averages to about 230 new 34-story wind turbines a year on New York’s mountains and farms. But roughly half of the projected increase in the state’s electricity demand will still have to be met by conventional sources like nuclear, oil and natural gas. [46]

What is the cheapest, cleanest, fastest alternative? Energy conservation and efficiency. [47]

Since its 2001 energy crisis, California has paid people and businesses to reduce energy use, and consumption has fallen 10 percent.[48]

According to a new study, New England could save billions of dollars in energy costs, avoid the need to build 28 300-megawatt power plants and reduce the emissions of millions of tons of greenhouse gases if it pursued more energy efficiency measures.[49]

For a state with the population size of Massachusetts, simply improving the efficiency of appliances and equipment could save enough electricity to supply 200,000 homes for a year and reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of removing 50,000 cars from the road. [50]

Investments in energy-efficient equipment are less risky, cause fewer environmental problems, and create far more jobs than power plant construction. [51] In fact, experts suggest the savings from energy conservation and efficiency should be seen as a new source of energy, one that costs less than any alternative supply. [52]

Northeastern states have programs that encourage energy conservation and efficiency. But as one politician has noted, we’ve only scratched the surface. [53] Before we start destroying our last wilderness areas with wind turbines, let’s do the following:

    * Redirect public funds from building wind power plants to financing more energy efficiency measures.
    * Establish stringent, mandatory efficiency standards.
    * Offer rebates and other incentives to individuals, communities, and companies that measurably reduce electricity use.
    * Count reductions in electricity usage toward our renewable-portfolio-standard targets.

If you really want to cut energy consumption, reduce pollution, improve public health and protect our environment, it’s time to contact your elected officials, educate them about the lessons of Denmark, Germany and elsewhere, and tell them you want tougher energy efficiency measures instead of wind power plants.

Otherwise, in the next few years, you’ll be looking at wind turbines in some of your favorite places, with the knowledge that they’re doing little more than funneling your tax dollars to a few lucky corporations and landowners, and away from better solutions.

 

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Why Energy Conservation

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FEB 1 2005
http://www.windaction.org/posts/3588-why-energy-conservation-trumps-windmills
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