Library filed under Energy Policy from Virginia
Webb's take: while wind energy may be a partial solution to what he sees as an energy crisis, the electricity produced by turbines built atop pristine Appalachian ridges won't make enough of a meaningful contribution to offset their environmental harm.
The evidence is clear. At this juncture in the debate on whether to build industrial wind utilities in the Allegheny Mountains, there is one point on which nearly all experts agree: No one knows enough about the effects these 400-foot towers could have on our unique and sensitive environment and we should do everything possible to find out more before any more are erected.
Webb, a senior research scientist at the University of Virginia's department of environmental sciences, spent 20 months serving on the committee studying the environmental effects of industrial-scale wind energy in the United States and Mid-Atlantic Highlands - a study mandated by the U.S. Congress after a request from Sen. Mollihan in West Virginia. The committee's recently released report has been submitted to Congress, and Webb says it concludes, as he has said for so long, that decisions about wind projects need to be tied to a systematic review process with specific requirements for information. "The NRC report calls for clear criteria or guidelines for making decisions," Webb said. "We don't have that at this point."
From New York to Virginia, residents face the prospect of new high-voltage line construction after an announcement last week by the Department of Energy. Now, East Coast lawmakers are banding together in a bid to short-circuit the federal decision making it easier for power companies to build major power lines like the New York Regional Interconnect.
A new federal proposal to help electricity flow more freely could help the energy-choked East Coast. But it could also infuriate landowners, who have traditionally gotten their way in fights against utilities in Delaware. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman last week named Delaware as part of his proposed eastern National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. It would run from New York to Virginia, and west to Ohio. A second corridor would run through California, Arizona and Nevada.
States with renewable portfolio standards have generated growth in the renewable energy sector, but many of the Appalachian states don't have one. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York all have some fairly progressive goals, but West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee don't have a state RPS and wind projects often ignite battles.
Some call it a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels, but others point to significant environmental costs. In Kansas, where winds blow strong, the push for clean energy includes not only new wind turbines but also new nuclear-power plants as part of a "carbon-free" solution to climate change. It's an idea that may be catching on. At least 11 new nuclear plants are in the design stage in nine states, including Virginia, Texas, and Florida, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute website. But that carbon-free pitch has researchers asking anew: How carbon-free is nuclear power? And how cost-effective is it in the fight to slow global warming? "Saying nuclear is carbon-free is not true," says Uwe Fritsche, a researcher at the Öko Institut in Darmstadt, Germany, who has conducted a life-cycle analysis of the plants. "It's less carbon-intensive than fossil fuel. But if you are honest, scientifically speaking, the truth is: There is no carbon-free energy. There's no free lunch."
Will we increasingly rely upon new energy efficiency measures, conservation and renewable energy sources? Yes. All of those important objectives are addressed in the legislation. But will those efforts by themselves suffice? No. That is why financial incentives have been included in the new legislation to ensure the availability of capital dollars crucial to building the state's 21st-century infrastructure, including major environmental programs that will benefit Virginia residents. Never has Virginia's potential economic growth been greater. But growth, in itself, poses its own set of challenges. Thanks to last week's overwhelming votes by the General Assembly, Virginia will soon have a framework in place to fulfill its potential. Dominion will be able to attract investors and acquire the capital it needs to construct major energy projects. In short, we will keep the lights burning today, tomorrow and long into the future.
If there could ever be a bill custom-tailored to boost Highland New Wind Development’s plans for a wind energy utility in Highland County, this one is it. Sen. Frank Wagner introduced legislation in this session of the General Assembly that not only flies in the face of proper land use procedures, but is designed specifically to help HNWD get its project up and running. His bill would change the law regarding utility plan reviews by local governing bodies. The way HNWD’s project has been handled here is precisely what residents and landowners are challenging in an appeals process now slated for a full hearing before Virginia’s Supreme Court. Wagner may argue his bill would help companies statewide who hope to develop renewable energy, but it’s a thinly veiled attempt to help this particular company industrialize Allegheny Mountain, and it needs to be resoundly defeated by the House this week.
The problem of carbon emissions and global warming is finally and rightly emerging as a major public concern. However, it remains to be seen whether public policy will move beyond wishful thinking and symbolic gesture to meaningful responses. Although the proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation may seem like a step in the right direction, closer examination reveals that what little it may achieve in terms of benefit will be obtained at a disproportionately high cost. Simply stated, the proposed RPS legislation will not seriously reduce demand for electricity generation by traditional sources, and it will drive industrial-scale wind energy development in some of our most highly valued, scenic, and ecologically sensitive areas — including our mountain ridges and the Chesapeake Bay.
Lately, communities have touted their use of “green power”, supposedly cleaner electric power generation by windmills, rather than by coal-fired power plants. And, of course, at significantly greater cost. (See: Press reports on Fairfax County, and Arlington). Indeed, Fairfax County officials hope to increase their wind power use, having already invested in 5.8 MKw over the past two years. The Board of Supervisors thinks it will make the air cleaner. Sadly, they are wrong. As professors Liik, Oidram and Keel demonstrated over three years ago, wind power tends to increase pollution because of the need to rely on coal-fired power plants to handle the variation in generation that occurs when the winds themselves vary. Because the wind power is so variable, there always has to be a back up base plant to even out the electricty on the electrical grid. That base plant is coal fired and the more it has to accelerate and decelerate its operations, the dirtier it runs. This is a lot like our cars. They get a lot more milage and much less pollution on the highway than in start-and-stop city driving.
Rick Webb's presentation on October 17 at the Energy Virginia conference provides a thought provoking analysis of the costs and benefits of industrial wind energy.
Q. Please state your name and position. A. My name is Charles Simmons and I have been retained to provide assistance to Highland Citizens in regard to the application of Highland New Wind Development, LLC to construct a wind generation facility in Highland County. Editor's Note:This testimony provides an excellent description of how a grid works- particularly the role of 'economic dispatch' and 'spinning reserves'. It also addresses the methodology for estimating emissions savings and numerous other topics of interest.
HIGHTOWN - The first utility-grade wind farm proposed in Virginia is hailed by its supporters as clean energy that can help stem global warming and rising fuel prices. But mountaintop residents near the Highland County site worry about what the blades of 18 towers taller than the Statue of Liberty would do to their environment. That would include rare or endangered birds, bats and a few other species, as well as a wild trout stream. Eleven state agencies have reviewed the Highland New Wind Development proposal and come up with a lengthy list of suggested studies, including an analysis of the cumulative impact of wind farms on the four-state Allegheny Mountain region.
Localities escaped a close call when the House reaffirmed that nuclear, wind and LNG facilities would have to meet local zoning and land-use restrictions. But they should be wary of the coercive spirit shown by the Senate, and all Virginians should be wary of the flawed energy policy crafted in their name. The issues involved deserve more thoughtful, balanced consideration. In the interim the best thing that could happen to this bill would be a veto from the governor.
A House of Delegates committee restored local authority over the location of energy-related facilities when it amended a Senate bill creating a state energy plan yesterday.
It would be foolish to enact any legislation promoting wind power prior to the completion of objective studies of where turbines could be located and what the actual benefits and environmental tradeoffs might be.
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee yesterday approved 13-1 a bill to establish a comprehensive energy policy for Virginia.
In a recent fiasco the Highland County Board of Supervisors issued a permit for a wind energy project supported by only 20 percent of 97 speakers at the public hearing. Prior to the hearing more than 1,000 residents and landowners of this county with a population of only 2,500, signed a petition opposed. Editor’s note: The following letter was written to Del. Chris Saxman and shared with The Recorder.
Let’s hope our elected officials in Richmond and Washington don’t fall for the same untested arguments our supervisors did. Sen. Allen’s response to Mr. Flora’s thoughts is reassuring in this regard. Legislators willing to examine the issue fully are finally starting to smell something rotten about how this [wind] industry operates.