Whistling Ridge, Part II

Someone close to me pointed out that my previous blog about Whistling Ridge is unsatisfying; in fact, it misses the point. Fair enough.  I have occasionally been known to stray from the point.  So, what was the point?

There were a few points, and it might take a few chapters to get to all of them, but I’ll start with this:  wind energy is a sweet darling for politicians, an easy-on-the-ears talking point; but in the scheme of things it isn’t very important, probably won’t be for a long time, if ever, and should be approached with as much caution as any kind of energy project.

The blog opened with this:  there are now miles of huge, noisy turbines, doing their relatively small bit to feed our hunger for energy. This is a big deal.  How “small a bit” is wind energy?

We built a lot of turbines in the last decade.   http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_installed_capacity.asp (nice graphics).

Despite all these wind farms, wind energy usage in the US is small.  From the December, 2010 issue of “Atlantic” Magazine, in an article by James Fallows:

Overall, coal-burning power plants provide nearly half (about 46 percent this year) of the electricity consumed in the United States. For the record: natural gas supplies another 23 percent, nuclear power about 20 percent, hydroelectric power about 7 percent, and everything else the remaining 4 or 5 percent.

Even if we double or triple “everything else”, we will be a long way from equalling the amount of power we use from coal, let alone surpassing it.  Wind is not insignificant, because everything counts, but we are almost 50% coal-dependent, and that is not changing anytime soon.  And, no matter what President Obama says, there is no clean coal.  But that is for another blog. See Fallow’s article for what China is doing to make coal cleaner (a lot), compared to the United States (not very much): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/12/dirty-coal-clean-future/8307/2/

Wind energy can’t compete with oil, gas, hydroelectric or nuclear power because:  (1) not every place is windy enough; (2) Even windy places are often not consistently windy; (2) our technology isn’t efficient enough.  Note:  this is not a criticism of or a call to stop research and development on wind turbines. Everything. Counts.  (2)(a)  because the technology isn’t efficient enough, it costs too much to be carried by the hallowed free market (sorry about the sarcasm), and will have to be subsidized by the government for the near term at least; (3) The turbines are a blight on the landscape and a danger to bird life.

So, should I spend time and money to fight the Whistling Ridge Energy Project? SNEF.  Still not enough information, but if we’re keeping score:  1 point for Fight the Project.

One comment

  • Okay, so I’m late reading both of these installments, but here’s my crack at it. 1. Your stance is unclear: you make some great points about various things, but without a firmer decision about it all, you can’t take action and make a difference. I am opting to pounce on your statement in Part One that “we should fight to site them appropriately.” That and your statement in Part Two that “wind energy usage in the U.S. is small.” In other words, if I may take the liberty of paraphrasing you, wind farms’ negligible addition to the grid is not worth the damage they do.

    I also want to stress that they do a lot of damage. Not in the way a strip mine does, or a nuclear plant, or, potentially, an offshore oil well. But wind farms have a HUGE footprint, and once the land is deforested and otherwise razed for them, it is gone. Mountaintops are being removed not just for coal mines; they’re being leveled for wind turbines as well. They were the darling of the green energy movement for awhile (still are), which scares me because they aren’t all that green (to wildlife) and they are a visual blight — all this for a little bit of electricity.


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