Are wind turbines really good for economy, environment?
In a column Saturday, Gordon Gray of sPower replied to some questions. I feel that some of his answers leave out enough facts to cause misdirection in the minds of those who have not thoroughly researched wind projects. Here is my reply to Mr. Gray’s comments:
1. True, the Seneca Wind project will connect to the same grid that serves Seneca County.
2. The Seneca Wind project, just like every other wind project, will have an effect on electricity prices, that being to raise them. When an activity is promoted by favorable tax policies, and then further laws are passed “requiring” the product be purchased, then the net effect is to cause the price to rise. Electric utilities are required to buy power from renewable sources and so they do, at any price necessary. Because they operate on a more or less fixed margin, it does not matter to the utilities how much they have to pay for the power as they are allowed to mark up the retail price to get their guaranteed profit. The country with the highest percentage of “renewable” electricity is Denmark. The country with the highest retail price of electricity also is Denmark, about three times higher than here.
3. The PJM grid which serves Seneca County extends to the highly populated and high-electricity-usage East Coast. That is why the wind companies want to build here. Ohio is about as far west as you can go and still tap into that grid. The wind is much better farther west.
4. We do not need to build wind projects to reduce the environmental impacts of our energy usage. There are formulas to show that adding wind to the mix of electrical generators actually increase the amount of natural gas used, not reduce it. More gas burned equals more environmental impact. The wind industry likes to say that turbines burn zero fuel. But something has to back them up during the 70 percent of the time they are not running at their rated output. That would be natural gas generators of the kind that can power up and down almost instantly to make up for the variability of the output of wind turbines.
This kind of natural gas generator is only about 35-percent efficient. A gas generator designed to operate on a more constant basis is about 62-percent efficient (that is an 88-percent better efficiency). Therefore, even though a wind/gas system runs free part of the time, it runs at low efficiency most of the time and burns more gas in doing so. Compare it to driving your car in the mountains. Even though you are coasting downhill burning no fuel part of the time, the rest of the time you are getting very poor mileage. The end result is you burn more fuel than when driving on flat terrain, even though you have none of the coasting periods where you burn no fuel.
5. Mr. Gray goes to great extents declaring that sPower has only to comply with Ohio Power Siting Board sound regulations and not the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which are stricter. Just because the OPSB is behind in getting it rules in line with the WHO does not mean its requirements are “safe.” In fact, it means just the opposite. The WHO came out with its recommendations to help such agencies as the OPSB get their rules in proper order. Just because sPower satisfies the current OPSB requirements does not make it safe for nearby homes or at the Seneca East School location which is surrounded by turbines. In fact the WHO says those locations will have “sound levels associated will adverse health effects.”
Further, the wind projects proposed for Seneca County will cost the people of the county more than the value of the tax and land lease payments and maintenance jobs they bring in. Studies on the effects of wind turbines on bat populations (science.sciencemag.org/content/332/6025/41) show tremendous hits to agriculture as a result.
From a practical standpoint, if Seneca County’s 258,000 acres of cropland require just one more application of pesticide as a result of the lowered bat population, it would be a cost of over $3 million per year. It is hard to put a dollar amount on the effects of increased pesticide use, both to the environment and to our health, but it definitely comes with a cost. Add to those health costs the adverse health effects mentioned by the WHO for sound levels. And, there will be a decrease in value in homes located close to the turbines. Even the oft-quoted study the wind companies use acknowledges that, but dilutes the results by including the vast majority of homes in the study which are up to 10 miles from a turbine. The same lack of motivation to live close to turbines will also have the effect of reduced population growth in the eastern half of the county and therefore reduced home construction with its associated tax revenues.
With the income to the county from the two projects combined (including PILOT payments, land leases and maintenance jobs) being less than 45 cents per day per person in the county, it becomes clear that the dollars lost vs. dollars gained will be a net loss. Why would we want to pay out of pocket for the privilege of living next to 143 spinning by day and blinking by night machines 650 feet tall? If it really did help the environment, then we would be getting something for our money. But instead, we will be paying money, causing more CO2 by burning more gas, taking a hit to our quality of life, damaging our environment and health from increased pesticide use, and putting the safety of the children attending Seneca East School at risk. And the list goes on.
There is just no way this makes sense once all the details are brought into the open. Fully comprehending all the effects of a wind project takes a lot of time and effort. Decisions are being made without full understanding. Those decisions benefit only the wind industry and not the environment, the quality of life, or the finances of Seneca County.