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Marian Lyman Kirst | Feb 20, 2012 05:00 AM

From Twin Falls to American Falls, Jerome to Rexburg, a series of anti wind-energy billboards have been springing up around Idaho like mushrooms after a rainstorm. The big blue signboards feature pictures of windmills clustered around the campaign slogan: "Swindle" (the "wind" emphasized in bold red type), below which is written, "not cheap -- not clean -- not for Idaho."

swindle picThe "Swindle" campaign is sponsored by the EnergyIntegrityProject.org, a relatively new organization that advocates and lobbies against wind development in Idaho on behalf of "ratepayers, taxpayers, and the environment." Other than catching drive-by glimpses of the Swindle billboards, nobody in Idaho's pro-wind energy circles seems to know that much about the group. And it's hard to get a handle from their website just who's behind the EIP, if it has any industry or interest group sponsors, or how the group is funding the "Swindle" campaign, an expensive endeavor, surely.

From its mission statement, the EIP seems a benign citizens' group that's unsure how it feels about wind power in Idaho. Delve a little deeper into their website, however, and it becomes clear that EIP knows exactly how it feels about wind development: It doesn't like it.

The EIP argues that wind energy is "Not clean" because its variability forces dirty coal plants to ramp up and generate more electricity to make up for times when the wind's not blowing, which results in greater CO2 emissions. "The claim that wind could lead to increased emissions has some loose basis in fact," says John Gardner, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Boise State University and the Director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies' Energy Efficiency Research Institute. "There is probably a way to operate grid that would compensate for wind's variability that could increase emissions" — relying on 30-year-old coal plants, for example — "but that would be a really stupid way to do that. I don't think anyone is doing or would ever do that. (EIP) can point to a study but not a legitimate concern."

Indeed, when Idaho needs to accommodate wind’s irregularity, it turns not to coal but to natural gas and the state's robust hydro system. "Idaho power has three natural gas peaking plants that are used when we have the highest demand, and they are used just a few days out of the year," says Ken Miller, Clean Energy Director for the Snake River Alliance. It’s important to remember, says Miller, that even though wind is intermittent, it is always blowing somewhere. Good geographic distribution of turbines is key, he says. "It is not as though wind all shuts off as one."

The EIP also argues that wind power is more expensive than other forms of energy and that taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize what, in the EIP's mind, is a non-viable energy source. However, according to the Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), "Electricity generation from wind increased from about 6 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000 to about 95 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010." That's a mighty big growth spurt for a non-viable industry. The EIA also notes that, "Improved technology has decreased the cost of producing electricity from wind." In her 2009 story "Let's get small," HCN contributing editor Judith Lewis Mernit says that, "Electricity generated at big wind farms costs 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below the national retail electricity average of 10 cents; with production tax credits, the price drops to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is hard to beat." On a per kilowatt-hour basis, “wind looks pretty competitive," Gardner says, not to mention the fact that it's cleaner. On the other hand, wind really can't compete with on-demand energy resources like coal and natural gas in efficiency terms, it's just too variable a resource. Still, wind is not affected by the price-fluctuations that plague fossils fuels. "Gas prices are low right now, but we are going to start paying more for that someday," says Gardner.

windmillThese issues aside, Gardner's biggest problem with groups like the EIP is that instead of supporting in-state research projects that aim to improve wind power and smooth its transition to the grid, they busy themselves pushing emotional hot-buttons. “I think the website and billboards don't help the state of Idaho,” says Gardner. “It’s not a constructive way to talk.” The EIP was one of a handful of anti-wind organizations that lobbied Idaho’s Senate last session to reject an extension of a sales tax rebate for equipment used by alternative energy producers. By a very slim margin, the Senate rejected the extension and the rebate expired in July. Last year, the EIP also backed legislation that imposed a moratorium on wind development in the state. It failed, but just a few days ago, state legislators introduced a bill that seeks a two-year moratorium on wind energy development.

To Miller and Gardner, that is the opposite of small, laissez-faire government, something for which many of the anti-winders fervently advocate. “I don’t understand why these groups lobby against the wind industry in a state that prides itself on being business-friendly,” says Gardner. "That doesn't sound like free-market to me."  What it sounds like, in fact, is a swindle.

Marian Lyman Kirst is a High Country News editorial fellow

Images courtesy of Richard Carlson (Idaho Rural Council) and flickr user slimmer_jimmer


dan c
dan c
Feb 23, 2012 10:49 PM
There are many environmental issues with commercial wind power. This is recognized by many western wildlife biologists. There are impacts on the environment and sensitive wildlife species.
 
There is a recently published an eBook on the impacts of commercial wind energy, "Spinning a Green Yarn", and it's available for free download at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126145 or http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/cecchini
Shawn Olson
Shawn Olson
Feb 26, 2012 11:24 AM
Go to http://www.wind-watch.org. The same billboard add appears on the home page. It's unclear if National Wind Watch is supplying the Energy Integrity Project with these ads or not, but there is obviously some connection with the national group.
Michael Goggin
Michael Goggin
Feb 28, 2012 01:28 PM
Overall this is a great article. The article quotes Professor John Gardner from Boise State University as saying, on a per kilowatt-hour basis, "wind looks pretty competitive," and goes on to note that wind is a cleaner source of power than other more traditional sources of energy.

While Professor Gardner is quite correct and we applaud him for a factual synopsis of the benefits of wind power, we would like to offer a clarification regarding in response to the statement about wind's so-called variability. The fact is, all power generation requires system backup. Large fossil and nuclear power plants experience unexpected outages on a regular basis, requiring utility system operators to keep 1000+ megawatts (enough for a large city) of expensive fast-acting backup generation online at all times. Compared to the immediate and unexpected outages at traditional power plants, the varying output from wind farms is relatively easy, and much less expensive, for system operators to integrate. That's because changes in wind energy output occur slowly and can be predicted 4 to 24 hours in advance, allowing slower-response backup, unlike fossil and nuclear plants which require constant backup that costs dozens of times as much.

We would like to thank Professor Gardner for a factual look at the benefits of wind energy. Wind energy is clean, abundant, homegrown, and its cost is dropping. The case for continuing to invest in it is very strong.

Michael Goggin
American Wind Energy Association
Michael Goggin
Michael Goggin
Feb 28, 2012 01:34 PM
dan c, you should consult the peer-reviewed literature on the relative environmental impacts of different energy technologies. Wind energy has one of the lowest impacts by far: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/[…]/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12794

You should also consult some of the studies linked at the bottom here:
http://www.awea.org/[…]/release_030111_2.cfm

Michael Goggin
American Wind Energy Association
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Feb 29, 2012 01:48 PM
A comment on this article has been deleted because it violates the HCN comments policy against personal attacks. You are welcome to disagree with authors and viewpoints, but please keep the dialogue civil. You may read our comments policy here: http://www.hcn.org/policies/comments-policy

Thanks a lot,

Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor.
Jim Wiegand
Jim Wiegand
Feb 29, 2012 05:14 PM
And what a swindle it is. The industry was built on a foundation of fraudulent impact statements. Everyone should look up the latest article on the poor Whopping Cranes,Freedom of the Press - Whooping Crane Population. It is just the tip of the iceberg of what this industry is doing to bird life across this planet..
Tauna Christensen
Tauna Christensen
Feb 29, 2012 08:52 PM
It's most puzzling that your article is about Energy Integrity Project (EIP), yet I received only one email from you asking about our "EnergyIntegrityProject.org." There was no mention at all that you were looking to write a story about us. I get numerous inquiries -- and it just so happened during that particular time when you sent your email, I was heavily involved with several pressing energy matters. It seems to me that if you were serious about this, you would have at least tried to contact me again and been more specific as to the nature and time constraints of your request.
 
In addition to the accuracy aspect, this fundamental omission would lead one to question the objectivity of your piece. If this was an objective assessment, why would you go to the trouble of ferreting out uninformed opponents to EIP, whose primary objective is evidently to promote personal agendas?
 
John Gardner, for example, claims that EIP is against in-state research projects for alternative energies. We have communicated with John several times, and he is well aware that this is a total mischaracterization of the facts. EIP is NOT against in-state research on alternative energy projects, and never has been.

And your claim, Marian, that we "are unsure of how we feel about wind power in Idaho" is likewise puzzling. You evidently read our mission statement (as you reference it), but that VERY clearly says where we stand: we are strongly supportive of any and all alternative energy sources that are scientifically proven to be cost-beneficial. No such scientific assessment exists for wind energy, so our position is quite clear: we oppose puff power being on the public grid until such genuine a scientific assessment is done.
 
Of course, you would have found all of this out if you were serious about contacting me in the first place. Too bad, you could have written an accurate, objective article that would have benefited citizens in the West.

Tauna Christensen

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Mar 01, 2012 02:52 AM
Besides electricity it appears this issue has produced some heat.

I can understand the birders, they are predictable, also gas companies, but who funds EIP, that's a regularly updated web site. Lots of money coming from somewhere with the ability to successfully loby legislation. Famous potatoes.

Good article.
Tauna Christensen
Tauna Christensen
Mar 01, 2012 06:56 AM
Robb:

That’s a valid question. EIP is funded by concerned citizens paying out of our own pockets. We have no big funder behind us as you elude. And we have no vested financial interest. The EIP website you mention -- I am the one which created the website. Also, I update it as frequently as I can at the expense of my own time and at the sacrifice of my family (4 children) – plus I do have a real job that I go to work to each day. EIP has NO paid staff – we are all volunteers.

But the real question you should be asking is who is lobbying Congress in support of Big Wind????
  
Let’s examine the situation.

First of all, there is NO genuine scientific evidence in the real world -- NONE -- that wind actually offsets meaningful levels of CO2 emissions or reduces fossil fuel consumption. NONE of the various state renewable portfolio standards’ laws, which require the purchase of a certain percentage of renewables led by wind, are causally indexed to independently measured reductions in greenhouse gases or fossil fuel use. Perhaps this is why so many multinational corporations suffused in fossil fuel are investing in wind technology, companies such as GE, FP&L, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Duke Energy, Exelon, Weyerhaeuser, Siemens, and the redoubtable Goldman Sachs. Their executives know they won't lose any fossil fuel marketshare to wind, and, at the same time, they can literally capitalize on wind in a number of ways--such as tax avoidance and, via renewable energy credits, saving income not spent on cleaning up their dirtiest burning generations.

Tauna Christensen
Marian Lyman Kirst
Marian Lyman Kirst Subscriber
Mar 01, 2012 09:26 AM
Ms. Christensen, I would love to have spoken with you over the phone but you do not provide any contact numbers for yourself or Ms. Finnerty on your website, which I think is appropriate given you are, as you said, just a group of concerned citizens. Ms. Finnerty emailed me back and said that you or she was going to call me. When you did not, I again emailed Ms. Finnerty requesting a phone meeting but did not hear back from either of you before my deadline. I am glad that you had a chance to express your group's position here and continue the discussion. ( I would remind you as well that this piece was a blog not an "article".)

I would say that, at least on your website, you hang much of your argument that wind farm carbon reductions are too few at too great a cost to consumers and that wind generation may even increase CO2 emissions, on a study by Bentek Energy, a company whose chief executive is the director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, a trade association that represents oil and natural gas producers. Also, I am confused by the suspect graph on the EIP website (http://www.energyintegrityproject.org/Not_Cheap.html) that projects levelized costs of new generation sources for 2016. Why did you not just link to the U.S. Energy Information Association's graph that shows the same thing? The EIP graph and EIA graph are quite different from one another. Here is the EIA graph: http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html. It shows that onshore wind generation is competitive with coal.
Jim Wiegand
Jim Wiegand
Mar 01, 2012 09:35 AM
The Slaughter of Eagles

The industry has always been and still is being propped up by a foundation of fraud. This is very disheartening because the current worldwide environmental problems can never be solved if the experts are creating bogus studies and deliberately designing their methodology for a desired result. I call it rigging and I see this in virtually every study I read from the wind industry. The industry wide bird mortality cover-up has now been going on for 28 years and still to this day not a single mortality study has been properly conducted at a wind farm. Because of this, only a small fraction of the bird deaths from wind turbines is being reported.

As for the “noble cause” about greenhouse gas reduction goals, which corporate America conveniently considers to be a much larger threat to bird and all other species– Let’s put the climate change blame exactly where it really belongs –Deforestation. Forests help stabilize air temperatures and keeps the suns rays from heating up soils. The loss of forests is causing micro climates all over the world to change. It adds up. The deforestation problem is now being made even worse from the installation of wind farms and accompanying infrastructure.

Very few have any idea what the wind industry has in store for America. In the next decade the wind energy footprint will increase by more than 20 times across the state. One project at a time, the industry armed with their tailor made Renewable Portfolio Standard, will literally transform thousands of square miles of pristine rural landscapes with their wind farms and infrastructure.

 

Bird mortality will skyrocket to the point of population crashes and the great outdoors will look like an industrial wasteland. The raptor species because of their hunting habits, will be the hardest hit. I know for a fact that the CA Department of Energy has been warned of all this because I have the document. The public is not being to told this information and the masses are purposely being seduced one project at a time to minimize the outcry.

So down the road in a few short years, after hundreds of thousands of square miles of precious ecosystem habitat have been chewed up and raptor populations all over the world are crashing species, the public will still not hear about the damage done by the turbines because hand picked experts will blame climate change, lead poisoning, or some disease for their demise. The reason for this comes down to one simple fact, the industry must lie to survive.

The entire wind industry knows very well that there is no way to ever make the propeller style wind turbine safe for birds and bats. That is why laws were changed and their industry was built with virtually no regulations or
accountability. It was done this way so the truth could be hidden. They know that if the public were to ever see the magnitude and true suffering to eagles, swans and other birds caused by this industry change would be forced upon them from the outrage. The images of birds with body parts missing then wandering around for days before dying would quickly change this industry.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               According to an unpublicized California Energy Commission report, the most common injury to a raptor hit by a wind turbine is a severed wing. Not long ago golden eagles and other raptors mated for life and were meant to live 20-35 years. Not any more. A nest that was being watched by a photographer I know saw a female golden eagle lose her mate four years in a row before the nest was abandoned. This nest was located near Altamont pass. Since 2005 there has been 50 % decline in golden eagle nest sites recorded near Altamont Pass. It has been hidden from the public and I had to uncover this fact. In addition no golden eagles have nested in the 86 square mile region of Altamont pass for over 20 years even though they once did and this is prime golden eagle habitat.

As a wildlife biologist, an expert on birds of prey, and expert on bogus wind industry studies, I know what happens at wind farms. When I see a wind turbine I see a tombstone for an eagle. I also know mortality is far greater than what is being reported. I could prove it is at least 5-10 times greater across America with a proper study. Even the highly studied mortality at Altamont Pass would double or triple with a proper study. The public would also then learn about the bodies of the rarest species being killed by the turbines because they would not be culled from the studies or reports.

 

The reason there have never been any proper mortality studies conducted under wind turbines is because of the ongoing interference by the wind industry. They knew how bad the mortality problem was decades ago right after they started installing thousands of turbines on the ridge lines of CA. They have been rigging reports ever since.

Society has to understand that wind energy must move on to new designs because these monsters are no answer.
George Taylor
George Taylor
Mar 02, 2012 03:07 PM
Let me argue that it's reasonable for Idaho residents to question whether the benefits of the 500-foot tall industrial wind turbines being built in their state are worth the costs. After all, the wind industry has been supported by 30% cash grants from the federal government for the past 3 years and is now telling members of Congress that it cannot continue to operate without yet another extension of the 2.2 cent/kilowatt-hour production tax credit to take the place of the cash grants (in addition to other incentives such as the sale of renewable energy credits, state and local tax abatements, accelerated depreciation schedules, and so on.) The PTC alone would pay every 1000 megawatts of installed wind capacity over $500 million over the 10-year life of the credit.

But wind electricity is fundamentally different from all previous sources of electricity (coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, biomass, geothermal) because it can't operate by itself. The only way to use wind electricity is to combine it with a complementary source which can be called forth on demand, such as coal, natural gas, hydro or energy storage. But since no one is proposing to build energy storage (due to its cost and environmental impact) and since hydro is limited in most states, in the vast majority of cases the only way to operate wind is to combine it with coal or gas.

But given wind's measured 32% nationwide average annual capacity factor (based on Energy Information Administration generation statistics and American Wind Energy Association installed capacity reports) the great majority of the electricity from any fossil/wind combination has to come from the fossil source.

Which means that while wind electricity may save a small amount of fossil fuel (the amount of which no utility or regulatory body has yet reported), what wind really does is lock us into dependence on fossil fuels, forever.

What about the cost/benefit analysis? Given that wind cannot replace any other type of generation capacity (or can replace such a small amount that it's of no consequence) the only potential benefit wind offers is saving fossil fuel.

Here's the simplest comparison. If you take EIA's number for wind's capital cost ($2400/kilowatt) and divide by wind's capacity factor (32%), you get $7500/full-time-equivalent kilowatt. Which at a 10% cost of capital (a low number for the utility industry) works out to 9 cents/kWh. (the multiplier is 1.2 cents/kWh for every $1000/kW of full-time-equivalent capital cost, for a 30-year mortgage at 10% interest.) I'm being generous here because wind turbines may not last 30 years, and the typical utility's cost of capital may be 12% rather than 10%.

But to that 9 cents/kWh, add the cost of operations and maintenance and you come out with 10 cents/kWh. But that's only for the turbines. It doesn't count anything the cost of long-distance transmission (or transmission losses), which wind requires far more of than any other source of electricity (because the best wind locations are remote from the major cities.)

How much fossil fuel can wind save? Unfortunately, we don't know for sure, because regulators have not reported it, although we do know that wind's variability reduces the efficiency of the fossil plants that are forced to ramp up and down to complement its variations. However, even if we assume that fossil plants could operate with no loss in efficiency, the most fuel wind could save is around 2.5 cents/kWh for coal and just over 3 cents/kWh for natural gas (at a delivered price for gas of $5 per million Btu, which was the average over the past 3 years.)

Who pays for the 7 to 7.5 cent/kWh difference between wind's capital cost and the maximum possible fuel which it could save? There's only one answer. We, the ratepayers and taxpayers do. No matter what hidden incentives and socialization of costs politicians and industry regulators enact, the money has to come from us.

But since wind will never supply much of our electricity and every bit of wind electricity ties us forever to a much large quantity of fossil-fired electricity, there is absolutely no point to these massive subsidies. They don't represent a path forward, they just represent feel-good legislation by gullible representatives and profiteering by the wind industry.

If wind developers could supply a full-time product and compete in an unbiased market, more power to them. But that's not what they're doing. What they're asking is for the public pay a premium price for their inferior product, while sloughing off costs that in any properly operating market should have been included in their costs.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Mar 02, 2012 04:03 PM
I'd guess wind must be cutting into someone's bottom line. Probably utility companies.

I pay a utility bill, and a small increase for tax breaks for wind just won't hit me that hard, certainly not hard enough to bother writing long detailed comments to this post or monitoring and maintaining a sophisticated web site.

Utilities are a pretty good investment, kind of like a government mandated monopoly with returns on investment negotiated at the legislative level. Safe profitable place to park some money, unless you're competing with free wind.

I wonder why Europe and Asia are building so much wind?
Jim Wiegand
Jim Wiegand
Mar 02, 2012 04:20 PM
What about the carnage to protected species from the turbines? I would be happy to pay more for energy is they stopped this ongoing slaughter.
Tauna Christensen
Tauna Christensen
Mar 04, 2012 07:55 AM
Marian:

I’m sorry about the delay in my response as I have been out-of-town dealing with other issues.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding things here. Isn't it the job of journalists to report a story in an objective, unbiased manner?

How you wrote the article and the nature of your questions to me both say that you are an advocate promoting a personal agenda. As such I would suggest that you preface future articles/blogs/stories/exposés on this subject with a disclaimer explaining that to your readers.

-------------------------------

Your description of the situation between Ms. Finnerty and myself clearly shows that she and I failed to connect on this matter. I do apologize for that; however, it is just more evidence that we are very busy with our own lives (e.g. working at our regular jobs). And unlike others you interviewed for this piece, we are not paid a dime for anything we do in regards to wind energy.

In any event, regarding EIA’s levelized costs of new generation, I agree with the comment above from George Taylor and have changed EIP’s “Not Cheap” page to reflect such.

http://www.energyintegrityproject.org/Not_Cheap.html

Levelized costs do NOT make sense unless they're applied to technologies that can stand on their own feet. Wind CANNOT. EIA's table incorporates a fundamental mistake.

Even EIA admits that it is misleading

"The availability of wind or solar will not necessarily correspond to operator dispatched duty cycles and, as a result, their levelized costs are not directly comparable to those for other technologies (even where the average annual capacity factor may be similar)."

-- EIA's Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources (2016) in the Annual Energy Outlook 2011

-------------------------------

I have one and only one fundamental position in this matter:

we do have energy and environmental issues, and such technical matters should be solved in a genuine scientific manner.

Let me know how this position jives with your activism here, and then we can proceed.

Tauna Christensen
Tauna Christensen
Tauna Christensen
May 14, 2012 09:35 AM
Marian,

Just commenting on your new blog which you have written that includes my name and Energy Integrity Project. For some odd reason, at this point at least, it seems that I am unable to comment under that blog??? Anyway, there are several things I would like to say, but in the interest of time (I'm trying to get out the door to my real job), I will just say that your "4 active members" is a complete misrepresentation of what I said in the DC particants' information. Here's what was said:

# of active core members/leaders: 4
# of marginally active members: 10
# of inactive,but supportive members: approx. 200

Those 4 members are our leadership positions. And if you looked at the actual participants' info document, you would have seen the above information.

BTW -- Energy Integrity Project has 6 billboards -- not sure why you chose using the number 14 for your blog??? We just recently launched the sixth one -- a new design. You can see it on our EIP website.

Have a good day!

Tauna Christensen
Energy Integrity Project

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