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Beyond NIMBY: A Grassroots Strategy to Defeat Windpower

[Editor note: Tom Stacy of Save Western Ohio is a critic of the industrial wind lobby "using incomplete and misleading claims of energy, economic and environmental benefit ... to attract public funding far beyond the free market value of their product." This is his first post at MasterResource.]

It takes more than anger to fight against the political “green tide” of windpower. It requires courage backed by effective argumentation.

Many people throughout history have taken an unpopular stand. Most have been censored, or worse, but some have been responsible for breakthroughs in our grasp of natural science and other realms of human understanding.  Galileo, Columbus, Paine, Lincoln, Edison, Wright, and Deming come to mind.

One historical figure named Reagan even went so far as to tear the solar panels off of the White House roof when he learned how much they cost and how little they produced. That same week he terminated the Federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit. And the walls came tumbling down.  But we have no such constitutional leader today who, from the top down, would put a stake through the heart of the marauding beast we know as industrial wind—while simultaneously promoting sound policies that promote a genuinely competitive marketplace where contributors thrive and laggards languish.

Wind is a clever parasite, leeching our rural persona, making country people believe that it is one with their way of life, just another wind mill on a wind farm along a wind park—all beloved by peace-loving neighbors. BUT WE KNOW BETTER! We know it’s a sprawling industrial stampede using PR parlor tricks and old-fashioned political bribes to make people think black is white and pigs can fly. We know it’s a greedy tax avoidance scheme for large corporations to increase their bottom lines at our expense.

We know it’s engaged in “imagineering,” pretending to be an effective energy solution when it’s not.  The truth is, it makes our energy situation worse, and our pocket books much lighter. Had our elected representatives remained neutral toward the limited liability wind companies forcing them to offer sound, scientific proof for their many claims, the wind projects would have never been born.

Ohio Senator Bill Seitz wrote the following to one of our ranks opposing the Buckeye wind farm: “I think you all need to continue to be zealous advocates and to realize that your advocacy has been effective and that your community’s prosecutor and his staff are doing a thorough and commendable job.” While I cannot disagree with his kudos, I think our zeal must be exercised more carefully.

Our zeal needs far fewer annoyance complaints and one or two solid blows to the face of the industry itself. It needs less subjective rhetoric and more call for the facts to back the green movement’s claims. Our collective voice must needs delineate what’s right for America, instead of what’s wrong with placing windmills in my precious neighborhood.

Focusing on the local issues generally leads to a flash judgment in the mind of the American television viewer. It goes like this:  American progress depends on wind energy’s success.  A few selfish land owners want to stand in the way of progress. 

Media Strategy: Beyond NIMBY 

Local news media seldom, if ever, offer us the opportunity to add big picture perspective.  Wouldn’t we prefer television media deliver a message that a greater audience can relate to?  The first step in that direction is for us to provide that message, so every viewer can connect with it. Before I offer my suggestions, let’s survey the range of messages we might consider.

Should our message convey: “FOUL!  I PERSONALLY AM GOING TO SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF WIND ENERGY!”? No, I believe this is fruitless.  In fact, I contend many viewers may enjoy seeing a few suffer at the hands of what is assumed to be “progress,” as long as it’s not them. They love to shout back at their big plasma screen, “Come on! Suck it up, people!  How lame!” Then they’d mutter something about “Those are just the kind of people who complain about their world constantly but never have a better answer. What nuisance could be more annoying than the sound of their constant complaining?”

Pretty brutal, I know.  But I and my buddies have been on the front side of the TV before, and had similar retorts to other complaints aired on the news. And I submit that the NIMBY cry is the easiest thing for our opposition to contest. Whether or not we are NIMBY’s at heart is immaterial. Without showing how the end fails to justify the means – beyond our back yards, we have reduced ourselves to the common toddler tactic of trying to get our way by throwing a tantrum. Even if we go on to show that the benefits of wind aren’t substantial or proven, it’s too late.  By then our message has already been tainted with personal bias–for wouldn’t we say almost anything to protect our back yard?

Let’s continue this line of thought. Here are the most common NIMBY cries we offer in fighting wind projects:

NoiseShadow … Flicker … Physical Illness … Mental Stress … Loss of Sleep … Loss of Bats … Loss of the character of this precious landscape … Lost property rights … Diminished property value … Slaughtered songbirds and raptors … Lost business revenue to my neighboring business … Lost options for future development of my land near the project, personal or corporate ….

But without the crucial punch line, each offers weak and scattered ammunition. I am coming to see them as no more effective than soon to be former Ohio Governor Strickland’s famous energy sound bite, which goes something like this: “Since there is no silver bullet to solve our energy crisis, what we need is silver buckshot.”

His words imply that regardless of how expensive or inconsequential an energy technology, it is worth funding into deployment and profitability.  In fact, the less effective it is, the more support it should receive!  Let me tell you, big government arrogance doesn’t get any more ignorant than that. No, I believe our punch line would have more punch without the local issues even being raised.

Imagine with me, as do the imagineers at GE, that wind energy is truly the answer for our dependence on foreign oil. And that

* it eliminates our need to mine and burn coal;

* negatively affects only a few rural homesteaders because it is so compact and produces so much energy on its modest parcels; and

* it helps reduce our unemployment woes and soon our electricity rates will stabilize, or even fall.

Imagine that!  Just pretend all of that is true for a moment. Running through our list of complaints again, how do they stack up to this list of bona fide benefits to society?  We wouldn’t stand a chance.

Now you begin to understand how blessed we are that these massive wind machines are powerless as a meaningful source of power. They can’t put a dent in our energy problems. They just don’t work as advertised. But, most Americans don’t know this!  Most Americans have never heard the argument that the wind energy industry is a behemoth bunko scheme that is robbing their very own tax dollars. A bunko scheme is a swindle whereby the perpetrator promises much, charges a lot, and delivers virtually nothing.

And this is precisely what wind developers are doing. When we have a chance to tell them this, we just can’t afford to slip into a tantrum about our property rights!  The people have guzzled the wind Kool-Aid, and believe that if a few rural families have to suffer, so be it.

As a chaser to our steady diet of “reality TV”, the wind flavored Kool-Aid goes down even more easily. Such incessant fantasy pounds us through our HDTVs, and opens up the viewer to the Yellow Brick Road of Windpower that we imagined a few moments ago. However misled, the tin man, the scarecrow, the lion, Dorothy, and the American television viewer all skip merrily along “because, because, because, because BECAUSE — because of the wonderful things it does!”

Viewers hardly notice as they acquiesce to a wish that only the Wizard of Wind can grant. Few of them ever suspect that the whole enterprise – especially the Wizard himself – is only a tail wag and a curtain tug away from being exposed. Both in Oz and here in Ohio.

So commiserate with each other, but please don’t do it in front of the media! We have to choose between trumpeting our personally valid issues, and stopping the monster in its tracks. You must agree that we’d be a lot further along if every television audience would take our side.  But if they see us as impeding the march of progress, and bitching about it every step of the way, they won’t be inclined to join us, will they?

Getting on the Offensive

When a news anchor busts a story about a clerk defrauding the townspeople–stealing from the town’s kitty, doesn’t that get to you?  What if it’s your tax dollars being swindled away? Wouldn’t you agree that the clerk should be arrested and tried for his crimes?

Subsidies for industrial wind have long since passed the $100 billion dollar mark—all from our tax dollars. That’s $333 from you and you and you and each one of us, even our elders and infants.  For my family, it’s over $1,500. All raised from deficits to the federal treasury, which means services must be cut or else we all must pay more. This money is supposed to go toward reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and closing coal plants, but has no proof it can do so.

Point blank, the industry should be tried on charges of fraud. It has already created a great amount of adjustment by our grid system operators and the load balancing resources that support them. All that money. For nothing.

It’s more than a risky proposition–it’s classic bunko. Our lawmakers chase the votes. They too, not immune to greed.  Polls tell them to be green or be replaced in the next election. “Live to fight another day” seems the prudent, if not the fiscally efficient, choice.  Meanwhile our tax dollars are being thrown down the rat hole of wind, closing off opportunities for funding more effective ways and means of being cleaner and greener.

Don’t you think it’s time to demand accountability for our tax dollars, starting with the politicians who enable such rat holes? It’s time to change those poll results that have been scaring elected officials into going green at any price.  Every media opportunity must be used to that end. We must expose and stop wind power across this nation, and our back yards will be defended incidentally.

The author wishes to thank Jon Boone for his help with this and other wind-related presentations.

14 comments

1 Ryan { 05.29.10 at 4:00 pm }

“Subsidies for industrial wind have long since passed the $100 billion dollar mark—all from our tax dollars. That’s $333 from you and you and you and each one of us, even our elders and infants. For my family, it’s over $1,500. ”

Please don’t drop figures with citing a source. Is that $100 billion in direct subsidies, loan guarantees, development contracts, R&D grants, funding for worker compensation and entitlement programs, tax breaks, etc etc? Is it federal or state or municipal? There’s a standard economic distinction between “cost payments” and “transfer payments” that would be useful to parse out here. Anyway my point is that calculating subsidies is murky work that involves many judgments about what to include and what to exclude, and therefore any figure cited under the vague “subsidy” banner is inherently biased. That’s not a bad thing – it just means that citing your sources and defining your terms clearly is prudent if you’d like to be taken seriously.

What’s more, you’ve managed to avoid the important question altogether: how do subsidies for the wind-power sector compare to subsidies to other electricity-producing sectors? I suspect that this wasn’t included in your discussion because, of course, you don’t want to go and prove yourself wrong.

To that end:

http://www.eli.org/Program_Areas/innovation_governance_energy.cfm

pdf-> http://www.repp.org/repp_pubs/articles/resRpt11/preleasesubsidies.pdf

pdf-> http://lib3.dss.go.th/fulltext/e_content/0013-936X/2009v43n7.pdf

Cheers,
Ryan

2 alain { 05.30.10 at 8:45 am }

” Subsidies for industrial wind have long since passed the $100 billion dollar mark—all from our tax dollars. ”

2009-2019 US Oil&Gas companies subsidy = $36.5 billion.

ExxonMobil 2009 NET profits = $45 Billion

ExxonMobil paid no federal income tax in 2009

2009 USA military spending to protect foreign oil supply routes : $ 650 000 millions

http://thinkprogress.org/2010/04/06/exxon-tax/
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6103RM20100201

3 nofreewind { 05.30.10 at 8:50 pm }

Thanks Tom, I really enjoyed your article and the contribution you have made to this discussion via your website.

4 Charles { 05.31.10 at 12:58 am }

I am pretty much on board with most of your strategy, and I agree that depending on the physical health argument, or protection of the bird life does not offer too much impact.

My strategy against the development of proposed wind-farms in my region is to ask why we would want to ruin our skylines just so we can burn more fossil-fuel to shadow the windfarms, and turn people like Al Gore from fairly wealthy to fabulously wealthy. (Apologies for picking on one of your countrymen, but to me he is all that epitomises the worst in ‘energy carpet-bagging’).

It seems to have had some resonance, and I am starting to see others around our state asking similar questions and using it as a basis for legal challenge.

Next stop solar panels.

5 Jon Boone { 05.31.10 at 7:40 pm }

According to the USEIA, wind technology, on a per kilowatt hour basis, is subsidized 25 times greater than coal, natural gas, and hydro, and 16 times greater than nuclear. All of these conventional generating systems provide high levels of responsive capacity value; wind provides zero capacity value, and rates of power appropriate to 1810. Consequently, there is no real comparison. It’s like comparing the cost of war clubs with that of surface to air missiles.

Public subsidies for wind are so expansive that wind LLCS could actually send their hiccuping energy to the grid without charge–a process known as negative pricing–if this were legal. It is not legal in the PJM. So wind LLCs can profitably adjust the price of their energy to give the appearance that it is competitive with coal or gas or hydro, say $0.05 per kWh. And you’ll often see this in a number of wind claims.

But exchanging an energy source that provides no capacity or modern power for any conventional generation is like trading a third string high school first baseman who made the team because of his father’s contributions to the alumni fund for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Sandy Koufax. Paying anything for a source of energy that destabilizes the grid and makes it work harder, more expensively to “integrate” it is just darn silly….

6 Jon Boone { 05.31.10 at 8:01 pm }

According to the USEIA, wind technology, on a per kilowatt hour basis, is subsidized 25 times greater than coal, natural gas, and hydro, and 16 times greater than nuclear. To learn more, here’s a link to a May 12, 2008 article in The Wall Street Journal, hardly an antiwind operation: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121055427930584069.html. And here’s a quote from the piece: “An even better way to tell the story is by how much taxpayer money is dispensed per unit of energy, so the costs are standardized. For electricity generation, the EIA concludes that solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour, wind $23.37 and “clean coal” $29.81. By contrast, normal coal receives 44 cents, natural gas a mere quarter, hydroelectric about 67 cents and nuclear power $1.59.”

All of these conventional generating systems provide high levels of responsive capacity value; wind provides zero capacity value, and rates of power appropriate to 1810. Consequently, there is no real comparison. It’s like comparing the cost of war clubs with that of surface to air missiles.

Public subsidies for wind are so expansive that wind LLCS could actually send their hiccuping energy to the grid without charge–a process known as negative pricing–if this were legal. It is not legal in the PJM. So wind LLCs can profitably adjust the price of their energy to give the appearance that it is competitive with coal or gas or hydro, say $0.05 per kWh. And you’ll often see this in a number of wind claims.

But exchanging an energy source that provides no capacity or modern power for any conventional generation is like trading a third string high school first baseman who made the team because of his father’s contributions to the alumni fund for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Sandy Koufax. Paying anything for a source of energy that destabilizes the grid and makes it work harder, more expensively to “integrate” it is just darn silly….

7 Jerry Graf { 05.31.10 at 9:05 pm }

Tom,

Since we have traded correspondence of late, you may be aware that when I communicate my arguments against the rush to subsidize wind power generation I have attempted to structure my arguments around the objective economics, avoiding the NIMBY and other subjective arguments. In fact, I even try to keep my economic arguments as simplistic as possible, concentrating on investment vs. return, with only brief mention of the more complex concepts of the costs of balancing the supply load and the costs of operating back-up sources in inefficient modes. I find that the return on investment analyses for the wind turbine projects, even when performed with great generosity of assumptions to the wind turbines, make it blatantly obvious that the wind turbine projects will waste investment and drive up the cost of electricity.

I believe that the strategy for arguing against continued subsidies for wind power generation needs to revolve around the simple economic concept that the wind generation projects generally waste resources and detract from our ability to make meaningful improvements to our overall energy strategy. The following words come from one of my recent comments:

“Other than the waste itself, the real problem with expending resources subsidizing non-viable wind turbine projects is that this diverts resources from other efforts to improve our energy production strategy. Because of recent events, we are seeing quite a few emotional comments lately regarding the need to reduce US dependence on oil; and the recent tragic spill in the Gulf of Mexico is being used to justify investment in wind energy projects. However, it is reasonable to point out that, per to the DOE EIA, oil is used to generate less than 1% of the total electricity used in the USA so one can effectively say that oil has nothing to do with the generation of electricity. Unfortunately, BY INCREASING THE COST OF ELECTRICITY, IT IS LIKELY THAT WE WILL MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO TRANSITION AWAY FROM OIL for the main reasons we do use oil, home heating and gasoline powered automobiles. Also, in the rush to promote wind generation, development and improvement of other more viable means of energy generation are being ignored. Instead of diverting resources to prop up wind projects we could be improving natural gas, nuclear, and coal generation. We could also be improving the distribution system (grid) to reduce losses and improve reliability. Further, by subsidizing and offsetting the current deficiencies of wind generation, we take away the incentive to make the necessary improvements that might make it viable in some cases in the future.”

I look forward to further input from you regarding my communication with the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force relative to LEEDCO and the Great Lakes Wind Energy Pilot Project.

8 Tom Stacy { 06.01.10 at 7:35 am }

Ryan,

Thank you for your post. I am hopeful it will draw replies from several energy policy experts who can lay out the subsidy sources and rates more succinctly. In that case, please remember to attribute the subsidy rate not to the energy generation of wind, but to its contribution to reliable capacity. Only reliable capacity can stand in for reliable capacity and still claim to avert fossil fuel consumption. This is because when you remove the reliable “moments” of generation from wind in most regions of North America, the residual product has slope, frequency and amplitude characteristics which dictate severe “city driving” conditions for the balancing resource pool. Of course Peter Lang, Kent Hawkins la Pair and de Groot of the Netherlands, and even Bentek in the US have attempted to capture and quantify this rude effect (a simple Google search will yield the sources you seek).

As we both know, in complex grid networks with many variables, quantifying heat rate impacts is also a moving target and a “murky business.” This is why I have often suggested to PJM and MISO that they demand a stable, dispatchable product ahead of the interconnection comparable to the existing fleet of generators. This would require a “hybrid” facility with a gas peaker and wind turbines. In this case, a true fossil fuel mitigation study can be conducted. Perhaps some villages in Alaska who are paying $0.50 per kWh for diesel generated electricity and adding wind as a supplement (profitable without subsidy of any kind, I might add), could lend some insight into the fuel consumption mitigation of wind.

Making the comparison of subsidy between wind and traditional sources of power generation fair, transparent and intuitive is what I seek, not to “hide the truth” as you judge. Perhaps we could work together on this?

9 Tom Stacy { 06.01.10 at 8:00 am }

Charles,

Thank you for your reply.. I agree that the best argument against wind energy colonization is a compound one, blending net fossil fuel mitigation benefits of wind energy’s reliable fraction with net land use implications. Unfortunately, making this argument in a few sentences is difficult. One of the best at doing so is US Senator Lamar Alexander (R)(TN). Alexander is arguably (and rightly, in my opinion) a defender of nuclear energy, as Tennessee is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (a source of nuclear development “subsidy” by Ryan’s definition). Alexander is quick to say that we wouldn’t replace our nuclear navy with sailboats and so should not pretend we can replace our most reliable and densely sited generation technologies with windmills.

While free market thinkers might wish we could, clearly it is not possible to “unspend” the tax dollars which have supported nuclear technology over the past 70 years. It is also impossible to determine how nuclear power development might have unfolded in the absence of government funding and associated regulation. But since we cannot change our past, it would seem sensible to learn from our mistakes – while building on our successes – in order to make the best decisions possible going forward. I would argue that, whether nuclear power technologies would have been more advanced – or less – without the overwhelming government involvement, both the current and new nuclear technologies are vastly superior to wind energy in many ways. If you are interested, I can send you my modest white paper which compares wind and nuclear on land use and “cost” metrics. It is far from perfect, but might offer a starting point or process on which you can expound and refine. Thanks for your input, and to the creators of this forum.

10 Mary Hutzler { 06.01.10 at 11:03 am }

The original source of the subsidies by fuel type that Jon Boone cites is the EIA report “Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy Markets 2007″ found in Table ES5 and 35 at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/subsidy2/pdf/chap5.pdf

11 Emily { 06.01.10 at 12:16 pm }

I am pretty much on board with most of your strategy, and I agree that depending on the physical health argument, or protection of the bird life does not offer too much impact.

My strategy against the development of proposed wind-farms in my region is to ask why we would want to ruin our skylines just so we can burn more fossil-fuel to shadow the windfarms, and turn people like Al Gore from fairly wealthy to fabulously wealthy. (Apologies for picking on one of your countrymen, but to me he is all that epitomises the worst in ‘energy carpet-bagging’).

It seems to have had some resonance, and I am starting to see others around our state asking similar questions and using it as a basis for legal challenge.

Next stop solar panels.

12 Steve Burrows { 06.01.10 at 12:23 pm }

Always show a photo of an ancient windmill from several hundred years ago milling a handful of grain next to the photo of a slick modern wind turbine generating a small handful of power, and ask if much progress has been made with this very old technology.

13 nofreewind { 06.01.10 at 3:35 pm }

Ryan you asked “how do subsidies for the wind-power sector compare to subsidies to other electricity-producing sectors?”

The first link: http://www.eli.org/Program_Areas/innovation_governance_energy.cfm
confirmed that for energy sources, fossil fuels received $72 billion while renewable received $29 over period. 2002-2008.

BUT there is an enormous BUT.
Go here and look at the energy produced by these sources.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/trends/table1.html
Fossil Fuels produced 86.2 quadrillion btu’s while Renewables produced 6.8 qbtu’s.
Let’s figure $ per btu roughly.
Fossil = $72 billion/86.2 btu = .84 units
Renewable = $29 billion/6.8 btu = 4.3 units
The ratio here is 5 to 1.
But this doesn’t tell the entire story, because renewable are not used for heating, industry energy nor transportation. To really understand these number we would have to find how much energy is produced to create electricity, since the non-electricity energy is far greater. That is how we end up with the 25:1 ratios, of subsidy per MW for renewables compared to subsidy per MW for Fossil/Nuclear.
As always, the renewable lobby or “believers” only tell OR understand part of the story!!!

14 Tom Stacy { 09.13.10 at 9:22 am }

Emily. I think you are doing a fine job with your strategy in recognizing the inability of wind energy to replace the use of fossil fuels or significantly – and measurably – reduce emissions. My only concern is that you seem to be using the science to defend a NIMBY (landscape beauty) position, which provides fodder for those supporting wind to distract the audience away from the science.

I suggest that it is better to stick with the science alone – which includes alarmingly low power and energy density metrics for wind compared to anything else (See Bryce, Power Hungry) – but leave beauty, noise, property value and the rest of the personal complaint lineage out of it. Once the public and elected officials see the science clearly, then the rest become obvious – and shameful.

Falling back on a paraphrase of an old bridge lesson my parents taught me, I still say: “Don’t lead with the selfishness card (a finesse) if a sure winner you hold is all that is required to make your contract (win the hand.) Play the sure winner first, make the contract, then shoot for “over-tricks” once your victory is already sealed.

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