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Response to Media Matters on Wind Power Accidents (dilute or dense energy for health & safety?)

“[Wind accident] data … is by no means fully comprehensive – CWIF believe that what is attached may only be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of numbers of accidents and their frequency…. Renewable UK confirmed that there had been 1,500 wind turbine accidents and incidents in the UK alone in the past 5 years. Data here … may only represent 9% of actual accidents. “

- Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (UK), Wind Turbine Accident Data to 31st December 2012.

My latest Forbes Political Energy post, Oil & Gas Isn’t Just One Of The Richest Industries, It’s Also One Of The Safest, examined the improving, impressive safety of the U.S. oil and gas industry compared to the much smaller (but accident prone) industrial wind power industry. The massive height of open-element wind turbines introduces hazards for high-up workers and from falling debris.

The density, scalability, and portability of oil, gas, and coal make them affordable, reliable, and flexible for average consumers,” my article concluded. “Wind turbines and solar panels, contrarily, are expensive, intermittent, and inflexible—and have their own set of health and safety issues.”

Media Matters Rebuttal

Enter Media Matters for America–the progressive answer to Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center–that is all-in with (government-enabled) wind energy, described as “an expanding market that saves money and creates jobs.”

In  “Forbes Reaches To Find Wind Power Fatalities” (March 27, 2013), Media Matters begins:

In a column for Forbes, the head of the Institute for Energy Research exaggerated the safety risks associated with wind power by including suicides, murders, and several other fatalities that have little to do with wind industry safety in order to misleadingly claim that the oil and gas is “one of the safest” industries.

Media Matters angst was primarily directed to this sentence in my article: “Since the 1970s, 133 fatalities have occurred on turbines — that’s a high figure considering the relatively small size of the wind sector,” to which I added the caveat:

Records of wind and solar-related injuries are conveniently shoddy. It is hard to accurately compare their health and safety data to the government’s oil and gas statistics. But based on what we do know now, “alternative” energies are hardly cleaner, greener, and safer.

Media Matters ridicules the 133 fatality number as including 

a wind plant construction worker shot during a protest against the plant, a wind turbine operator found hanging in an apparent suicide, a man who committed suicide after opposition to wind turbines on his land, a man that died while climbing a turbine for a class, a snowmobile hitting the fence around a wind farm construction site, and a “shirtless and shoeless” man electrocuted inside of a windmill.

Adjust that 133 figure by a few, but the fact remains that national and international statistics on wind power accidents, and any related injuries or deaths, are haphazard–and must be less reliable than those of the oil and gas industries.

Media Matters then highlights the real safety problem as being China’s coal industry. (Oil and gas to coal; the U.S. to China–the rebuttal reaches on both counts). But China’s rapid wind-power growth (now receding) has brought a plethora of equipment failures and accidents.

“At present, China’s wind power system is not sound, and technical standards lag far behind those in other nations,” concluded a report in POWER magazine. “National technical standards have not been set, and technical standards for the centralized control of wind farms—along with standards for system design, integration, and monitoring—are still on the way.”

Media Matters: Why Wind Cronyism?

The investigative journalism of Media Matters should look inward at the crony-infested wind industry and particularly, the American Wind Energy Association. Remember: Enron Corp in the 1990s saved the wind industry (and talked of firing employee dissidents as shown by these memos).

And what about the growing grassroot rebellion against industrial wind power? The so-called avian mortality problem of wind power (what a California Sierra Club official infamously termed “the Cuisinarts of the Air“) is certainly worth an (environmental) look..

 

Conclusion

Media Matters frames its discussion in ad hominems (“fossil fuel industry-funded;” “anti-wind group”). In fact, IER is a pro-free-market, energy-technology-neutral organization that puts consumers and taxpayers first and cronies, alarmists, and central planners last. And “anti-wind groups” are mostly in-the-trenches environmentalists who know what Washington, DC-office journalists do not know.

Media Matters also mixes its legitimate points with manipulated, far-reaching ones and fails to acknowledge the mere possibility of a relative lack of formal reporting by the wind industry on operational failures (fires, blade throw-off, etc.).

Common-sense and basic physics suggest that, per unit of energy produced, dilute wind and solar will have more safety issues than dense carbon-based energies. On economic, environmental, and safety & health grounds, a closer look is merited for the energy source that can only be called politically correct.

———————————

Media Matters also protests:

Bradley calls oil and gas “one of the safest” industries, claiming that in 2011 there were “2.3 incidents of injury and illness per 100 oil and gas workers,” compared with “3.5 incidents per 100 for the entire private sector.” But that figure … is the non-fatal rate of injury.

Oil and gas extraction workers have an annual occupational fatality rate more than seven times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that while the rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses is lower in the mining industry (which encompasses the oil and gas extraction industry) than the average for private industry, “these injuries are often of a severe nature, as evidenced by the higher median days away from work.”

Fair enough. The news is better with nonfatal than with fatal. Here is the breakdown of oil and gas-related accidents:

Of the 716 fatalities that occurred during 2003–2009, the majority were either highway motor vehicle crashes (29%) or workers being struck by tools or equipment (20%). The next most common fatal events were explosions (8%), workers caught or compressed in moving machinery or tools (7%), and falls to lower levels (6%).

The most recent two years shows an improvement over the previous decade, but the number of fatalities is not good enough, as any oil and gas company will tell you. But with oil and gas last year in the U.S. producing 60.2 quads versus 1.4 quads for wind, every accident, injury, or death for wind would need to be multiplied by 46 for the later.

Windpower: so little energy and so much cost, infrastructure, and trouble.

4 comments

1 Mary Kay Barton { 04.02.13 at 11:20 am }

Media Matters is exemplary of the “Green” at-any-cost groups who are clearly energy-illiterate, on the take from Big Wind, or both.

If @MediaMatters actually cared about the truth behind “The Wind Farm Scam” (available at Amazon.com) worldwide, they might want to contact some of the many tens of thousands of people and groups who are battling against any further proliferation of sprawling Big Wind factories, and ask us why we do. Here are a couple lists they could start with:

“U.S. Public Interest Groups Fighting Windpower”:
http://www.masterresource.org/2012/09/us-public-interest-groups-antiwind/

Quixote’s Last Stand:
http://quixoteslaststand.com/worldwide-anti-wind-groups/

Then the folks @MediaMatters might want to read the stunning admittance by a Big Wind CEO in his WSJ op-ed today: “Big Wind Subsidies? No Thanks,” that Big Wind subsidies “distort the markets,” and are “not based on productivity.” See: http://on.wsj.com/YORRi1

2 JohnInMA { 04.02.13 at 1:20 pm }

Just an opinion: Engaging Media Matters strikes me as wasteful and ultimately futile (is useless a better word?). While at times they may cite credible work as a basis from which they build a story, my experience with that website up until about 1.5 years ago when I deliberately stopped clicking, was that they are almost a pure propaganda outfit. Should they cite politically same-minded reports and studies, say from the Center for American Progress, those references are usually worth a look. At least there is honest presentation of fact and a decent analysis to follow to a conclusion. But the Media Matters website itself doesn’t really produce any original thought nor analysis that I ever found. It produces random and anecdotal factoids, and appears to simply be a quotation outlet for pundits and politicians.

Investigative journalism? Well, considering the author is a political scientist by degree, there is reason to be skeptical about motive. And clicking one level into the death statistics provides shows the author made no effort to qualify the data nor the chart included. So there is reason to question accuracy and pertinence. According to the reference, the deaths are primarily linked to air pollution. So, the discussion mysteriously must shift from assignable causes to one of ‘externalities’, all without mention. Sneaky at best, propaganda at worst, in my book. Not investigative journalism much less properly reported factoids.

3 Ray { 04.02.13 at 4:04 pm }

Have you noticed the usual greenie or leftist rebuttal consists of an ad homenim attack and then change the subject? They use a lot of euphemisms and dysphemisms (opposite of a euphemism) like “invest” when they mean spend taxpayer money or “loophole” when they are talking about lawful behavior they dislike.

4 rbradley { 04.02.13 at 4:54 pm }

As a scholar, and in the interest of moving issues forward, I like to engage those who critically engage me so long as their tone is reasonable and good points were made.

The key point in this exchange is that wind power safety statistics need to be improved, and Media Matters needs to critically assess the claims made by wind power cronies.

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