American Lung Association’s Misguided Support for Wind Power
“Obviously, nobody wants dirty air, but the American Lung Association’s knee-jerk renewables advocacy is mainly emotional and not grounded in fact.”
Last month, New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) disapproved Antrim Wind, a 30-megawatt wind energy facility proposed along a remote and environmentally sensitive ridgeline in rural Antrim, NH. After eleven days of evidentiary hearings and three days of public deliberations, the Committee ruled that the ten monster turbines, each standing 492-feet tall, would pose a significant impact on aesthetics with no satisfactory means of mitigating the effect.
The Committee’s ruling surprised New England wind proponents who wasted no time calling the decision a serious setback for clean energy and urging the SEC to reconsider its decision.
Among those objecting was the American Lung Association. In a letter to the SEC, Edward Miller, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the American Lung Association in the Northeast, wrote:
Since toxic emissions from energy production are a major cause of lung disease, we are committed to the development and expansion of clean, renewable energy sources…. With the growing concern about health care costs it is critical that we take advantage of every opportunity to move away from fossil fuels to produce our energy.
Obviously, nobody wants dirty air but the alarmist advocacy pressed by the ALA is largely emotional and not grounded in fact.
New England’s Cleaner Air
New England’s electric generation has achieved significant reductions in nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide in the last decade.
From 2001 to the end of 2011, NOx emissions have dropped by 58% and SO2 by 71%. Wind energy’s contribution to these reductions was immaterial, since, by 2011, wind provided only 0.6% of the energy to the New England pool.
Even the American Lung Association’s own tables show a low incidence of high ozone days as well as low particle pollution levels for most of New England. The one exception is southern Connecticut which is part of the densely populated tri-state area that also includes New York and New Jersey.
Automotive emissions are likely the primary source of pollution in that area. Nonetheless, even areas of Connecticut that received poor grades from the ALA for air quality show precipitous declines in ozone levels and particulate matter in the last few years.
Wind’s Exaggerated Emission Savings
If we accept the ALA’s claim that renewable energy will contribute to improved air quality in New England, its support for Antrim Wind ignores how ineffectual the project will be at reducing emissions. Antrim Wind’s 30 megawatts, under the best circumstances, will contribute a mere 0.08% of the annual energy produced in New England.
When it does operate, the project will displace generation from higher marginal cost sources that can easily accommodate its fluctuations on the grid, which in New England would most likely be natural gas.
In fact, with natural gas prices at record lows, and the cost of burning coal and oil rising, many believe the dirtier fuels will no longer be part of the region’s fuel mix within 3-5 years. In 2012, coal and oil combined represented only 3% of the fuel used to meet New England’s electricity demand, down from 40% in 2001.
Emission models  that assume a gas-dominated fuel mix have shown savings from wind of just 0.05 lbs/MWh for NOx, 0.0 lbs/MWh for SO2, and 0.3 tons/MWh for CO2. This is in contrast to the exaggerated benefits produced by the model run for Antrim Wind which assumed the project would displace coal and oil 21% of the time for the 20-year life of the project!
Power Plants and Lung Disease
The ALA’s argument that energy production causes lung disease is also questionable as causal links between air pollution and health remain unproven.
In fact, epidemiological studies conducted in urban areas throughout the United States have shown widely varying results suggesting a problem with the measurements themselves, or inadequate controls for other influencing factors. In laboratory studies [Green and Armstrong (2003)] where people (and animals) were exposed to controlled levels of air contaminants “no form of ambient particulate matter -other than viruses, bacteria, and biochemical antigens- has been shown, experimentally or clinically, to cause disease or death at concentrations remotely close to U.S. ambient levels.”
Dr. Ross McKitrick’s 2010 study, which looked at all hospital admission records in major Canadian cities for lung-related illnesses (including asthma) from 1974 to 1994 found no correlation between air pollution and lung disease. Dr. McKitrick’s study was the first Canadian study to control for socioeconomic factors and weather and all major pollutants, over a period of high pollution levels. Air pollution in the time frame studied (1974–94) was considerably higher than it is today.
Evidence vs. Activism
The American Lung Association deserves much credit for its century-long fight for clean air. However, if its mission has now expanded to advocating for wind energy development in New England, we would have expected a more precise and thoughtful response to the NH SEC’s decision.
Instead, we were treated to superficial claims that added nothing to the debate while disrespecting the comprehensive 11-day trial undertaken to review the Antrim Wind proposal. The ALA is certainly entitled to offer comment, but if none of its representatives could be bothered to learn the facts in the case, the Association should not expect anyone to give any weight to its letter.
 The New Hampshire SEC is the regulatory body tasked with permitting large energy and transmission projects in the state.
 Nitrogen oxide (NOx) contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog. It also reacts with other air pollutants to form small particles that can cause breathing difficulties, especially in people with asthma. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a respiratory irritant associated with the onset of asthma attacks, sulfur dioxide is produced when coal and crude oil are burned.
 Hour-by-hour dispatch data were modeled with the focus on marginal emissions as generation shifted between wind and conventional sources. The method of using marginal emission rates has been found to be more accurate than average plant emissions.