A Free-Market Energy Blog

Energy Tax Reform: Scrap the Baucus Proposal (Part III: Environmental Issues)

By Glenn Schleede -- January 21, 2014

[Editor note: This is the third except of a January 15 letter to the Senate Finance Committee concerning the Baucus tax-reform proposal of December 18, 2013. Part I reprinted the executive summary and conclusions; Part II the high cost/low value of windpower; and Part IV will review the negative environmental effects of continued subsidization of windpower, including the “cleanliness” standard of the Baucus proposal.]

For more than a decade, the wind industry and its advocates have created a false impression among many in the public, media, and government that electricity from wind is “clean” and can be provided without adverse environmental and ecological impacts.

As demonstrated earlier, the production of electricity from wind actually results in emission of air pollutants because electric grid managers are forced by the availability of electricity from wind to keep other, generally fossil-fueled, generating units immediately available to compensate for the unreliability, intermittence, and volatility of the output from wind turbines.

Six Issues

But that is not the only adverse environmental, ecological, scenic, and property value impact resulting from “wind farms.” Others include:

1. Disruption of migratory paths and killing of birds and bats. Millions of bird and bat deaths have been documented. Further, in an unprecedented action, the U.S. Department of the Interior has prepared a rule allowing owners of “wind farms,” transmission lines and certain other projects to obtain permits to cover “accidental” killing of bald and golden eagles, with permits lasting as long as 30 years.

2. Destroying natural areas and disruption of animal habitat. Construction of “wind farms” along mountain ridges and slopes, and other natural areas – including blasting and clearing of land and forest areas for roads, wind turbine towers and bases, cables, transmission lines, substations, maintenance and other facilities – has already disrupted thousands of acres of land and forests and destroyed animal habitats.

3. Noise. The noise produced by operating wind turbines, including nacelle machinery noise, noise produced as blades swing past towers, and noise produced as turbines change direction (yaw) to obtain maximum exposure to wind has made life difficult or unbearable for people who find themselves living near wind turbines. Many such people have expressed concerns about adverse impacts on their health. Concerns about vibration, low frequency sound, and infrasound and led some governments (including Denmark) to tighten noise limitation requirements and increase distances that turbines must be located from residences.

4. Shadow flicker. “Shadow flicker” is disruptive for people living near “wind farms,” whose homes are subjected to pulsing sunlight around sunrise and sunset when sunlight hitting their homes is interrupted by rotating blades wind turbine blades, creating a strobing effect.

5. Destruction of scenic vistas. Wind turbines, some standing more than 500 feet tall with blades sweeping an area larger than the length and wingspan of a 747 aircraft spoil scenery in tranquil areas and destroy scenic vistas, especially in hilly and mountainous areas.

6. Destruction of neighbors’ property values. Despite claims by the wind industry, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and faulty studies from some DOE national “laboratories,” common sense, expert testimony, court decisions, and documented experience by homeowners in the US and other countries around the world show that property values near “wind farms” are adversely affected and the quality of lives of people living nearby are destroyed.

Backus “Cleanliness” Standard Problem

The Staff Summary (p. 3) indicates that the availability and the amount of the proposed “clean electric tax credit” would be based entirely on the “cleanliness” of the facility as measured by EPA; specifically, the “ratio of greenhouse gas emissions …divided by its electricity production.”

Such a measure would grossly understate the greenhouse gas emissions that are, in fact, associated with electricity from wind energy. While there would be very few, if any, greenhouse gas emissions at a wind turbine, the generation of electricity by a wind turbine that is connected to an electric grid causes increased greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

Specifically, electricity generation by wind turbines connected to an electric grid cause additional greenhouse emissions at any fossil-fueled generating unit that is used to balance the intermittent, volatile, unreliable output from wind turbines.

The fact that generating electricity by wind turbines cause emissions elsewhere has been documented by many studies in the US and elsewhere. Estimates of the amount of such emissions that are attributable to wind are difficult to calculate and vary widely. Variability on the amount of emissions that are attributable to wind depends heavily on a variety of supply and demand conditions on the grid, and particularly on the generating unit(s) providing the backup and balancing electricity.

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