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  • High and Hidden Costs: There is Nothing Free about the Wind

    What was normally a peaceful, quiet way of life for residents of Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, suddenly became loud and unbearable when utilities operating three new wind turbines flipped the switch to “on.” A recent New York Times article reports that some Vinalhaven residents are learning “the hard way” that wind power has its costs.

    While residents welcomed the arrival of the turbines in late 2009, it is apparent that they did so with certain expectations. Those expectations came from what schoolteacher Sally Wylie call an understanding that the turbine noise would not be discernible.

    Though wind farms produce emissions-free energy (when the wind is blowing), they bring certain costs with them. One cost—the wearisome low-frequency noise emitted by enormous blades—is evident by these complaints from Maine and from other homeowners all over the country. Complaints filed in 2008 by a Pennsylvania couple and a Wisconsin family forced to vacate its farm are just two examples of the financial and physiological damages of the whooshing turbines.

    The deceit in this story runs deeper. According to the Times article:

    Turbine noise can be controlled by reducing the rotational speed of the blades. But the turbines on Vinalhaven already operate that way after 7 p.m., and George Baker, the chief executive of Fox Island Wind—a for-profit arm of the island’s electricity co-operative—said that turning the turbines down came at an economic cost. “The more we do that, the higher goes the price of electricity on the island,” he said.

    So wind power turns out to be more expensive than proponents would argue. But isn’t wind already more expensive than our more conventional sources of electricity? Isn’t that why it supplied less than 2 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2009?

    In a word, yes.

    The Energy Information Administration’s lists the levelized costs of various sources of electricity per megawatt hour projected for 2016 (in 2008 dollars). In 2016, both onshore and offshore wind are more than double the cost of conventional coal, and these costs don’t account for the billions of dollars needed to build new transmission lines as well as the backup power necessary when the wind isn’t blowing. This notion that “because wind is free, once the manufacturer builds the windmill, the cost of electricity generation will be cheap” is completely false.

    One possible solution to the noise produced by windmills is to require developers to leave buffer zones between residents and the wind farms, which a piece of legislation in Vermont is proposing. But if wind is to help propel us toward the Obama Administration’s goal of doubling U.S. renewable energy generation by 2012 or having 20 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, then more wind farms will likely be constructed near homeowners. More noisy turbines mean more lawsuits filed about noise and potential decline in property value.

    Clearly not all “green” energy is good once it actually gets going. Higher costs, hidden costs, and the disruptive noise that accompany wind turbines indicate that wind enthusiasts are not telling the whole story.

    Emily Goff is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Co-authored by Nick Loris.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to High and Hidden Costs: There is Nothing Free about the Wind

    1. David Rapp, Belmont, says:

      Have you ever been down-wind of an oil refinery?

      You make a good point for placing the turbines off shore.

      I've stayed at a beach house about one quarter mile from four turbines and did not hear anything. I'm sure Maine is very quiet. I would like to visit there someday.

    2. Marck, Washington, D says:

      Reasonable people would rather have clean energy than high-emmissions plants. This piece is so agenda-driven and transparent! It is alarmist and attempts to dissuade green progress because of turbine noise?? That's dispicable. Sure there will always be some tradeoffs as economies of scale and efficiencies are developed, but the focus should be on addressing issues, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I realize that the Heritage Foundation is not required to adhere to journalistic standards, but you could certainly take some cues from principles of journalistic investigation.

    3. Andrew, Arizona says:

      I admire your in-depth reporting on the negative externalities of wind energy. Although, it may be helpful to compare these "hidden" costs to that of coal energy for context.

      "Don't throw stones when you live in a glass house."

    4. Bobbie says:

      Inefficient, inconsistent, intermittent. We need competent, common sense, leadership! Not one that promotes a potential health hazard to the people government fools and those government doesn't fool. This is such an extreme waste of time, intellect and good health of mankind.

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    7. Zeb says:

      OK, all you greenie wind farm huggers…explain this:

      The world’s largest and most carefully monitored wind farm, Altamont Pass in California, is estimated to have killed between 2,000 and 3,000 golden eagles alone in the past 20 years. Since turbines were erected on the isle of Smola, off Norway, home to an important population of white-tailed sea eagles, destruction is so great that last year only one chick survived. Thanks to wind farms in Tasmania, a unique sub-species of wedge-tailed eagles faces extinction. And here in Britain, plans to build eight wind farms on the Hebridean islands, among Scotland’s largest concentration of golden eagles, now pose a major threat to the species’ survival in the UK.

    8. Zeb says:

      Cuisinarts of the Air:

      …monitoring report from Canada’s second-largest wind farm, the Wolfe Island EcoPower® Centre. In the first eight months of operation, the centre reported 1,962 bird and bat deaths involving 33 bird species and five bat species.

    9. Zeb says:

      The sprawling $475-million Wolfe Island facility in Frontenac Township off the shores of Kingston, Ont., features 86 wind turbine generators capable of producing 197.8 MW at full capacity — which never occurs because wind is intermittent. The first of two monitoring reports to date, released in February, documented 45 bird fatalities and 45 bat fatalities during May 2009 and June 2009.

      The second report, covering the six months between July 2009 and December 2009, documented 602 bird fatalities and 1,270 bat fatalities. The number of raptor and vulture fatalities — 13 in the six-month period — were “among the highest” of any wind farm in the province, according to an official with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

    10. Zeb says:

      Colliding with blades is hardly the only risk wind power poses to birds and bats. Researchers have also found that the construction of wind farms and associated infrastructure (e.g., buildings, roads and electrical transmission lines) renders wide swaths of habitat less suitable for birds.

      Wind farms also require large plots of open land — an estimated 2.5 acres per turbine, on average. As a result, a variety of wildlife also is affected.

    11. Zeb says:

      Minnesota invested itself in alternative energy sources years ago, and so the revelation that the state spent $3.3 million on eleven wind turbines hardly qualifies as news. However, the fact that they don’t work in cold weather does. KSTP reports that none of the wind turbines work, prompting the Twin Cities ABC affiliate to dub them “no-spin zones.”

      VIDEO – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk8rsFk9i_w&fe

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