Whenever new technologies come to market it is always prudent
to allow them a little time to mature. Those who choose to be the “first innovators”, those who want to be first
to acquire the latest gadgets, always pay a premium price for what will surely be obsolete in short order. Examples abound:
laptop computers, wide-screen televisions and hand-held calculators – they seem to be outdated before we have paid for
them. This applies to “green” technologies as well, however the passion for being first has blinded Vermonters
to the prudence of letting the marketplace mature – allowing others to be the pioneers, “take the arrows”
of high price, low quality and inefficient design. .
wants to be “first” when it comes to technology – here in Vermont; Governor Shumlin has placed all of us
on a course toward his impossible dream of 90% “Green Energy” by 2050. His goal was set without a plan or pathway
to achieve it and with no consideration of costs or losses. Attempting to reach this goal too quickly, using today’s
technologies will result in prohibitively expensive power.
The rapid installation of this technology is
not motivated by energy efficiency or cost savings, rather the “innovators” are making what should be long term
investments in soon-to-be obsolete technologies because both the state and federal governments are giving them lucrative “incentives”
that not only cover the risks, but provide such generous tax credits and cash inducements that they are insured profits regardless
of whether their investment ever meets expectations or not – it will be the utility ratepayers who will be forced to
pay above market rates for the electricity that will cover any shortfall.
are one of the early technologies, in 13th century Dutch drainage mills were constructed to keep the sea off valuable farmland,
however by the nineteenth century the use of windmills was on the decline as the steam engine and later electric motors replaced
the inefficient, hard to maintain mills. Today, Holland’s windmills are historic relics preserved to provide tourists
with the pastoral vista they expect – technology rendered them obsolete over 100 years ago.
The best siting for
a “wind farm” is on a open plain where the wind can engage the turbines unobstructed by the terrain or structures
– a nearby example of a proper placement is the Noble-Chateauguay Wind-Park, a facility using 71 turbines with a capacity
rating of 105 MW, located near the Canadian border in Franklin Co. New York. With weather conditions similar to Vermont’s,
this facility, operating under ideal conditions, has an actual efficiency rating (capacity factor) of only 21.5% with an actual
output of only 23 MW.
Less than Ideal Conditions Here in Vermont, our mountain-top installations are far less than ideal, as the
wind is disturbed by the terrain as it approaches the turbines and as it passes through the turbine blades is redirected downward
on the leeward side of the mountain disturbing the ecology normally protected by the mountain. Some argued that the “windmills”
would add to the beauty of our Green Mountains, however Vermonters soon learned there was no aesthetic value in scraping our
pristine mountain-tops bare and erecting gigantic industrial wind machines on the ridgelines.
Consequences - In
order to construct these machines it is necessary to build access roads through the forest to the top of the mountain and
then scrape the construction site bare. Construction crews blast a 100 feet or more into the mountain to create a cavity for
the foundation that will support the tower. Frequently the blasted holes reach the water table and the fractured area around
the footings will subsequently provide a path for leaking petroleum based lubricants and cooling fluids from the machinery
to find its way into the aquifer polluting the water for miles around.
Wind Speed is all important to Industrial Wind Farms, yet the turbines
have a limited operating range: they are unable to operate in wind below 7.5 mph, do not reach their optimum operating speed
until the wind is at a sustained speed of 31 mph and must be shut down when wind gusts exceed 56 mph to avoid catastrophic
failure of the blades, tower and/or machinery. Additionally, the turbines are subject to mechanical failure and the sheer
size of the machinery insures that when a failure occurs the results will be spectacular – rotor fatigue, tower collapse
and fires caused by generator and gearbox failures, all create dangers for everyone and everything nearby.
Temperature is another variable that affects
the wind turbine’s operation, while high temperatures are not an issue in Vermont; low temperatures certainly are a
concern. Whenever temperatures fall below freezing, the accumulation of ice on the blades or the tower can quickly create
weight loads that will destroy the blades or collapse the tower. This can occur even when there is no precipitation if there
are low clouds or fog contacting the blades. As ice accumulates on the blades it tends to break loose, due to vibration, flinging
“chunks” generally weighing from one to three pounds up to 200 – 300 feet from the turbine. This phenomenon,
called “ice throw,” creates a danger to everyone and everything within its reach, including other turbines nearby.
Further; as ice accumulates on the lead edge of the blades it deforms their profile, changing the aerodynamics and reducing
performance. Low temperatures also reduce the efficiencies of producing and transmitting power, generally -20F is considered
the minimum acceptable operating temperature.
Inadequate Transmission Infrastructure
is yet another problem for Wind Farm operators who, during peak production periods, find it necessary to dump (send to ground)
excess power that the transmission lines cannot accommodate. The transmission lines in the remote areas were built to bring
power to the lightly populated areas where the turbines are being placed - not transmit significant power outbound and upgrading
the lines to accommodate the occasional overloads is not economically feasible. The power generated by wind turbines is less
predictable and manageable that that produced by traditional methods – the end of the line power being used to send
back on the line creates anomalies in both the reactive (voltage stabilizing) and effective (working) electricity. The irregularities
the wind power places on the grid requires that the power transmission be “conditioned” using a synchronous condenser, an expensive ($10M+)
piece of equipment necessary to temper the power to make it usable.
Decommissioning – State regulators
have failed to compel the Wind Farm operators to set aside, in escrow, funds to cover the removal of the wind turbines and
the restoration of the site when they close the facility. Nuclear Power Plants are required to set aside funds for demolishing
the facilities and restoring the grounds – it seems logical to require the same from the Wind Farm operators.
operation, the turbines create a number of hazards that impact both the ecosystem of the area and the inhabitants who live
Strikes are the most
obvious hazard created by the revolving turbines blades - as birds and bats flying through the turbine are struck by the blades
and killed. The carcasses litter the ground beneath the turbines creating a rich feeding ground attracting both rodents and
scavenging birds of prey. A cruel irony is that the birds of prey attracted by the rodents and carcasses frequently are themselves
killed by the rotor blades as they swoop in to feed.
Wind Turbine Syndrome is the name given to the phenomenon affecting inhabitants living
within three miles of the industrial wind turbines. The huge rotating blades create three conditions: low frequency sound,
pulsating air pressure and “shadow flickers.” After years of denial by the manufacturers and operators of large
wind turbines; conclusive evidence now documents that the rotating turbine blades create symptoms including: Dizziness (lightheadedness,
sensation of fainting), Headaches, Memory Loss (including difficulty in concentrating) Nausea, Panic Episodes (including irritability),
Pressure in the Ear, Sleep Disturbance, Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear), Vertigo (sensation of spinning), Visual
Problems (including blurring and optical headaches). While no formal testing has been done, it is believed
that other species: mammals, amphibians and fishes are also affected by the same conditions.
In Vermont, Industrial Wind Farms are a mismatch for
our geography, our tourist industry and our communities. The placement of these huge machines on our ridgelines destroys our
scenic vistas. They present clear dangers to our ecosystem and our citizens. Further they are not economically viable without
government subsidies, special tax incentives and compelling utility ratepayers to purchase the power at above market rates.
It is time to take a hard look at Industrial Wind – it is a business model that is inconsistent with our principles
and values – troubled winds for Vermont.
.H. Brooke Paige, a writer and historian, is a frequent contributor to the WORLD- this writing originally appeared in
their June 9,2014 edition.