TCS Daily

Green Civil War

By Iain Murray - November 26, 2003 12:00 AM

Wind power may well be the least environmentally-friendly idea ever proposed by environmentalists. That certainly seems to be the verdict of those who live near proposed and actual wind farm developments in both the US and UK.


Conservationists as committed as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and British television personality Dr. David Bellamy have come out against proposed uses of the technology. As a result, a degree of civil war has broken out in the environmental movement, with accusations of "NIMBYism" (the acronym refers to an aversion to new infrastructure projects, standing for Not In My Back Yard) flying around. One might even say that the controversy is generating a great deal of hot air.


The arguments over the proposed Cape Cod Wind Farm are a case in point. The proposal to build the USA's first offshore commercial wind-powered electricity generator in the waters off Cape Cod is partly a response to Massachusetts' new law requiring about 100,000 homes to be powered by renewable energy sources by 2009. The farm would consist of 170 wind turbines, each about 40 stories tall, and covering over 28 square miles of shallow water off Hyannis, MA, and Martha's Vineyard. The farm would generate 420 megawatts of power. Proponents claim that this would replace the equivalent of 500,000 tons of coal or 113 million gallons of oil each year.


Yet the proposed benefits are not enough for some influential environmentalists. Citing the lack of a "programmatic environmental impact statement" and the absence of suitable state and federal scrutiny, Sen. Kennedy called the arguments for the project "loud rhetoric," writing in the Cape Cod Times, where he said, "Far more is at stake in the decision than our back yards, and I make no apology for opposing this project now." Sen. Kennedy and other locals are joined by national conservation groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the International Wildlife Coalition. They point out that large marine wind turbine projects "may fragment vital bird habitat and alter migratory pathways."


Other environmental groups dismiss these concerns. Gary Skulnick of Greenpeace told the Cape Cod Times that, "Wind turbines don't make a lot of noise; they don't spew toxic chemicals. If I lived in the area, I would feel great about being on the cutting edge of innovation in this area. ... You have to think of the big picture. If we don't reduce global warming, then Nantucket and all the beautiful beaches are going to disappear."


Similar arguments are talking place in the UK, although the issue is much further along as many wind farms have already been built. A long article in London's Observer on October 5 pointed out the many and varied objections locals and environmentalists are raising against the wind farms springing up around the country in an effort to meet the United Kingdom government's target of generating 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.


Self-professed "left-wing environmentalist," Martin Wright, told the paper: "Since the Second World War, there's been a consensus that landscape matters.... That's broken down here. If people in London knew the place, they would be appalled. And yet we're portrayed as nuclear-loving nimbies in the press.... Wind turbines are a good idea in the right place.... But sticking hundreds of them on wild land is not a good idea. For a small, heavily populated country we have some stunning landscapes, but they're under threat of industrialization."


The article also points out the threat to local avian wildlife:


"Research shows, however, that wind farms are killing far more birds than the public realizes. A five-year study in California revealed that the Altamont Pass wind farm kills an average of 40 to 60 golden eagles a year, along with 'several hundred' hawks, falcons and other birds of prey. In Spain, a report commissioned by the regional government of Navarra concluded that 368 turbines at 10 sites had killed nearly 7,000 wild birds in a single year, including 409 vultures, 24 eagles and 650 bats.


"In Germany, studies show turbines have killed dozens of rare red kites.... Red kites are a conservation success story, brought back from the brink of extinction in this area [of the UK], but two were killed at this small site alone last summer. Other rare British birds are also under threat as the turbines proliferate.... A farm of 27 turbines, each 325ft high, at Edinbane on Skye has planning consent, despite RSPB objections that the site was too close to sea eagles and several breeding pairs of golden eagles, as well as merlin and hen harriers. All four species have the highest possible legal protection."


Finally, as energy consultant and TV personality Professor Ian Fells pointed out, "To meet the 2010 target, Britain will have to build 400 to 500 turbines each year. Each will be a 3MW machine, bigger than anything yet seen. 'I think they'll be doing well to get there by 2020,' Fell says. 'There's some wishful thinking in the latest White Paper. And wind power is not completely clean. You have to build huge concrete foundations and service roads and so on.'"


Fells' fellow TV star, David Bellamy has gone further. The conservationist has already led a march against one proposed new development and told the Manchester Evening News, "Wind farms don't work -- they ruin people's lives, destroy the countryside and harm wildlife. It beggars belief that certain members of the Green movement have bought into it."


There are plenty of reasons people are proposing these new commercial ventures, however. One proposed wind farm in West Virginia, would cost $300,000,000 to build, but would recover those costs and then some through various tax shelters and subsidies equaling $325,434,600. In many cases, the profit from this government largesse exceeds the income generated from electricity sales. Wind farm owners enjoy windfall profits at taxpayer expense. Green is very attractive when there are greenbacks involved, whatever the harm to local avian life.


In the end, this is an argument between two extremes. The anti-wind forces are right in several ways. Their concerns about wildlife are genuine and justified (certainly more so, given the studies, than the theoretical harm attributed to anthropogenic global warming). Yet perhaps more important is that they are correct when they say they are not nimbies. Their belief is not so much NIMBY as BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing, Anywhere, Near Anyone.

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