We again welcome to our forum Jon Boone, an environmentalist with much knowledge about the wind industry. A few weeks ago, he spoke about wind technology as a problematic supplier of energy in A Conversation with Jon Boone – Toward a Better Understanding of Industrial Wind Technology. Following that conversation, he agreed to join us in a discussion about wind and the environment, which we now post here.
A Conversation with Jon Boone – Industrial Wind and the Environment
AT-Morgan: Mr. Boone, thank you returning to this forum for a discussion of what some might call a collision between wind technology and the environment. Which seems odd, since protecting the environment is the fundamental justification for wind projects. Could we begin by briefly discussing this conflict?
Boone: Because wind projects don’t emit CO2 into the air and their source of energy is recurrent, they offer the promise of a clean, renewable alternative to fossil fuels, along with a reduction in the significant environmental problems they generate. Indeed, the understandable desire to reduce a surfeit of greenhouse gasses, which many feel is responsible for accelerating the warming of the world’s climate, as well as the wish to eliminate such draconian extraction techniques for coal as strip mining and mountaintop removal, has enabled wind advocates to make strong gains in recent years.
AT-Morgan: If this is true, why should any environmentalist oppose wind initiatives?
Boone: When a bird on territory sees someone approaching the nest, its first instinct is often to attack in defense. But when it sees the size of the intruder, the next instinct is to flee. Caught between two equally powerful conflicting emotions, what does the bird do? It pecks its foot. Knowing it should do “something,” the bird performs a grooming displacement behavior at odds with the situation.
Our culture is awash in displacement behavior. It is noticeable in the widespread virtual realities of super heroes and wonkish wizards. We are also pleasurably distracted by ritual spectacle in our movies, our sports, and our celebrities. Formulaic news stories told in high melodrama permeate our media. Weather reporting is now the Severe Weather Forecast. Adults join with children to play in fantasy baseball and football leagues. University faculty “reconstruct” new historical realities, convinced these are as viable as those imposed by reason and experience. Is it any wonder that our children know so little of the natural world, or even recent history? Or that the spin of corporate lobbyists now dominates the political process?
There’s a lot of footpecking going on. Why else would anyone unquestioningly accept the claims of wind salesmen, unless their good intentions were whipsawed between the desire to do something about climate change, as if they could, while enjoying the comforts of a life fossil fuels make possible. Since wind developers promote their technology as both environmentally benign and effective, support for wind technology allows people to footpeckingly sooth their consciences without affecting their high-energy lifestyles.
As an environmentalist who believes we should minimize our footprint on the earth while conserving the land and protecting vulnerable species of our flora and fauna, I too was seduced some years ago by the lure of wind technology, hoping it would provide, as a reporter recently wrote, “abundant power without pollution or carbon emissions”—and, as claimed, replace dirty burning coal plants, eliminate the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, clean the air, improve public health, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and mitigate the forces evidently causing the warming of the earth. However, I knew that if something seems too good to be true, it almost always is. I could have continued to peck my foot on this issue, or I could look beyond my prejudices. As I ask others to do today.
AT-Morgan: It seems many other environmentalists continue to waffle, if not peck their feet, on this issue. Was it the “too good to be true” consideration that drove you further?
Boone: I undertook a more considered evaluation of the potential for “renewable energy,” and I found it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. A few hundred years ago, timber seemed inexhaustible, but our demand made short work of the supply. Coal, too, is renewable, but again, our demand will at some time overrun supply—and our meager lifespan won’t extend the tens of millions of years necessary to replenish it. A few generations ago, hydroelectric dams symbolized clean, sustainable, renewable energy. Because it generates bulk levels of reliable, highly responsive power, hydroelectricity became the symbol for renewable energy during much of the twentieth century; it still provides the country with 7% of its electricity. But it is now clear hydro is so environmentally treacherous, responsible for degrading millions of acres of invaluable watersheds, that no one outside China and some third world countries is building sizable new hydro plants; many are being dismantled across the continent, at taxpayer expense. Although all power generators have downsides, none are as destructive to as much land as hydro. Simply because a power source is renewable and produces cleanly without burning carbon does not mean it is green.
AT-Morgan: You’ve become a serious voice in the discussion of industrial wind and the impact on the environment. What drew you to take such a strong stand?
Boone: To better understand the wind issue, I became an intervenor in several Maryland Public Service Commission wind hearings, where I heard the technology rarely killed migrating birds, makes only the slightest noise, like the sound of “leaves rustling in the breeze,” enhances nearby property, and is virtually invisible atop mountain ridges. Wind developers gushed about how neighbors loved their “wind farms” and “wind parks.” I challenged claims made about how harmless wind technology was to birds, knowing such claims to be false, for I was concerned that a cascade of many hundred industrial wind plants sited throughout the Appalachians, with thousands of skyscraper-sized turbines, each with rotors longer than a football field, would jeopardize many species. My footpecking on wind was over.
I began to investigate other claims made for the technology, frustrated with the inadequate and self-serving punditry from experts who had testified on behalf of the industry, watching them tailor their comments to suit the needs of their clients. The industry also employed “communication” specialists to pitch disinformation, inventing repetitious “he said/she said” sophistry to confuse the public, much like the melodies of commercial jingles that subconsciously infect the mind. And so I sought the truth. Armed with a good camera and sound recorder, I went to Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, asking the residents near the wind plant located there to tell their story in their own words while capturing on film images of the wind turbines around the town, recording the sounds they made. At the same time, I found devalued properties and the real story about the taxes, jobs and local revenues wind developers actually delivered, in contrast to what they had promised. The result is what you have seen in Life Under a Windplant, which I submitted as part of my PSC testimony.
AT-Morgan: Yes, I’ve seen the documentary and it is a far cry from what we hear and what is published even in our local papers. For some reason, wind technology has an almost reverential reputation, even in rural media. Please, go on.
Boone: From there, I moved on to evaluate the industry’s bedrock claim: that it would reduce significant carbon emissions in the production of electricity while backing down the coal industry. To do this, I talked with many energy experts and read dozens of arcane journal articles, working to understand the process of modern electricity production. The result is my paper, Less for More. A few years ago, at the behest of Congress, the National Academy of Science, through its Research Council, published a thorough analysis of the Environmental Effects of Wind Energy by examining trade-offs between the technology’s performance benefits and its limitations and liabilities. A little later, Jesse Ausubel, Chairman of Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment and notable climate researcher, published a terse essay, Renewable and Nuclear Heresies. Both of these efforts reinforced and amplified what I had discovered.
The people who founded this nation believed democracy could survive only if citizens worked hard to stay informed. How can busy people untangle knowledge, if not wisdom, from the streaming strings of data dangled before them, particularly people caught up in a commercial culture where every message seems to be a sales pitch? They must start with a vibrant skepticism tied to an old fashioned BS detector that rings an alarm when something seems too good to be true. They should ask good questions and demand solid proof, not relying on unsecured promises—and realize that the responsibility for substantiation must come from those making the claim. They should be especially vigilant about those who reside elsewhere and who have a financial or ideological stake in the outcome of a proposition.
AT-Morgan: And yet, the wind industry, with the aid of those promoting the enterprise, belittles those who would challenge it as backward thinkers.
Boone: Environmental history is the chronicle of how adverse consequences flowed from the uninformed decisions of the well intentioned.
For eight years, I’ve studied the claims of wind industry developers, their trade organization, the American Wind Energy Association, and the National Renewable Energy Lab, an agency of the US Department of Energy, with staff whose jobs are dependent upon the success of renewable technologies. I’ve concluded that industrial wind energy exemplifies American business at its worst, promising to save the environment while wreaking havoc on it. Spawned, then supported, by government welfare measures at considerable public expense, it produces no meaningful product or service yet provides enormous profit to a few wealthy investors, primarily multinational energy companies in search of increased bottom lines. It’s an environmental plunderer, with its hirelings and parasites using a few truths, many half-truths, and the politics of wishful thinking to frame a house of lies. It’s all a bill of goods. Not a single claim made for industrial wind energy is true.
AT-Morgan: That is a powerful statement against an industry that is supported even at the highest levels of our government.
Boone: But, as we discussed in our first conversation, with nearly 100,000 huge wind turbines now in operation throughout the world—35,000 in the USA—no coal plants have been closed anywhere because of wind technology. And there is no empirical evidence that there is less coal burned per unit of electricity produced as a specific consequence of wind. Further, no coal plants will be shuttered and little, if any, carbon emissions will be reduced as a result of one, relatively small 100MW project—or thousands of them. There is not a shred of evidence in the real world that coordinating the aggregate output of widely scattered wind projects will substantially improve upon wind’s predictability sufficient to give it meaningful capacity value—as is claimed by wind pundits.
AT-Morgan: So this failure to accomplish the mission of replacing fossil fueled plants brings into question the whole matter of “sacrificing” a few eagles for the better good?
Boone: Wishful thinking about reducing dependence on fossil fuels should not be an excuse for becoming an environmental terrorist.
AT-Morgan: Please explain.
Boone: The reality is that no energy system is sustainable or renewable, although some are better, from the standpoint of human time, than others. The Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics are inexorable; even black holes will evaporate.
Because they are so “energy diffuse” and require so much territory, wind and solar technologies offer only a tinker’s chance of doing anything effective at the scale necessary to produce a modern quality of life for 7 billion people. The energy density of fossil fuels has provided a relatively temporary solution, although they eventually will run out. And they do have negative environmental consequences; although I should point out that their overall benefits outweigh–by far–any negatives. Nonetheless, annually dumping over 3 billion tons of CO2 into the earth and sky, which is in addition to the natural transpiration cycles of the earth, may have negative consequences that we now only poorly understand.
However, no thoughtful environmentalist should condone precipitously unleashing untested renewable technologies like industrial wind that oafishly intrude upon the land and water, claiming that “one day” other technologies will come along to make them all work more effectively. This is precisely what is happening now!
What all must understand better is the gigantic scale contemplated by limited liability wind companies—and how that scale translates into a physical presence that jeopardizes virtually everything the environmental movement holds dear. Between Maryland and West Virginia, there is potential to place 2000 wind turbines, each nearly 500-feet tall, atop 400 miles of the Allegheny Mountain ridges. About 20 acres of forest would be cut to support each turbine, with 4-6 acres to accommodate the free flow of the wind per turbine; one or more large staging areas for each wind project; access road construction; and a variety of substations and transmission lines. Cumulatively, about 40,000 acres of woodlands would be transformed into an industrial energy plant. From my previous interview, you will note how relatively little energy such an enterprise would actually generate—an average of 1200 volatile megawatts into a system that produces over 140,000, and typically less than 400 at peak demand times.
Aside from the assault on the viewshed, made even more prominent because each turbine would be spinning differentially, visible for scores of miles in any direction, the threat to wildlife would be profound. So, you see, wishful thinking about reducing dependence on fossil fuels should not be an excuse to terrorize the landscape and its wildlife on such a vast scale.
We should say this in the corridors, atop the roofs, and in the meeting halls and offices of all the mainline environmental groups who sponsor such terrorism. Like terrorist cells, wind LLCs must have networked secrecy, moving in and out of the shadows, and then striking targeted victims with remarkable stealth. It’s past time for calling this operation what it really is: environmental terrorism.
AT-Morgan: But what about all those reports and studies the industry presents to justify its technology, showing how environmentally benign it is and how easily it can be integrated into the grid system?
Boone: These “studies” are bought and paid for. I have little but contempt for pundits. Although I have a lot of respect for engineering ingenuity, I also share a distain for many projects that engineer’s have wrought over our land and waters. Perhaps this distain began in the good old days, when environmentalism meant opposing the ecological depredations of inane Army Corps of Engineer projects. The humorist Rube Goldberg made a career out of channeling the way they would often go about their business. (Some may recall the “tree swing” satire.) Not to mention those brilliant mining engineers who enable mountaintop removal coal extraction methods. Talk about ingenuity…! And the utter unmitigated gall…! But least they’re at work producing a valuable service, unlike wind integration engineers, who specialize in producing only the stuff that dreams are made of. And the environmental consequences for both be damned.
I believe strongly that the many windplants targeted for the Alleghenies represent a staggering challenge—a semi-annual gauntlet– for migratory wildlife, which in their cumulative aspect may one day be responsible for slaughtering millions of birds and bats.
AT-Morgan: But again, doesn’t the wind industry claim its technology is safe for wildlife and has offered analyses that predict the flora and fauna of a targeted area will be relatively undisturbed?
Boone: Human behavior is already responsible for the annual slaughter of more than a billion birds annually on this continent. House cats, tall structures, windows, automobiles, and the destruction of key habitat all contribute. Huge wind turbines simply add to this toll; they should not, in any reasonable moral sense, be excused because they may inflict lesser damage than is caused, say, by our pets. Ten wrongs do not make a right.
For those eager to believe that massively tall and lighted wind turbines won’t kill migrating birds of prey, song birds, and bats, I urge them to read Bridget Stutchbury’s book, Silence of the Songbirds, in which she details her concerns about this issue, relating, among other instances, the infamous wind facility in California at Altamont Pass that kills thousands of birds annually, mostly birds of prey. In recent testimony before Congress, Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy concluded that by the year 2030 as many as 1.8 million birds annually could be killed by wind turbines. Chandler Robbins, the dean of American ornithologists, joined me as intervenor in a MDPSC wind hearing because he was concerned that building a network of large turbines in western Maryland, where millions of birds migrate twice annually, would result in the slaughter of thousands of birds, some species of which have dangerously low population levels. He was so concerned that, in his mid-eighties, he drove 200 miles in a blizzard to give testimony at the public hearing.
AT-Morgan: You mention Altamont Pass here, as you did in our first talk. It has obviously had quite an impact on you. I was amused, if that term can be used, by a recent study that determined that wind turbines could be made more wildlife friendly. What seemed funny was that, in all sincerity, the author simply suggested they not be built where birds fly. It seems you might not have required this study to come to the same conclusion.
Boone: I am very concerned about wind’s potential to harm wildlife—on land and at sea. This is a worldwide issue. At a recent conference in Italy, The Landscape Under Attack, scores of prominent European environments, such as Anna Giordano, who risked her life to preserve eagles, and Stefano Allaveno, a raptor specialist, spoke out against massive wind installations, citing their concern about increasing the risk of avian mortality with wind projects.
A few years ago, Ed Arnett, a biologist with Bat Conservation International, released his study of two Florida Power and Light wind plants in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. His research reaffirmed earlier studies showing major bat mortality. Faced with the news that its wind turbines were killing thousands of bats, Florida Power and Light reacted quickly. It barred scientists from pursuing follow-up work, removed its $75,000 contribution from the research cooperative studying bat mortality, and ended the doctoral work of a graduate student who had produced two years of data showing unusually high rates of bat death at the two sites. Although Florida Power and Light has pulled the plug on further research into avian and bat mortality on its properties, the company plans to construct hundreds more turbines in the mountainous areas of the region.
Wind developers repeatedly say their newer models won’t kill wildlife. Given where they wish to place them in the eastern United States, this is highly unlikely, since tall structures kill migrating songbirds birds; millions of them die annually after collisions at night. In conditions of fog and low clouds (which abound in the spring and fall throughout the Allegheny Mountains), night migrating neotropical songbirds in large numbers are sometimes forced to fly low enough to encounter 400-foot tall structures atop a 3200 foot ridge. These birds are attracted to the lights, and often fly into the towers, as they do into windowpanes. The rotors of wind turbines are moving about 175mph at their tips, far faster than any bird’s reaction time. During the day, these rotors also threaten migrating raptors—birds of prey—as the situation at Altamont Pass reveals. Once every several years, during a “perfect storm,” the potential exists for wind installations to produce massive bird kills.
AT-Morgan: But wind developers claim very low bird kill rates overall.
Boone: Wind pundits often use an apples to orangutans comparison, citing statistics (only two or three birds killed per turbine) derived from Western turbines averaging about 150 feet tall and located in fields not known for significant avian migration—stating these should be comparable to 400 foot turbines located on high forested ridges in areas well known as a major avian flyway. This kind of comparison is no basis for credible prediction, which is the purpose of scientific analysis. Given the evidence of bodies on the ground in California and West Virginia, wind industry pundits have admitted that windplant mortality may be higher than they had expected. But not high enough to deter the building of wind projects in risky areas, since, although the wildlife mortality at these sites may be significant, and may indeed eliminate one species from nesting in, say, Maryland, it may not threaten any species with extinction…. Oh, my, how money talks.
AT-Morgan: And bats?
Boone: For reasons not well understood, bats seem unusually attracted to wind turbine rotors. Where independent studies have been permitted, the bat mortality indicates large-scale wind deployment might have catastrophic consequences.
But direct bird and bats kills from turbine collisions are not the only environmental threat. The montane forest fragmentation that would result from thousands of wind turbines will create hardship for a variety of wildlife and plants.
The scientific literature extensively documents concern for wildlife due to the harm such fragmentation will cause. Forest fragmentation has basically two components—the loss or reduction of habitat and the breaking of remaining habitat into smaller more isolated patches. Among the negative effects of fragmentation are: the elimination of some species due to chance events; an increase in the isolation among species populations due to their lessened ability to move about the landscape; reductions in local population sizes sometimes leading to local extinctions; and often wholesale disruptions of ecological processes that jeopardize survival for many species.
The clearing of wide corridors for hundreds of miles along the crests of forested mountain ridges in order to construct and operate utility-scale wind turbines will be a major contributor to forest fragmentation and loss of important forest interior habitat (which is defined as woods that are more than 100 meters from a clearing) within our region.
For the forest as a whole, roads—and maintenance of roads and infrastructure—are known to have a number of negative effects, ranging from barriers to immigration and emigration, opening new corridors that provide an avenue for native predators and competitors to enter the area, as well as creating new pathways fostering the spread of non-native, invasive species.
High elevation forest interiors offer the only habitat conditions for some species– and it is the type of habitat most easily destroyed by development. When the habitat disappears, so does the species.
AT-Morgan: What of ongoing efforts to improve turbine design and operating techniques in order to mitigate negative wildlife impacts? Why not support impact studies that examine what is happening in the ecosystem before a wind project is built—and afterward?
Boone: Good public policy requires those who make claims about the safety of their product to substantiate those claims before introducing it into the environment, deferring to what Rachel Carson called the precautionary principle. Industry funded research is always suspect. Science insists upon conclusions that account for all the evidence, not selective pieces which fit the convenience of a developer’s agenda. Post construction studies are extremely problematic, for the horse has already left the barn.
Wind LLC avian risk studies mock the scientific method. Scientists are not just experts; they work in an analytic process characterized by rigorously evaluated if this, then that experimental “conditionals” constructed from hypotheses. Analysis of this kind is supposed to have predictive power because it comprehensively considers the many variables individually– and then works to understand how they integrate to create “regularities”—patterns with a certain outcome. These predictable outcomes—and the processes used to achieve them—are then scrutinized by other scientists for validation in a process known as independent peer review. A particular experiment, however honestly and intelligently conducted, can yield the “wrong” answer for a variety of reasons. This is why experiments must be checked by other scientists, using other instruments, other conditions, even other ideas.
“Sponsored research” should always be suspect. “Truth” does not necessarily lie in the middle between two points of view. Adequate preconstruction study does not mean that, because such study is made, therefore windplants should be built. Rather, any studies should be made to determine whether or not they should be built at all. Consider the FDA model for risk assessment. Environmentalists should demand more preconstruction studies not only as predictors of risk; but also as a means of assessing whether the risk is defensible.
AT-Morgan: In what way do you believe that science can be deployed effectively to study the environmental consequences of wind projects?
Boone: As an intervenor in several regulatory wind hearings, I questioned perhaps the country’s most prominent bat expert, Boston University’s Tom Kunz, during the evidentiary hearing, posing a number of questions, all of which he answered beautifully because, as he told me afterward, he found the questions both refreshing and helpful in clarifying his own thinking. Since he himself was present during three days of various testimonies, and heard how other experts had compromised their knowledge in order to please their client, he felt especially keen about the distinction I made between a pundit and a scientist. The former, of course, is an expert who gives his opinions in some public forum, typically for pay. On the other hand, a scientist is an expert bound by a particular methodological protocol, making predictions in order to test hypotheses and following the evidence where it leads. A scientist would work very hard to eliminate biased sampling and any taint of prejudice that might affect the outcome of a particular line of inquiry.
Kunz expressed deep concern about the importance given to the role of pundits in regulatory hearings, either for or against a given issue. He felt that the hearing officers, and their bosses, the regulators and politicians, did not properly understand science, since the roles of pundits and scientists seemed blurred and confused, much in the way the engineering grandeur of a huge wind turbine confuses people into thinking it must be effective, not understanding that science must insist on actually measuring the machine’s performance. Kunz concluded his testimony by stating that there were too many unknown and problematic variables involved in the project vis-à-vis its potential to harm bats–and that therefore the project should not proceed.
I know a great deal about three proposed Maryland wind projects, all of which involved pre and post construction bird and bat mortality studies. None of the post construction studies would be done with any threshold that would alter the operation of the wind projects in any way. In fact, none of the preconstruction studies met this criterion, either. It therefore seemed to me merely study for the sake of study, providing piecework income for pundits, not scientists, and PR cover for the wind salesmen. At best, it seemed a distraction from examining the real issue: does the technology fulfill claims made for it?
Scientists are classically and continuously involved with an ultimate issue of values. Should they attach themselves to societally questionable projects merely to pursue knowledge? My virtually unequivocal opinion is: ABSOLUTELY. But, as citizens, they are also obligated to understand their work in context, and not pretend to know what they do not. This is what concerns me about Erin Baerwald, a bat expert who blithely pursues her work as a pundit, for she’s paid in part by the wind industry, but who does so as a wind booster, not only unaware of her ignorance about the actual energy performance of wind technology but staunchly using her credentials as a bat expert to promote it.
All who are concerned about the practice of genuine science–and getting it inserted properly as an enabler of better public policy, should be appalled. Since I know that limited liability wind companies provide no meaningful product or service, organizations like Bat Conservation or Massachusetts Audubon, for a fee, seem to have been co-opted as a public relations tool—to give the public the idea that the industry is really concerned about protecting the environment. I see nowhere that any wind project has been halted or even modified because of the work of bird or bat experts. Quite the contrary.
I see little that captures the notion that wind projects should not be built because there are too many unknown variables, using the precautionary principle as justification. Rather, I see bird and bat experts used as engineers or plumbers, tinkering away, hoping to discover something that might mitigate bat or avian mortality, project by project, but with no sense of consequence if they do not. Meanwhile, the wind trade association trots out for public consumption its “relationship” with the wildlife experts, confidant that those experts are one with the organization. And, if the experts do come up with a solution—wonderful. If they don’t, well, they—uh—tried…. And all the while, new wind projects are proposed in areas with a high likelihood of causing problems to bats and birds. The whole enterprise seems, well, unseemly.
The perversion of the scientific method in order to “Believe in the Wind,” as one national ad campaign urged, is a major theme behind the success of the industrial wind juggernaut. That so many environmental organizations engage in it is cause for alarm.
All the issues raised by wind projects—threats to wildlife; potential for degrading historic and protected natural heritage views; negative effects on the health, safety, and property values of neighbors; little potential for local jobs, taxes, revenues, along with the negative effects on local economies largely driven by scenic tourism; and the veridical nature of the claims about energy effectiveness and public health, especially in the context of the climate change debate—pale toward insignificance if these projects are, as producers of energy and as off-setters of carbon emissions—WORTHLESS.
AT-Morgan: Isn’t the protection of significant natural views of environmental importance?
Boone: Bingo! Some might know that John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, dedicated years of his fledgling organization to protecting the viewshed of his Hetch Hetchy Valley against the onslaught of another renewable energy project—a hydro dam. The idea that natural vistas nourish the human spirit has a long and honored place in the history of environmentalism.
Wind projects along the Allegheny ridges will transform the viewscape —and will do so for many miles. Still photographic representations will not do the visual experience full justice, however. One must see a windplant to observe that the turbine blades are often in motion at differing angles and speeds– and hear pulsing noise, like jet engines roaring on a runway, over distances more than a mile away. These turbines will simply take the 3000-foot ridge away from the viewing experience. Contrary to wind developers’ assertions that their machines will disappear into the mountains, they will be a very visible presence for many miles more, as is the case at Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. But today’s turbines, with the diameter of their rotors longer than a football field and a total height of over 400 feet, will be even more visible than the turbines at Meyersdale, creating an incredible visual vortex, with an aspect much like a wind amusement park. Indeed, many of the turbines that might one day be placed on the mountains could approach 500-feet tall.
Although some people find these turbines attractive, most have no concept of the scale and scope involved. Imagine, by way of comparison to the visual intrusion, that someone, through a series of boom boxes, was loudly and perpetually playing rap music (or any form of music) loudly throughout the Mineral County viewing experience.
Most people, even politicians, understand the need to restrain such an exuberant expression of one’s personal aesthetics. Such civic restraint should also apply in the visual arena. Pinnacle’s proposed turbines are not like a new tie or suit or even automobile. They will be quite literally an in-your-face presence to thousands of people, many of whom will find them repellent.
And I haven’t even mentioned how such bombast would mock federal and state scenic highways strictures or put at risk historically significant scenic views.
AT-Morgan: Nearer to us, the Pinnacle Knob windplant in Mineral County WV is being promoted by suggesting that it will replace fossil fueled power plants. The mitigation of CO2 seems to be the driver that causes some environmental groups to suggest these “few” kills of endangered bats, golden and bald eagles and migratory birds are acceptable losses in the name of cleaning up the planet. But if, as you suggest, wind will not make a dent in the numbers of fossil fueled plants and, in fact may require additional fossil plants to be built, isn’t the sacrifice of even one bald eagle a real problem?
Boone: Installing industrial wind installations anywhere, including the prairies of the West and the Gulf of Mexico, given that they can do very little to back down coal generation and avoid meaningful levels of CO2 emissions, is an act of environmental terrorism. And people should have the hormones to say so. Given that wind is a bunco scheme, the death of a single nematode, an earthworm, in the wake of any wind project is an environmental outrage.
Killing any bird, except starlings, house sparrows, and designated game birds by permit, is illegal! Killing the national symbol—an eagle—should be a sacrilege. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and both Maryland and West Virginia Department’s of Natural Resources are charged to protect wildlife, especially threatened and endangered species. However, the federal government has been an active enabler of the wind mess, not a dispassionate arbiter of the truth. Consequently, agencies like FW are caught with their knickers down, foot-pecking between serving God and mammon. The result is tortured new regulations, with their twisted language and acrobatic morality, allowing industrial wind buccaneers to “take” even endangered species.
AT-Morgan: I’ve come across an interesting term in my reading – “adaptive management.” The attorney at the Beech Ridge wind installation hearing brought this up several times. It seems to suggest, as counter to any statement of risk at the installation, that if one illegally killed Golden Eagle is found under a wind turbine, the facility will take corrective action, which one could only assume would be to dismantle and remove it from the migratory path? That sounds ridiculous on its face.
Boone: Indeed. But it’s even more preposterous than you suggest. As I said earlier, who is really going to shut down a plant that costs hundreds of millions of dollars? No one. And who is even going to monitor bird or bat mortality? On private lands? In remote mountain habitat? Why, ah, the wind developer…. People who believe this twaddle about “responsible enforcement” remain clueless about these realities. As I’ve said many times, recommending siting guidelines for wind is akin to giving a second story burglary ring a ladder and an alibi.
AT-Morgan: At the risk of turning this into a discussion of opposing views, it is important to note that several environmental groups, even lacking full support of their membership, condone – or at least participate in the policies that permit wind installations. How do you account for this?
Boone: Massive wind technology damages much of what many knowledgeable environmentalists hold dear, not least intrusively increasing our footprint on the land in ways that will decrease other (often more vulnerable) species and valuable habitat while furthering the cause of civil discord.
Environmental organizations that support the wind mess by pretending that the ends justify the means, by falsely assuming that wind can do anything meaningful to alter our existing energy profile, are largely responsible for the depredations unloosed by the wind industry. Their imprimatur gives the wind industry a legitimacy it does not deserve. This “legitimacy” welcomes the wind suits to a place at the government table, which then basically compels politicians to bestow upon the wind lobby political favors, given the political penchant for compromise.
The result is what we now have, with the most recent embarrassment coming in the form of the federal F&W agency recommending environmentally lunatic siting standards for birds and bats that allow the wind industry to take even endangered species—all in order to placate their political bosses. This outcome is understandable only as a political result. And it was very predictable–even inevitable due to the circumstances. When you lay down with dogs, you often wake up with fleas.
Knowledgeable naturalists are appalled, even though their silence on the subject, and their ignorant complicity in endorsing wind as an effective (sic) displacer of coal, helped bring the situation about. The very organizations formed to protect the environment have, by their failure to engage in science, undergirded the political support enabling the wind industry. Without them, I believe support for wind would have withered away in this country.
Let me cite a specific example here, using the Sierra Club. All should understand that energy religionists have run the Sierra Club for some time now, and it practices a high church kind of faith in wind that is akin to dogma (and as such is not susceptible to right reason). It attracts former save-the-world socialist types who became adrift after the cold war fizzled and who seek to serve a higher purpose. Remember that the Sierra Club worked hand-in-glove with Jimmy Carter to replace oil generation in the 1970s with coal, in the process substantially increasing coal generation in the production of electricity, in large part responding to the so-called Arab Oil embargo (let’s become “energy independent,” don’t you know) and in smaller parts because of the Club’s antipathy to hydro and, more recently, nuclear (although for a large part of its history it was a staunch supporter of nuclear, since it was the only “clean” energy source that could replace hydro). Of course, being oblivious to history, particularly its own, the organization is unaware of the irony: Be careful what you wish for….
AT-Morgan: I’m embarrassed to say that I’d forgotten that bit of history. I recall sitting in long gas station lines and the furor surrounding the shortage, but did not remember hearing about that issue. I suspect I’m not alone! Please continue.
Boone: MBA types who wouldn’t know a bat from a bowtie run the national Sierra Club. Their interest is in gaining membership and revenue. Science is, for them, not a method of seeking truth, but rather a commodity employed to sell soap. They routinely confuse engineering mechanics with science, and enjoy publishing all kinds of techno-gismo birth announcements about saving the earth from those badass corporations–but rarely do they provide their obituaries…. Perhaps the apotheosis of the Club’s recent history was embodied in the arm-in-arm photo op showing the executive director, Carl Pope, and T. Boone Pickens (Pope was also seen with “responsible” corporations like Wal-Mart and BP). As the great old Loudon Wainwright song lyrics suggest: “Roll up your windows and hold your nose….”
In twenty years, the Sierra Club will have moved on to shore up another world crisis with yet another technological fix, and all people will remember, as the countryside is littered with the wind mess, is its good intentions, especially since there’s no real accountability…. And it’s such hard work these days persuading people about the importance of protecting threatened habitat and species…. Far better to pursue the MacGuffin of wind. And scare the hell out of people about climate change.
Such organizations deserve nothing but ridicule. Their uninformed windbaggery comforts only the energy undead. For they spout nonsense greater than that produced by teenagers who routinely embarrass the society because they don’t know the century in which the civil war was fought and believe pi is something one eats with ice cream. At least these teenagers have inexperience as an excuse. The Sierra Club’s ignorance about wind is just as profound. And its leaders are smug about it.
AT-Morgan: In our region, several notable environmentalists have written to dispute the concept that it should be legal for wind LLCs to “take” a few endangered species in order to reap the “benefits” of wind. Many other rather prominent environmentalists are urging better siting standards, even if they don’t condone the “takings” rationale. In this, they continue to promote wind energy as a meaningful part of our future energy portfolio.
Boone: Yes, I know them well, and have for years. Many have the bona fides–but obviously not the fortitude–to do the right thing. Which was—is—to investigate whether wind technology had merit as an energy source before deciding whether it deserved cheerleading. Others have simply bought into the whole charade. Worse, they encourage the practice of doing pre and post wind construction avian and bat “risk” surveys, knowing those surveys will do nothing to mitigate any risks. This practice allows these “scientists” to make money while using them as political cover. To me, this is similar to the way prostitutes move as camp followers throughout military campaigns. Barbara Durkin in Massachusetts has uncovered the ugly truth about Mass Audubon as just such a camp follower with the Camp Wind farrago near Cape Cod.
On the other hand, many of my associates have spoken eloquently about their concern for the rare and magnificent creatures of the Allegheny Mountains. The threat to wildlife is profound, not only here, in the Alleghenies, but throughout the country. Last summer I spent time in Jamestown, NY, at the Peterson Institute with my old friend, Gene Morton, former curator of birds for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo–and his wife, Bridget Stuchbury, the author and professor of ornithology at York University in Ontario. Both Gene and Bridget are very concerned about the wind mess and its impact on birds along the Appalachians and near Lake Erie. Don Heinzelman, the prominent raptor expert who lives near Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain, is at work promoting an important national raptor migration corridor along the Kittatinny-Shawangunk ridge. And there’s the recent State of the Birds report from the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, which warns about wind turbines posing a threat to migrating songbirds.
No environmentalist in his or her right mind would sanction wind turbines on the high ridges of the United States, as Chan Robbins pointed out years ago. Ajax Eastman, my friend and noted environmentalist, just wrote an editorial stressing the dangers to eagles should the wind turbines of the Pinnacle Knob project be assembled. Rick Webb, a scientist from the University of Virginia wrote a wonderful, well-publicized op ed piece, in which he pointed out how wishful thinking environmentalists are ignoring long-term problems.
AT – Morgan: Two recent assessments from USF&W and the WV DNR say that the original risk assessment provided to the WV Public Service Commission by wind developers understates the potential for killing endangered species. Yet, they continue to call for siting guidelines and post construction inspection to determine mortality figures. I hate to beat this dead ‘eagle’ but how do we citizen sdeal with kind of oversight? Many of us are frustrated with federal and state agencies that are designed to protect the environment but nonetheless allow wind to kill. Can you explain how this is not a violation of federal and state law—and even international treaty—to knowingly allow the killing of these protected species. A naturalist for the State of West Virginia visited an organization (of which I’m a member) with an eagle, hawk and owl. She explained rather forcefully that severe fines and imprisonment awaits anyone in possession of a feather. Yet, these same agencies will assist construction of devices they know will grind them up like a blender.
Boone: Well, as Charles Dickens once wrote, the law can be an ass. Tall structures are the second leading cause of bird mortality in this country, behind the mortality inflicted by house cats, although the latter focuses more on less vulnerable species of birds. Tall structures often wreak havoc with species that are at risk. Adding a rotating blade to these structures only begs for more slaughter.
I continue to ask environmental organizations, such as the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Nature Conservancy, to see the cognitive dissonance at work in their bipolar, if not schizophrenic, positions on wind and cell towers, for example. Every environmental group I know has expressed grave concern about bird mortality and cell towers. Wind projects are much more problematic.
AT Morgan: Before we go, and there is so much more to discuss, I would appreciate if you could tell us how you became interested in the welfare of wildlife and your commitment to the environment.
Boone: Nearly 30 years ago, I helped found the North American Bluebird Society to undo the damage resulting from well-meaning but ill-considered decisions made over 150 years ago. During my lifetime, I have witnessed countless examples of this kind of damage. I’ve previously mentioned hydro dams. The indiscriminate use of DDT cost us dearly, although it did help in the fight against malaria. The encouraging effort to restore the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon after the chemical’s broad usage was banned cost hundreds of millions of public dollars. And now here we are with the swash, buckle, and spin of the wind industry, with its pretentious environmentalism and feckless energy production.
My interest in birds and nature began in childhood, and I have nourished that interest with considerable reading and observation over many years. I know the avifauna of the Alleghenies as well as anyone, spending much time here in recent years studying the nesting behavior of, to give but one example, the Maryland-endangered Mourning Warbler. Although my interest in birds is that of a passionate amateur, I nonetheless have written about the nesting cycle of the Golden-crowned Kinglet (having found the first kinglet nest located in Maryland,) as well as a number of other articles on the history and effectiveness of field guides. I also lecture on the subject of the region’s birds, and often take groups of people around the countryside for intimate looks at the way birds make their living in various habitats. I knew and corresponded with Roger Tory Peterson, the famed naturalist, and I am now a consultant for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York. I continue to be informed and inspired by Chan Robbins, who has studied migratory birds in the mountains of Maryland for nearly 60 years.
My work on this subject is a public service. My sole interest is enlightened public policy.
Neither I nor members of my family own property in the proposed viewshed of a wind project. And I accept no funding from any source from my work on wind.
I am a retired university academic administrator and now a painter, often using the forms of nature to inspire my work. In recent years, I’ve written extensively on the Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer.
AT – Morgan: There are issues specific to the Pinnacle Knob wind installation that would benefit from your experience, some of which are developing as we speak. Would you consider another discussion?
Boone: Certainly. But here’s the thing. Any information I provide will be meaningless — unless people get angry about this kind of exploitative trifling with the community and the economy. And the values we hold dear. Once you get past the nonsense and look these wind projects squarely in the face, all you should be able to see is the destruction that will occur over many overlapping concerns—to your community ethos, wildlife, a host of social and environmental benefits, the way you literally see your neighborhood, and, not least, your intellectual integrity.
Wind represents nonsense in and a whole lot of dumb and ugly out.
AT- Morgan: Thank you.
Boone: You’re welcome.