This letter was sent to an official in West Virginia government who attempted to deflect attempts for a more informed dialog about the wind industry in that state.
July 31, 2005
Energy Efficiency Program
West Virginia Development Office
1900 Kanawha Blvd East
Charleston, WV 25305-0311
Dear Mr Herholdt:
I’m responding to your July 26 letter, written ostensibly in your role as staff to Governor Manchin in response to my letter to him about the windpower industry. While I appreciate the often conflicting demands of your office (and the fact you are a fellow watcher of birds), I was not pleased with the substance of your comments. Virtually none of the claims you made for the wind industry can withstand even the most causal scrutiny. In fact, what you wrote was lifted almost directly from the industry’s own propaganda boilerplate. That you watched the documentary I produced, Life Under a Windplant, and made no mention of the very real negative effects of this “technology” on people and their quality of life is problematic. The astonishing noise and strobe lighting stemming from a massive wind facility combined with the dramatic loss of nearby property values should have served up a cautionary response. The degradation of the natural viewshed for many miles in any direction should have awakened your concern about what this industry would do to an economy largely beholdened to the attractions of its scenic natural beauty.
As a private citizen who has no financial interest in either supporting or opposing the wind industry (and as someone who very much initially wanted to support it), I have become appalled at the many false and misleading claims the industry makes to gain a foothold in our region. No “homes” would be powered by wind, unless they had an extremely expensive battery storage system. Moreover, the industry’s power generating capacity is so feckless that it would take more than 2500-400 foot (1.5MW) turbines spread over 300 miles of upland habitat to equal one 1600MW coal facility. The wind potential of the uplands of West Virginia is less than 0.1 of one percent of the nation’s total wind potential, while the entire Mid-Atlantic upland region has little more than 0.5 percent of the nation’s total. Given this finite availability of wind resource, 30,000 massive turbines would saturate the region–thousands in West Virginia alone. The very best case scenario for windpower in the Mid-Atlantic region is that future wind energy development will only slightly lessen the rapidly increasing rate in the growth of demand for electricity from “dirty” power sources, given that our demand for electricity is expected to increase at two percent each year–doubling in 30 years.
In your letter you made continued use of the concept of “price.” Here are some real price specifics about this industry. The European experience with windpower suggests that the cost of the technology is three times the cost of other energy sources. A very recent study (“All In, Wind Power is Not Cheap”) from Canaccord Capital Corporation, one of Canada’s leading investment firms, found that “Wind power costs range from $67 to $105 a megawatt, including a return on capital, compared with all-in operating costs of $34 for coal, $47 for nuclear power and $53 for hydro.” Moreover, the report states further that the “capital cost of installing a megawatt of wind power is about $1.7 million,” with low utilization rates pushing the real cost to “almost $5 million, compared with $1.3 million and $2 million for each utilized megawatt for coal and gas-fired plants.” Who would pay for this “price” in West Virginia? Of course, it would be average rate and tax payers. On a per kilowatt hour basis, windpower is one of the most heavily subsidized sources of industrial power in the nation.
A “Wind Report 2004” by E-On/Netz, one of Germany’s largest electric grid operators, confirms this analysis, adding many other “price” caveats: given the intermittent and volatile nature of the wind, both the mechanics of grid operation and transmission technology would have to be retooled–at substantial cost–to back up wind generation. In fact, if wind energy increased to provide, say, just a small percentage of the power for the PJM grid, primarily fossil-fueled generating plants would have to fire up to levels of 80 percent to function as a “shadow” back up service. This report also confirms that wind utilization rates will rarely achieve 30 percent.
You mention the role windpower will play in offsetting the price spikes of natural gas. A check of my recent (2004) account of energy sources from Allegheny Power shows that only six percent of my electricity comes from natural gas. Windpower will do virtually nothing to save me, and I dare say, West Virginians, any money at all as a hedge for natural gas prices. You did not mention the paucity of jobs, the scarcity of local revenues, and the small amount of local taxes characteristic of industrial windplants. For example, the Mountaineer wind project near Thomas, with a capital cost of around $70 million, employs only a handful of low wage maintenance employees and belatedly paid a total, over several years, of $93,000 in local taxes. Its owner, Florida Power & Light, paid no income tax in the years 2002-2003, despite making a profit of $2.2 billion during those years.
Governor Manchin should insist upon a reality check for public policies pursued by his agencies, especially one promoting economic development. If the wind industry were fully deployed in the uplands of the Mid-Atlantic region, coalplants would still be puffing away despite all the gigantic wind turbines permeating the landscape and killing wildlife, destroying culturally significant viewsheds, devaluing nearby property, while creating major nuisances for proximate neighbors. And, because of the region’s relentlessly increasing demand for electricity, likely resulting in the combustion of ever larger amounts of fossil fuels, the air quality would likely deteriorate, people would be getting sicker as a result–while paying more in rates and taxes. I submit this is not enlightened public policy.
Industrial windpower exemplifies American business at its worst. Spawned, then supported by government welfare measures at considerable public expense, it produces no meaningful product yet provides enormous risk free profits to a few wealthy investors. It is an environmental plunderer, with its hirelings and parasites using a few truths to frame a house of lies. It represents yet another extraction industry seeking to exploit the people and resources of Appalachia, relying upon distant capital, unsubstantiated claims, an uninformed public and press, and the gullibility of those seeking easy solutions to complex problems. Governor Manchin should resent the pillage of his state’s mountains, destruction of its wildlife, and the devaluation of property that will follow in the wake of wind projects.
The industry as a whole produces nominal electricity to avail itself of massive tax avoidance mechanisms for a few investors at the expense of tax and rate payers. It is best seen as an Enronesque delivery system for tax shelters, for it was Enron that pioneered the tax shelter as a commodity and, before its demise, owned and operated the nation’s largest stock of windplants (most of which General Electric purchased during Enron’s bankruptcy). The only “role” windpower will play in West Virginia (and elsewhere) will have little to do with energy production. Rather, it will serve as an investment vehicle for large corporations, even, ironically, coal (which certainly will not be threatened by wind as an energy producing “competitor”) in order to claim wind’s tax shelters.
I would be pleased to visit you and your staff to provide more details about my comments, for I recently gave a talk to faculty and staff at West Virgina University that was well received. You may wish to see my direct testimony as an intervenor in a wind powerplant application through the Maryland Public Service Commission (Case No. 9008, Synergics Wind), for here I have assembled a range of authoritative facts to substantiate my concerns. You might also wish to consult with Rep. Alan Mollohan, a West Virginia congressman who has studied this issue and who has reached similar conclusions.
Finally, I would hope that you find the opportunity to share with Governor Manchin the DVD documentary about the Meyersdale, Pennsylvania windplant. Thousands of people throughout the country have seen it and have come away much more informed about the human costs of industrial wind technology.
CC: Governor Joe Manchin
Rep. Alan Mollohan
Judy Rodd, Citizens for Responsible Windpower