Research wind turbines for real stats

by Ian Dubin, Kingston Whig Standard

I note letter writer Roger Fielding’s comments about comparative kill ratios of birds with respect to the Wolfe Island wind turbine debate. He goes on to make some good points about the risks associated with pulverized fuel ash from coal-fired power plants.  Where he gets it wrong is where he weighs up the impacts from bird kills and coal-fired plants against the supposed ‘green’ benefits of industrial wind turbines (IWTs).

If Fielding spent a little time doing research into the actual economics and the environmental costs and benefits of industrial wind turbines, he would likely come to the conclusion that is beginning to dawn inexorably even on former wind power advocates like me — they don’t work.

If you examine the numbers (as Wayne Gulden in Ohio seems to have done) it is clear that wind turbines don’t result in any significant reductions in carbon emissions and they don’t contribute to overall reductions in use of coal or other fossil fuels. Some studies actually show that they result in increased carbon and pollution loads since the conventional fossil-fueled ‘backups’ need to be kept running at low (and inefficient) levels so they are available on short notice when the wind dies. Denmark went the large-scale wind energy route in the 1980s and has the highest per capita carbon emissions in Europe. France, with 70% nuclear power, has the lowest.

The only large-scale economic effect industrial wind turbines have is to funnel subsidy funds and tariffs into developers’ pockets (with a bit left over for the ‘green’ industry to build and maintain the things). You can see the effect on your electricity bills — just last week Utilities Kingston announced an 8% rate hike with more to come. Do you suppose that might have something to do with the subsidy cost of wind turbines and the need to greatly expand distribution systems?

Quite apart from the adverse ecological impacts on birds and bats (and although skyscrapers do kill birds, they are not usually cited in an important migratory flyway as the Wolfe Island wind turbines are), the jury is still out on the human health impacts — but is starting to come in against IWTs.

Recent evidence indicates that the Ontario government-mandated 550-metre setback is woefully inadequate. Nine of the 10 articles in the August 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society (including one by a researcher at Queen’s) relate directly to adverse human health impacts of IWTs. These articles bear out earlier work done, for example, by Michael Nissenbaum in Maine and Bob Thorne in Australia showing potential adverse human health impacts out to distances of the order of 10 kilo-metres.

I used to be an advocate of IWTs — then I actually did some research on them. I suggest Fielding does the same.

Ian Dubin, Kingston

6 thoughts on “Research wind turbines for real stats

  1. For reference, here’s a copy of Fielding’s original letter that Ian is responding to.
    Where’s the comparative kill data?
    Re: “Kill rates concern retired engineer,” Aug. 5.
    Yet another NIMBY article on bird and bat kills attributed to the Wolfe Island wind turbines.
    When is the Whig-Standard going to demand comparative kill data and present the alternatives?
    Vehicles and high-rise buildings are the major causes of bird deaths. But, I find no letters decrying the kills on our roads or at the apartment blocks that now line the Kingston waterfront. Can it be that no one is counting? And, do the birds killed at our home — and all of the other homes in Kingston — also go unreported?
    Wind turbines are located where the wind blows. They contribute to efforts to eliminate coal — and its attendant pollution — as a source for our electricity.
    Why bother?
    Because measurements taken following the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority Disaster showed that ash (from the coal-fired power station) contained significantly elevated levels of toxic metals including arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and thallium, in samples of slurry and river water.
    Perhaps Wayne Gulden, the “concerned retired engineer” from Yellow Springs, Ohio, is unaware that as of June 2009, six months after the disaster, only 3% of the spill had been cleaned and it was then estimated to cost between $675 million and $975 million to finish the job.
    As a consequence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on May 17, 2011, that it is releasing action plans developed by 20 electric utility facilities with 70 coal-ash impoundments, describing the measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer. The air pollution will presumably continue.
    How many birds and bats die from the pollution carried in the air from coal-fired power stations? Or the pesticides spread on the fields? And, how is the pollution affecting the rest of the food chain — and us?
    To generate electricity, we are left with the choice of switching to natural gas, which is cleaner to burn than coal. (But gas has already been rejected by the residents of Oakville.) Or we could build more hydroelectric power stations. (But concrete production is the source of 5% of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.) And then there is wind and solar power. (But the birders want to tear down the wind turbines, and others would kill the feed-in tariffs.)
    Perhaps we should just turn out the lights and resort to cooking and heating with wood. (But we’d soon run out of trees.)
    So, where’s the comparative data? And, what is the significance of the “adjusted figures” to which Gulden refers?

    Roger A.P. Fielding Kingston

  2. And here’s a subsequent comment from Fielding that was posted on my web site.
    In my letter to the Kingston Whig Standard dated August 6 I pointed out that – like many other writers – you have a financial stake – through your property on Amhurst Island – in preventing the spread of wind farms. So, to suggest that Stantec: “being on the payroll of the project developer, is doing its best to put the best face it can on the numbers,” is disingenuous – to say the least.
    I asked for data comparing kill rates with those on our roads and the high rise building that now line the Kingston waterfront. None has been forthcoming.
    And, I pointed out that wind farms are being constructed in Ontario to get away from burning coal – and some of the 170 million tons of contaminated ash that will be dumped annually in North America. (What was the bird kill in the 2008 TVA disaster?)
    I questionned how many birds and bats die from the pollution carried in the air from coal-fired power stations. (Or, from pesticides spread on fields.) Again, though my letter has been attacked, no comparative data is presented.

  3. And here’s my reply to him.
    Roger, there’s several problems with your assumptions.

    First, according to wind energy proponents, property values are NOT affected by wind projects. Therefore, according to “your side” I DO NOT have a financial interest here. You have 2 choices: either the wind industry is lying about property values, or you are mistaken. Which is it?

    Second, what in the world do kill rates from roads and high rises have to do with wind turbines? Unless you are willing to trade high rises and roads for wind turbines. Are you suggesting that? I’m not interested in spending my time doing that research, as it has no bearing on the current issue.

    Third, what in the world do wind turbines have to do with coal? Are wind turbines lessening the use of coal? Or simply used as a catalyst to replace it with gas? In which case, why not just go straight to the gas and be done with it? You’ve bought into the McGuinty-Duguid kool-aid, without critically examining their premises or their actions.

    Fourth, you must think I support coal mining. I’ve flown over WVA and KY at low altitude. I’ve driven most of Appalachia’s main roads and run most of its runnable rivers. I know first-hand what the destruction looks like. If I could get us off of coal, I would in a heartbeat. Wind turbines have nothing to do with getting us off of coal, except as a feel-good while we transition to gas.

    Fifth, nobody, including me, has ever said wind turbines are the major human-related cause of bird deaths. The problem, which you seem to keep ignoring, is that several species that are already under pressure may go extinct if we keep adding to the pressure. That’s bad enough to start with, but what makes this much worse it is for no discernible benefit.

  4. Mr. Fielding asks for alternatives to wind farms. How about NO WIND FARMS !

    = no human health problems from IWT’s, no bird and bat deaths, no property devaluations, no ruined ecology, no unsightly views, no annoyance, lower electricity bills, no difference in CO2 emissions (CO2 is plant food by the way), more jobs, healthier economy, no fat cat Liberal cronies getting rich from juicy FIT contracts, no special deals for access to transmission lines, no surplus power purchased at four times market rates and given away.

    And that’s just for starters !

  5. It would be important to note that Transalta — the owner of the Wolfe Island Wind Plant — is Canada’s largest coal producer. Transalta is EXPANDING its coal production in the Alberta oil sands and in Australia. Transalta has been condemned in the press and by the Sierra Club for its unethical operation of highly polluting coal plants in Washington DC.

    How does it feel, Mr. Fielding, to have your advocacy and tax dollars going to subsidize one of the largest, dirtiest and least accountable multi-national coal producers to expand its coal operations?

Comments are closed.