The Tall Cost of Wind

Dear Bay Weekly:

The September 30 issue of Bay Weekly had two articles that contradicted each other in a rather profound way. “Pulling Pennies from the Air” sung the praises of wind power. The very next article “The TALL Price of Power,” lamented the installation of 75-foot-tall utility poles in Huntingtown to maintain electric distribution stability.

Wind power is generated by wind turbines. According to Wikipedia, a typical commercial wind turbine is 130 to 300 feet tall. That would be two to four times taller than one of the utility poles installed in Huntingtown. Furthermore, those wind turbines do not stand silently like the utility poles of the second article. I found numerous articles where homeowners complained of wind turbine noise from over a quarter of a mile away and up to 24 hours a day. 

So of course the answer is build the wind turbines where no one lives. Right? There go vast tracks of East Coast wilderness. The ideal place to install turbines is the Appalachian Mountains or off our seashores. No more scenic and quiet vistas to be had in the mountains or at the beach.

Which brings up the other unsaid and quite necessary part of wind power: transmission lines. Yes those “alien” and “behemoth” poles of “The TALL Price of Power” would need to be installed from those remote locations to the population centers. Since the transmission lines will cover great distances, they will have to be high voltage. Higher voltage power lines mean even taller poles and wider right of ways.

If we are going to discuss wind power, let’s bring out its true costs. There is no free lunch.

Wind power is not cheaper than our current sources of electricity by a significant margin. The only way that wind turbines can generate electricity cheaper than coal, gas or nuclear is through taxpayer subsidies.

One of the main factors that drives up wind power costs is that wind does not always blow. The lack of constant wind means that you have to install even more wind turbines to provide power. Also, you need to have and pay for standby power plants — powered by coal, gas, and nuclear  — ready to jump in if the wind does not blow. Finally, besides all the costs of land disturbance, wind turbines kill numerous birds of all shapes and sizes.

Sorry, wind power will not be a benign, cheaper or environmentally cost-free source of power. It is an important part of our energy mix, but it is not a magical answer. Europe is well ahead of us in the development of wind power. However, many European countries are looking to nuclear power because of the failings of wind power.

–Michael H. Siewertsen, Huntingtown