WIND FARMS ~ true or false?
Many misconceptions exist in the minds of the general public with respect to wind energy. We know; we had them too. These wrong assertions are also frequently quoted by public officials to justify ordinances and approvals for wind farms in their regions at the expense of the neighbors’ property rights, real estate values, even (as yet not thoroughly researched) health issues.
Yet, one is hard-pressed to find any instances where wind developers or the wind industry publicly refute and correct any of these misconceptions. Apparently the wind industry is content to let you believe whatever you want, as long as it makes you supportive of their interests.
Let’s play a little game of True or False…click on each statement below to learn the truth about industrial wind turbine installations.
T or F? — The income and tax revenue to the county is so significant that the government can justify imposing turbines on their friends and neighbors, and the blight on the rural landscape.
A huge increase in personal income spent in the county and a tax revenue windfall for the county and its schools is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that by allowing a wind farm, the county will reap lots of high paying jobs (Reality: wind farms create roughly 1 permanent local maintenance job for every 12 to 15 towers – http://www.stopillwind.org/lowerlevel.php?content=topten_7).
While it is said that the only thing that’s ‘green’ about wind farms is money, the truth is there isn’t even that much of it! For instance, the Whitley County local income tax rate is 1.2329%; multiply that times the wind developer’s estimated $680,000/year ($17,000,000 over 25 years in wind lease income to farmers) (http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/SE/20101111/NEWS/11110336) – that’s less than $8,400 in increased annual income tax to the county. And that $680,000 estimate in increased personal income is not at all necessarily spent within the county; further, $680,000 is less than the income of a medical doctor or a couple corporate executives that may work in Fort Wayne but live in Whitley County for the rural character, but may sell and move away if a wind farm is put in nearby…
The wind developer estimates the project would infuse ‘close to’ $700,000 every year in tax revenue (http://www.indianasnewscenter.com/news/local/Tonight-On-Indianas-NewsCenter-Whitley-County-Wind–114242524.html). Sound like a lot? That equals less than $22 per county resident.
What about property taxes? Yes, wind farm owners pay some (but only 1/2 of what’s due for the first 10 years – see next point) but this is greatly or entirely offset by the reduced property taxes paid by the hundreds of non-participating nearby landowners, whose tax is based on fair market value (FMV) of their real estate which can be shown by appraisal to decrease as much as 40% due to their proximity to these 40-story industrial towers and turbines. Understandably, financial ‘pro-formas’ created by wind developers and provided to the county don’t factor this in.
T or F? — The wind farms are financially viable; they pay for themselves without huge tax subsidies.
Assuming that wind farms can stand on their own financially in a sufficiently short period of time is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that they pay their fair share of property taxes.
Wind developers get 10 years of various tax subsidy ‘life support’ when they build a wind farm. To begin with, wind developers essentially choose between taking a federal ‘investment tax credit’ (ITC – http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US53F) which is a taxpayer subsidy equal to 30% of the wind farm construction cost once the developer ’begins construction’ – which is specifically defined as ’5% of the total cost’ by the end of 2011 (it expires 12/31/11), or they can take a federal ‘production tax credit’ (PTC – http://dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US13F) for 10 years, which is a 2.2 cents-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) taxpayer subsidy (it expires 12/31/12). The PTC is used more frequently and is considered to be the ‘lifeblood of wind farm development’ (quote per the Development Project Manager for enXco who spoke at WIndiana in July 2011.)
Then at the state/local level, all wind farm developers in Indiana push for and get 10-year property tax abatements. An abatement cuts the wind developer’s property taxes in half over 10 years – the county’s residents have to make up for it. To get the tax abatement, wind developers push county council to designate the thousands or tens of thousands of acres they lease from farmers be deemed essentially ‘blighted’ – no growth, no normal development, substandard housing – in direct violation of the definition per Indiana law and applicable statutes (http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title6/ar1.1/ch12.1.html). This ‘blighted’ area is called an ‘economic revitalization area’ (ERA) in Indiana (other states call them something similar, e.g., ‘enhanced enterprise zone’ or EEZ in Missouri).
T or F — Wind farms are just like regulated public utilities whose compliance with laws and ordinances are monitored closely and strictly enforced by the state and local government.
Thinking that some government entity has oversight responsibility and wind farms are regulated just like any public utility is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that local ordinances contain enforcement provisions and some level of protection for its citizens by holding the wind developer accountable for its actions and to resolve legitimate nearby landowner’s complaints.
Nope – unlike regulated public utilities, there is no ‘hammer’ required in local ordinances to force a wind developer ‘make good’ on its promises to protect non-participating nearby landowners. It’s the wild west. Wind developers are private companies, leasing land from farmers in secret deals; nothing is transparent, there is no government agency oversight. Unlike regulated public utilities, no government agency ever checks to see if complaints against the company are fairly resolved.
T or F — Where turbines exist, all the financial, environmental, and health impacts were studied and well known prior to the approval of the laws governing them.
That all the facts are known, all issues have been researched and resolved, and everything is disclosed in a transparent prior way prior to wind farm approval and development would seem to be obvious, but this too is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – since wind farms are popping up all over, there must be nothing controversial about them anymore (http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2011/08/29/wind-power-is-dying/).
Nothing could be further from the truth. The reason wind farms generally get approved and built is the hidden and ‘back room’ nature of the deals,the non-transparency during the development, and by the time the public ‘gets wind of it’ (pun intended) and tries to organize its opposition, it’s too late.
T or F — Wind turbine ‘setbacks’ are based on sound science, and far enough away from the property lines so they don’t harm the neighbor’s property values, their health, or impose their ugly noise and ‘shadow flicker’ on them.
Believing that the commonly applied 1,000-foot setback from wind turbine tower to the foundation of any area residence is an accepted ‘industry standard’ based on scientific study (even Duke Energy says there is no industry standard – see #1 – http://www.duke-energy.com/gailwind/gail-siting-faqs.asp) is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that any of the studies touted by the wind industry are unbiased and have been ‘peer-reviewed’ by independent scientists with no stake in the results
Virtually every study ever cited by the pro-wind industry is commissioned and paid for by the wind industry, using your tax dollars. The wind industry has the resources – the money from tax subsidies, the organization and political lobby – to get the study results they want, unlike the individuals who are just trying to protect their property values, health and lifestyle through volunteer ‘grass-roots’ efforts.
T or F? — The energy produced is used locally and benefits the community where the wind farm is located.
Virtually all electricity produced by wind farms in the U.S. is sold to one of three separate transmission networks – a.k.a., the electrical grid ( http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/wind_how.html and http://www.rechargenews.com/energy/wind/article246861.ece ). Presuming that the local resident ‘Hoosiers’ benefit by getting cheap or discounted electricity produced by the nearby wind farm is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that Indiana has sufficient wind and is an excellent place for wind farms (Reality: Indiana does not even rank as in the top 1/3 of states – i.e., it’s not in the top 17 – deemed to be the ‘windiest’ according to the AWEA, the pro-wind industry’s most prominent organization. Through November 2010, the AWEA didn’t even rank Indiana in the top 20 states on its website, and ranked Indiana’s wind potential below ‘Moderate’ which is below ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’ – http://archive.awea.org/newsroom/pdf/Top_20_States_with_Wind_Energy_Potential.pdf)
T or F? — Wind reduces our need for coal burning power plants.
Reducing our need for coal-burning electrical power plants is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that wind power will reduce carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect.
How can wind replace – even in small part – the steady, reliable 24/7 electricity produced by coal and natural gas? Wind is intermittent, unreliable, and not produced when or where we need it. It can’t be stored so it is an immediately perishable commodity if the surge from wind power suddenly hits the grid and cannot be used, so it gets wasted. And the more wind farms we build and the more irregular electricity they produce, the more unstable it makes the grid and the more difficult it is to accommodate.
Inefficient cycling of coal burning electrical power plants by cycling down to accommodate wind surges when it happens, then cycling up again when the wind stops blowing, can actually increase net carbon emissions (http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2010/06/23/wind-integration-does-it-reduce-pollution-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions/ and http://www.hwecoop.com/advice/Rational%20Look%20Renewables%201%202.pdf )
T or F? — This is ‘green energy’ so the payback period is sufficient to justify all the fossil fuels burned to manufacture, transport, erect, and maintain these 40- story tall machines.
Taking it for granted that wind energy is ‘green’ is a common misconception and related to another popular but FALSE public misconception – that the financial payback for wind energy is also sufficiently short.
Precious foreign oil is used to build these things, but they produce NO OIL in return, and only a small quantity of actual electricity (2% of our nation’s output in 2010 per the AWEA) and can potentially replace only a little bit of coal which is our primary source of electricity: coal, which we have cheap and in abundance – several hundred years’ supply within our own borders – so we are already ‘energy independent’ with respect to electricity production.
Some wind farm turbine components are built in the U.S., but blades and other components are shipped from Denmark, Spain, etc. through the Great Lakes, then transported by truck to the site where a crane (also transported by truck) so large that it takes another crane to build it (!) awaits at the site. All these burn oil of which the wind turbine will replace none; yet the wind industry component manufacturers tell you that the ‘payback’ is just a couple months. And without the enormous tax subsidies, a wind turbine and wind farm will never financially pay for itself; some estimates say that even with subsidies, the financial payback can take 20 years (http://zfacts.com/p/416.html).
T or F? — Wind produces power when the wind blows which is stored when the wind isn’t blowing.
Wind can produce only electricity. And, there is currently simply no way to store electricity economically for future use on a large scale. People sometimes think because we have batteries for small electronics and automobiles, that electricity storage is ‘scalable’. It is not – it is prohibitively expensive if theoretically available at all (http://psc.wi.gov/thelibrary/publications/electric/electric09.pdf) and (http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn306.pdf).
People hear the word ‘power’ and think ‘oil’ which is much more visible to us as we buy it frequently for our cars, the cost is easy to see compared to its use, it can be stored, it is blamed for causing wars – it gets constant negative attention in the press. But oil has virtually nothing to do with making electricity.
The wind industry does not publicly set the record straight to correct these misconceptions.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. —