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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Misinformation in Vermont's wind power debate

Vermont's State Senate is currently debating a bill, S. 30, that would impose a set of new restrictions on the siting of renewable energy facilities in the state.  I'm opposing this bill, which would throw another roadblock in the path of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  If you would like more information on this debate, a good basic resources is the Vermont Public Interest Research Group's Support Wind page.

This specific post responds to a post on the Norwich, Vermont, town listserve by Ms. Clare Holland, of Sharon, Vt., who is a supporter of S. 30.  I've responded briefly on the listserve, but said I'd add some comments here for those who want more detail.

A few errors and omissions from Ms. Holland's posting:

- Ms. Holland makes much of the fact that only 4% of Vermont's carbon dioxide emissions are from electricity generation. In fact, consumption of electrical power in Vermont accounts for much more than that, because all marginal consumption is provided by fossil plants elsewhere in the region. Vermont uses/consumes 5.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which at the marginal New England emissions rate of 0.943 pounds per kilowatt-hour equals 2.64 million tons of CO2 attributable to electricity consumption in Vermont. Adding that to the 6.3 million tons of CO2 actually emitted in Vermont means electricity consumption accounts for 30% of Vermont’s CO2 emissions, not 4%.  The cost of operating a wind farm is very low, so whenever the wind is blowing, the electricity it generates displaces electricity from the most expensive (usually oldest and most polluting) power plant on the New England ISO utility system.

- New renewable energy power plants in Vermont are already subject to the same aesthetic and other standards as are contained in Act 250.  The key difference is that under Section 248, the Act-250-like permitting regulation that governs power plants and infrastructure, there is no local veto.  Why?  Because a balance must be struck between finding a way to produce the energy we all need and the rights of people to object to projects "in their back yard."  Section 248 represents that balance, negotiated over a number of years through the legislative process.  Now the State Senate, after a few weeks of discussion which have been notable for the circulation of wild misinformation about wind, proposes to toss that process out the window.

- With respect to bird fatalities at wind farms, the answer is simple: wind farms are not a threat to birds in general.  A recent study estimates that U.S. cats kill 2.4 billion birds a year, while a summary of studies from more than 100 wind farms results in a finding that less than 200,000 die as a result of colliding with wind turbines.  In short, cats kill more birds in one hour than all U.S. wind farms do in a year.

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