Is Wind Energy Green or Greenwash?

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
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Is Wind Energy Green or Greenwash?

The Friday Oct.30 edition of the Peace Arch News that is distributed in South Surrey and White Rock, British Columbia in Metro Vancouver that borders on the U.S. contained a thought-provoking snippet on wind power by Dr. Roy Strang who covers the environment for the publication.

In it he writes: "Europeans are beginning to find that installing windmills to generate electricity has not led to any significant reduction in CO2 emissions--despite all the early hopes and promises. Because wind power blows only fitfully, backup conventional generators are needed, at full capital costs, for intermittent use."

"Denmark's costs are 15 cents per kilowatt hour while Ontario's cost is six cents. In the U.S., wind-powered generation is subsidized to the tune of $23.34/kwh; compare this to gas at 25 cents, coal at 44 cents, hydro at 67 cents and nuclear at $1.59. The wind itself costs nothing; harnessing it obviously is not free."

The study Dr. Strang appears to be referring to is titled "Wind Energy The Case For Denmark" published in September 2009 by the Center for Politske Studier. Among the findings are:

--"The wind power that is exported from Denmark saves neither fossil fuel consumption nor CO2 emissions in Denmark, where it is all paid for. By necessity, wind power exported to Norway and Sweden supplants largely carbon neutral electricity in the Nordic countries. No coal is used nor are there power-related CO2 emissions in Sweden and Norway."

--"Notwithstanding its many disadvantages wind power's one striking advantage is that, like nuclear, its marginal costs of operation are very small once the capital has been paid. However, unlike nuclear, many ten to fifteen year-old turbines are past their useful life. By contrast, most conventional rotating power plant can enjoy a working life of 40 to 60 years, as evidenced by most power plants in Europe today. This puts into question the strategic, economic and environmental benefits of a power plant that may have to be scrapped, replaced and resubsidized every ten to fifteen years." we have another case of well-intentioned greenwashing (with taxpayers' green) a la ethanol on our hands where the net benefits do not exceed the total costs? Wind energy, like solar, cannot effectively be used to shave the most critical need--namely coping with peak-power demands unless you want to invest huge sums in electricity storage schemes like batteries, capacitors, and flywheels; hydro has long used pumped storage that sucks up a lot of land.

Or is this an example where, like solar, wind can be harnessed only in rare and site specific cases in close implementation with other tools such as LEED-designed buildings as in the case of Other World Computing's corporate HQ in Illinois, that, as reported on has become first U.S. technology manufacturer/distributor to become 100 percent on-site wind powered. OWC also installed the wind power plant and made other energy-saving and environmental-footprint-reducing investments like heat pumps and water conservation at the facility without subsidies.

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