Vermont wind - the big picture

I was very uncomfortable attending a forum on wind power in Dorset on Wednesday, Nov 13. I have well-intentioned friends on both sides of this divisive issue. But I was deeply troubled that we were talking about small issues and ignoring extremely large ones. As the 50 of us sat in Kiva Hall discussing the noise from wind turbines, the U.S. continued to burn 68,000 pounds of coal every second, as it does all year long on average, almost all of it to make electricity. That's enough to fill that meeting hall once every 6 seconds. By the end of the meeting, we'd burned a pile of coal 112 feet high and 1,730 feet around. In my opinion, we must stop burning coal (and oil and natural gas) at this incredible rate, for two reasons.

First, we have become utterly dependent on this stuff to stay alive, and as we begin running out we'll face a horrific "thinning of the human herd." There is little question about this, only about how soon it will happen. And second, every pound burned becomes a permanent addition to our air's carbon dioxide. There is no practical way it can ever be removed, aside from waiting for 100 million years of swamp growth to once again pull that unfathomable quantity from the air and turn it back into coal, oil, and natural gas, and thereby cool the world back down to its mammal-friendly state once more.

But back to the question of wind farms. Yes, they have problems.

They kill birds. But so do cars and windows and cats and disease and old age. They make noise, although nothing remotely comparable to the sound of all the millions of tons of coal being dug and moved all over the country by rail each day. And note that proper science has debunked the study that identified Wind Turbine Syndrome.

And from a practical if hard-nosed view, even if some people suffer from this sound and will not move, I will weigh this against 20 deaths and thousands of injuries for miners, and many thousands of deaths from coal plant emissions, occurring every year, and I will choose wind with a clear conscience. Wind farms require that roads be built to the tops of ridge-lines. These roads, unlike the other four million miles of roads we've built, carry virtually no traffic so are presumably less harmful to wildlife.

Several speakers said that the tops of mountains are removed to install wind turbines. Very substantial below-grade foundations are installed, but no one is removing the tops of the mountains for wind towers. Entire tops of mountains are removed for coal mining, and millions of tons of mountain top mixed with coal waste ends up in the river valley, but this is done in the beautiful state of West Virginia, not the beautiful state of Vermont.

Speaker Annette Smith stated that wind power doesn't actually reduce fossil fuel used by power plants, which is complete nonsense.

(She attributed this statement to "the operator of a 70 percent efficient natural gas power plant." But there are no 70 percent efficient natural gas power plants.) If you turn off a wind farm, a coal or gas power plant will have to "step on the gas" and ramp up power and fuel consumption one-to-one to make up the difference. She also slipped and mentioned "the myth of global warming" and "the myth of peak oil" but was gently corrected by her colleagues.

We were told that moose require the cool temperatures of the high elevations and can't live if the mountaintops are open and hot and sunny. I'm sorry, but all the mountaintops will be too hot, with or without turbines, if we don't stop global warming. I assume that temperature is the reason there are no moose in Virginia, and we will be that warm unless we take drastic and immediate action. I want there to be moose in Vermont in 500 years, not just in 20 years. And also, when I Google photos of ridgeline wind farms, those mountaintops look to me to be still almost all forest.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist. I believe that most bad things happen only because many people do the wrong thing at the same time for rather similar reasons. But there are some people who have become extremely wealthy in the fossil fuel business and have secretly given 180 million dollars to "grassroots" groups (more correctly called "Astro-turfed" groups) that oppose wind power and solar power and deny global warming. Every group denies receiving these funds, but somebody gets them. This is dishonest. The Koch brothers are free to oppose wind power, and to tell us why, but we need to know it is them telling us. To hide it is dishonest. George Soros funds liberal causes all over the world, but he does not hide it (and he doesn't appear to profit personally from what he promotes). All I'm saying here is that I'd like to know, without any doubt, whether or not Annette's organization receives any support from the coal-oil-gas industry.

We must avoid the over-simplification of a topic which I believe to be central to our continued existence as a species. The eight billion (and growing) members of my human family are no longer living sustainably on this earth. We cannot grow enough to feed ourselves and live the lifestyle we've come to expect unless we are supplied with the steroids of cheap fossil fuel. Unless we change drastically and soon, we will eventually face a tragedy unlike anything ever seen. Do we have any moral obligation to prevent this? There are people who actually believe that the earth and the future of the human race is of no concern because the End Time is approaching. If there are enough of these people to win elections, then all I can say is "Daddy's drunk, and he's driving the car, hold on and pray." Or to hold on to my sense of humor, "after the Rapture, can I have your car?"

Bill Christian, P.E. has worked in the energy efficiency field for the past 25 years. He is a professional mechanical engineer employed by Comfort International in Jan Jose, Calif. He lives in Shaftsbury.


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