Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Calling "Bullshit" on the Wind Power Witch Hunters

There's a supposedly "progressive" blog called Wind Concerns Ontario that has caught my attention in recent months.   It exists for one purpose and one only, to decry the Ontario government's development of wind turbine power.

I've found WCO kind of weird.  If you believe what is posted there, Ontario's wind power programme is the greatest hoax ever.  Wind turbine energy is, we are told, horrible - inefficient, unworkable, costly, utterly destructive of the environment.  It attracts a flock of the faithful who, typically, turn out to be rural folks who don't want windmills in their backyards.

Garry Wise of Wise Law Blog initiated a discussion on wind turbine power that generated the expected outpouring of horror stories.   One commenter lamented that a wind turbine had supposedly caused a young child to get a bloody nose.   Another said it did nothing to reduce carbon emissions because it was so unreliable all the coal-fired electricity plants had to be kept running full bore anyway.   On and on and on.

If you read my post yesterday on "epistemic closure" this is a perfect example.  WCO presents every possible bit of information it can glean on wind turbine power so long as it's negative.

Now let me begin by saying that I don't have a dog in this fight.  I have nothing whatsoever to do with wind energy nor am I threatened by the prospect of some mega-turbine landing in my backyard.  I also have nothing to do with the fossil fuel industry that's potentially threatened by alternative energy options.

But I do have experience.  About four or five years ago I had to travel to Ontario for a reunion in Muskoka.   While there I stopped off for a few days to visit a relative in Leamington.  On Day 2, I went to the emergency ward thinking that I'd developed pneumonia.   I didn't want to go to the reunion if I was seriously ill.   I was treated and given a couple of tests.   Eventually the physician came in to announce I didn't have pneumonia but I had developed a bad case of asthma.

I asked the doctor how a non-smoker, 56 years old could suddenly, out of the blue, develop asthma.  He said "welcome to Ontario."   Apparently the air quality was so foul that I contracted asthma and had to be put on a steroid puffer and pills.

I can recall driving to Toronto and gazing at distant stands of trees that should have been green but were, instead, grey.   I saw the CN Tower, or at least the silhouette of it, through the smog.   It took me about six months after I got back to the island before the asthma disappeared.

When I got home I mentioned the asthma thing to my neighbour.   She told me her nephew, an incredibly fit Coast Guard lieutenant and daily runner, had exactly the same experience when he was sent on a 2-week training course to Toronto.   He had to be hospitalized with asthma, he was put on steroids, he too took about six months after getting back to recover fully.
Now, when I engaged with all these wind power opponents at Wise Law Blog, it quickly became apparent they wanted to stick with fossil fuel-generated electricity.   One advocated "clean" natural gas which is somewhat better than coal but only so long as you don't have to think about shale fracked gas and the groundwater nightmare that causes.   Not one of these critics had a viable alternative.   When pressed they just set up straw men and knocked them down.

That kid with the nosebleed that somebody told somebody about?   Kids get nosebleeds.   Without any proof that wind energy had anything to do with this kid (if he even existed) and his nosebleed they latched on to it as conclusive proof of the evils of wind turbines.  Say what?   And exactly what do they think is happening to this little bugger's lungs from successive summers of inhaling toxic air contaminated by carbon emissions?  Oh, we won't worry about that.   Epistemic closure says to ignore any facts that don't suit the narrative.

As I have explored these anti-wind power sites (there are several) I've found a feature common to the climate change denialist community.   They simply take whatever they can get and throw it all into the mix.   The climate change denialists offer up a melange of lunacy.   Some say global warming exists; others say it's a hoax.   No matter.   Some say it's natural, others say it's sunspots.   On and on and on.  As long as you speak against it, you're okay.   It matters not in the slightest that one's theory is inconsistent with or even contradictory of the others.   The more the merrier.   As I mentioned to my friend, Scruffy Dan, when you have 16-people in a room, each espousing a different reality, what you actually have is an asylum.

The wind power witch hunters indulge in the same sophistry.    They go from kids with nosebleeds, to no reduction in carbon emissions, to utterly punitive and industry destroying costs.   Curiously enough, a lot of the sources they cite lead back to the fossil fuel industry.   But what they scrupulously avoid is the slightest mention of the other side.

At the head of the "other side" I'll put German Chancellor Angela Merkel.   She's a PhD physicist and I'm guessing she won't be knocked off stride by woeful tales of some kid with a nosebleed.   I receive periodic reports from Chancellor Merkel's climate change advisory panel, the WBGU.  It turns out that Germany is a leading nation in the development of wind turbine energy.   Now the wind power witch hunters maintain that the German experience has been a total disaster.  They're lying.

They're lying at least if you believe that hotbed of leftie radicalism, Bloomberg Businessweek.  Here is part of a story BB ran back in April about Germany's wind turbine experiment:

"Since 2002, Germany has doubled its capacity to generate wind power and has 21,000 turbines producing 7.5% of the nation's electricity. That compares with only about 1% in the U.S. The use of wind has lowered wholesale electricity prices in Germany by as much as 5 billion euros some years, says a study by Poeyry, a Helsinki-based consultant. Spanish prices fell at an annualized rate of 26% in the first quarter due to surging wind and hydroelectric production.

Since October 2008, the abundance of wind power has led to periods where German customers were paid rates that sometimes reached 500.02 euros ($665) a megawatt-hour, or about as much power as used by a small factory or 1,000 homes in 60 minutes.

One solution: Tying power markets together, allowing temporary surpluses in one area to flow toward electricity-poor zones. That's now done between the Netherlands, France, and Belgium; Germany plans to join them on Sept. 7.

Storing electricity may be another fix. In Scandinavia, Danish wind power pumps water into Norwegian and Swedish reservoirs; the water is later released to drive hydroelectric plants. Until there's more integration like that and better transmission grids, expect more Germans to sleep with the lights on.

The bottom line: As wind power generation grows, it can create regional surpluses of electricity. That makes power prices fall, hurting wind profits."

Yes, European wind profits have dropped but so what? That didn't stop IKEA from just making a huge investment in a wind farm. And, as for the cost of electricity dropping, do you think fossil fuel is going to be getting any cheaper?

And then there's China, the People's Republic of.  They're going massively into wind turbine power.  Why?  Because they're easily duped?  You pull a supposed hoax of this magnitude on the Chinese you wind up with a bullet in the back of your neck.
There's more, a lot more.   Unfortunately the Wind Power Witch Hunters are so swept up in the erotic throes of NIMBYism and so entrenched in epistemic closure that none of this is going to matter to them.   But if you're not one of those WPWH types, at least approach wind turbine power with an open mind.   Don't buy into their nonsense because there is another side to this story, one they're not going to mention.


Owen Gray said...

We live in a part of Ontario where the wind power debate rages. As the father of a child who was severely asthmatic as a little guy, I sympathize with your experience.

I think the position one takes on the issue has something to do with how long and how wide your vision is.

Those who suffer from myopia and tunnel vision will rage against the turbines.

@wiselaw said...


Thanks for your many comments on the wind power threat at Wise Law Blog


I'm not sure wind power opponents can be (or want to be) convinced, but I give you lots of credit for trying (and trying... and trying).

All the best.

Garry J. Wise

Anonymous said...

I've posted several comments on this site (Wind Power Concerns) calling out the BS that spews from this site.

One time, they ranted about how a wind tower collapsed and killed someone, positioning it as rationale for the end of wind generation. So ... if someone gets hit by a car, we should get rid of all cars too?

The logic perpetuated on the site is inane and irrelevant and obviously biased.

Good luck getting through to them, though. They're likely just a mouthpiece for the Cdn Association of Petroleum Producers.

rww said...

Thank you. Somebody had to do this. I really don't understand the point of their NIMBYism but then I like the look of windmills (even the new fangled high tech ones), I think because of what they represent

Carter Apps, dabbler of stuff said...

I totally agree, the same people who won't believe decades of scientific study on climate change willingly accept every dumb ass anecdotal story someone hears or makes up. Then they spout off about Ultrasonics , subharmonics, and vibrations; show me some data dammit!

Are they eyesores? its all perception, I kinda like them and wish they were all painted like pretty pin wheels, but that just might be some lingering image from some ergot laced pumpernickel I had one day. If I was living on big land I'd most willingly sign a contract to allow one built.

are they noisy? compared to what!
I stood within 50 ft of the base, (therefore right under the blades) less than a month ago on Wolf Island (kingston, ont) and I could not hear it for the rustling leaves and tweeting birds. I lived less than a chip shot from the 401 and the Don valley for 28 years. I don't believe that windmill noise, heard or unheard causes nose bleeds. In fact I'd willing camp below one for a month and be subjected to any medical tests they can think of. (no probes please)

I really get pissed at the Scarborough bluffs crowd. Do they honestly want us to believe that they all stand staring out at the lake all day and their lives will be ruined by windmills.
Several km of moving water will mask all industrial sounds(if there is any)and the haze over the lake most days will largely mask their "obtrusive appearance" Damage to the lake bed by building the bases is real but small considering that Pickering and Darlington have been leaking tritium into the water for 30+ years, they don't seem to be complaining about that.

I constantly question why Wind Concerns is allowed on Problogs

The Mound of Sound said...

It's all Garry Wise's fault. He set up the post that got me directly engaged with these characters.

I'm no advocate for wind power but I think it's a viable alternative that's available at a time when we can't afford to turn our noses up to any options. We have to decarbonize our economy and our society and we're running out of time.

The NOAA's James Hansen gives us Norte Americanos five years to wean ourselves off of coal - just five years - if we're to have a good chance of eventually arresting global warming driven climate change. If we don't do that Hansen argues we're bringing on a very real risk of runaway global warming. That's a catastrophe we can unleash but afterward cannot stop. For more on that I'd recommend Hansen's recent book "Storms of My Grandchildren."

I understand some of the concern about wind turbines. Even James Lovelock hates them but he's honest about why that is. Lovelock, now in his 90's, cherishes strolling with his wife through the pristine south English countryside and he doesn't like the sight of wind turbines. Fair enough. Then again Lovelock wants us to switch to nuclear electricity and there are some who have problems with that also.

Where I live I want to see sea bed turbine generation. They're already putting them in on Pugent Sound (toward Seattle) and Vancouver Island is far, far better yet. The island operates as a massive Venturi tube for the southward Pacific ("Japan")current. The currents through the narrows (that stretch 60-miles in length) are astonishing. Even the Orca don't try to get through some of the passes except on slack tide. That is a massive amount of energy just waiting to be harvested.

Being a volcanic region we also have plenty of sources of geo-thermal energy once the engineering finds a proper way to extract it. A recent Euro experiment tried to inject water directly into the magma but that caused earthquakes. Well, duh. I'm thinking there'll be plenty of other ways to get at that heat without simply pouring water into it and hoping for the best.

I think another point that's never mentioned is that wind turbine power doesn't have to be and probably won't be a long-term solution. These technologies are in their infancy and there'll be more coming down the pipe. I think we need those turbines now but we may be able to do without them in 20 or 30-years.

Anyway everyone I'm pleased you enjoyed this post. It was something I really needed to get off my chest.


The Mound of Sound said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That's a handy term, "epistemic closure". But you seem to be the one on the witch hunt. What's wrong with WCO publicizing the negative aspects of wind energy? Isn't that information essential to honest debate?

And you keep bringing up climate change: If that is the argument for wind, then you must also show that wind actually works to mitigate climate change. That's one issue wind critics raise, namely, the scant evidence that it does. It's very sloppy of you to dismiss that question as akin to denying climate science. In fact, in suggesting that we not waste our money on a technology of minimal benefit, the wind critics would appear to be much more serious than you about combatting climate change.

The Mound of Sound said...

Ah Rucio, a fossil fueler troll? If you believe the national academies of science of every western nation, you'll grasp the reality of climate change and the role that excessive carbon emissions play in it. If you shelter under a tinfoil hat and don't accept that, nothing I say will make the slightest sense to you.

All around the world nations are moving into alternate energy sources to break their carbon consumption. Wind is one of the technologies being used. There is no single technology widely available today to do it.

In Europe wind turbine power is being used as an affordable, efficient alternative to coal-fired electical generation. You obviously have a computer so all the information is at your fingertips or at least enough of it to answer you questions.

And, as for WCO, my problem is that they present any drivel they get their hands on, from any source, to slam wind power while providing utterly no balance. That, to me, is propaganda and it is indeed epistemic closure which is a technique generally used to achieve ulterior purposes.

This argument about not wasting money on a technology of minimal benefit sets up two straw men. One is that it's money wasted when as the French, the Germans, the Danes and the Chinese have so plainly shown, it's not. The second is that it's of minimal benefit. That is the same argument Tar Sanders make - i.e. Canada produces such a small portion of the world's emissions that cleaning up Athabasca won't make a dent. It's a global problem requiring global action and this reductionist excuse is utter nonsense and you can simply take that down the road.

Anonymous said...

You just did it again! I did not say anything against the reality of climate change or the need to clean up and get off fossil fuels. But since I raised the question that wind critics have of whether wind is in fact helpful in the battle against climate change, you set me up as something I'm not apparently because that's all you're ready to argue against. You set your respondent up as someone whose reply you will have necessarily dismissed.

(You also misunderstand the term "straw man", but you can do your own research about that.)

By the way, until this year's expansion of one offshore facility, the Danes did not add any new wind capacity since 2003 (which year's expansion was also offshore). The state wind developer, Dong, just announced that it will no longer pursue onshore wind, recognizing the validity of complaints of the type WCO publicizes.

Reducing troublesome replies to the absurd extreme seems to be another pitfall here. Every choice entails a cost-benefit analysis. Someone finding wind's costs to outweigh its benefits does not mean that they would conclude the same for every other action or technology you hold dear. Perhaps it even means that they have done more research into it than you.

wgulden said...

1) Noise - do you live within a mile of a project? You apparently don't believe the now hundreds of reports about their affects, from all parts of the world, recounting similar details.
2) Emissions savings - so far the only actual measurements that I'm aware of show they don't save on carbon emissions. If there is a study that shows actual savings that can be attributed to wind I have yet to see it.
3) You mentioned Wolfe. Perhaps you are aware of the significant numbers of birds and bats that are killed there.
4) The only way they reduce power rates is to revalue their output to zero cost. What is lost in the revaluation is the capital costs. Take away everybody's subsidies and wind is several times more expensive than anything else but solar.

Those four points are factual. If you can come up with an alternative set of facts I'd like to see it. And I do mean facts, not assertions, no matter who the asserter is.

What gripes me most is that I am a balance-of-the-evidence believer in climate change, and even more so ocean acidification. Wind turbines are a costly and ineffective distraction that allows us to continue crapping up the world - even speeding up the crapping. When my facts finally become generally accepted - and I think at some point they will - we will have wasted perhaps a fatal amount of money, time, resources and political capital on wind.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well wgulden all I can say is that the French and the Germans are quite enthusiastic supporters of wind turbine generation. So are the Chinese. If there was anything to your points about carbon emissions I doubt they would be placing so much stock in wind technology.

As I mentioned, Angela Merkel is a PhD physicist and she supports wind energy and I've yet to hear anyone of her calibre echo your claims. Surely if there's any substance to your contentions it would have been demonstrated by some credible scientific body. Or, perhaps, you are a credible scientific body. You didn't think to mention your credentials.

Anonymous said...

The enthusiasm of governments for wind energy is a desperation to cut carbon emissions and a consensus that instead of cutting carbon emissions they can build wind turbines instead. So even though it may not have any effect on emissions, they get credit for wind energy production as if it did.

Anonymous said...

Dead on Mound!! I had the same experience while visiting my daughter in Ontario last July. When I got back to Alberta...I too had to go on treatment for asthma. Anyong

Anonymous said...

"A junior oil and gas company from Alberta has been quietly scooping up land rights in southwestern Ontario, part of an audacious plan to bring Alberta-style exploration to the birthplace of Canada's petroleum industry." Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

This is an emerging pattern from our quest for unconventional fossil fuels whether that be seabed reserves (Deepwater Horizon), the bitumen of Athabasca or natural gas embedded in shale deposits. It's all difficult to extract and it all carries risks and repercussions.

This brief look into wind power has certainly been an eye-opener. I suppose I ought to have expected to find the RJ Reynolds/tobacco lobby spinmeisters plying their climate change denial tactics against renewables yet it took me by surprise.

I'm kind of surprised that Big Carbon isn't using its vast oil/gas/coal wealth to get a lock on the renewables industry but they're digging in and fighting on all fronts instead. It's a truly pernicious bunch.

Anonymous said...

Xcel, FPL, NRG ... Big carbon is indeed behind wind development. Like the mafia using it for money laundering, big energy uses it for greenwashing.

The spokesman/lobbyist for a consortium of developers in the mid-Atlantic U.S. is Frank Maisano, long an agent for climate science denying industries, including coal.

Marco said...
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marco said...
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The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Marco. I saw that article. Electricity rates are going up over here also and I expect that will be the way of things for many years to come. Imagine the bills you'll be getting when "peak oil" arrives.

I don't specifically advocate wind power as a solution unto itself. We need a mix of every non-carbon fueled energy alternative including solar, tidal, geo-thermal, and, yes, nuclear. I'm a late convert to nuclear but the new fourth and fifth-generation technology has changed my mind.

Different technologies are going to come online at different times and I expect wind turbine generation will lose much of its significance in the next decade or two. In the meantime, it's here and a viable stop-gap alternative.

By the way, when assessing relative costs, have you ever considered the massive subsidies our governments provide the fossil fuel industries or the hidden subsidies we give them by not fixing them with the carbon costs of their production? Factor in those hidden costs and you may come up with a much different picture.


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