Acton Commentary

The Answer is (not) Blowin' in the Wind

Environmentalists deserve credit for helping us all thinkseriously about our stewardship of nature. From Genesis onward, Scripture is laden with the messagethat creation is good, that its purpose is to manifest God's glory, and thathuman beings are its stewards. Our role in creation makes it all the moreimportant that participants in debates about how properly to steward theearth's resources have a commitment to truth. Capitalizing on current confusionover fossil fuel reserves, proponents of wind power are working hard to deceiveconcerned citizens with sensational propaganda.

Groups like the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) andthe Michigan Consumer Federation promote wind power as an energy alternativethrough misleading claims. “Unlikeother fuels, the cost of wind never changes. It's free. And it has the addedadvantage of producing no pollution,” says the Michigan Federation.

Wind power produces energy, says the AWEA, “without consumingany natural resources or emitting any pollution or greenhouse gases.” Not onlyis wind power less expensive than other forms of energy production, we're told;it also increases the “security of the U.S. electricity supply.”

So overwhelming are the advantages of wind power in the eyesof some proponents, they want to use the power of government to force utilitiesand businesses to convert to wind.

Two recent studies by the Royal Academy of Engineering andthe David Hume Institute blow some much needed fresh air across wind power'smusty arguments. These studieshighlight a few ways in which the wind environmentalists are deceivingconsumers.

First, wind power is not free. There is overwhelming international agreement that windpower will force consumers to pay twice as much as the most economicalfossil-fuel option. Wind power isweighed down by collateral costs.

Both studies point to unreported capital costs like sitepreparation, acquisition, construction, and installation of hardware. Capital costs also include differencesin the cost of electricity generated during peak versus off-peak periods.

There are networking costs, including the maintenance andreplacement of existing infrastructure, and costs of new construction to meetnew electricity demands. Additional operating expenses include personnel costssuch as staff salaries and insurance--ongoing and inflationary costs that areirrespective of the electricity actually generated.

Second, wind power is not pollution-free. Fossil fuels will be used in themanufacture, installation, maintenance, and dismantling of wind turbines andtowers. Pollution results from theproduction of the plastics, metal, cement, and fiberglass used in tower and turbineconstruction.

Third, the very operation of wind turbine fields harms theenvironment in certain ways. Theirnotorious effect on bird populations prompted the Sierra Club to tab windtowers “Cuisinarts of the air.” InCalifornia alone, thousands of birds and bats, including endangered species,are killed every year--over 44,000 birds in the last 20 years, according to H.Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis. Since wind tower bases attract rodents,wind farms are death traps for owls, hawks, and eagles.

Additionally, wind power reduces open space naturalhabitat. To produce just 1,000megawatts of power a wind farm would require about 300 square miles. That's192,000 thousand acres of land that could be used for nothing else. Thiscompares to 3.05 square miles for a conventional fossil fuel plant and 2.65miles for a secure nuclear facility.

To get an idea of the land that would be needed, considerthat New York City in the summer requires nearly 11,000 megawatts ofenergy. It would take more than 2million acres of wind farms to produce that power.

The AWEA, based in Washington, D.C., notes that the neededwind farm acreage could be found in the states of North Dakota, Texas, Kansas,South Dakota, and Montana. Thesesites (and the impact from extensive wind farms, environmental and otherwise)would be conveniently distant from Washington, D.C.

Fourth, wind power does not necessarily add to the securityof our energy supply. Wind poweris unreliable with critical capacity limitations. It is incapable ofnegotiating between energy demands.During peak demand there is no way to produce more energy. During low demand there is no way toreduce it. As an unpredictablesource of energy, wind power must always be backed up with by other energysources ready for immediate use. It can never be a stand-alone energy source.

In the book of Proverbs we learn that, “The wisdom of theprudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.”Let's not kid ourselves. As a matter of policy, to base any significant stakeon wind power would be sheer folly.

Energy needs must be dealt with in an open market, devoid ofspecial taxes and subsidies. That is the only way that prices can helpproducers and consumers discover the most efficient combination of methods ofenergy production. This discovery is essential to the effort to use resourcesin way that respects their purpose: the welfare of all and the glory of God.