Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wind Farms in our Country

Courtesy of the anti- wind National Wind Watch's attention to wind news all over the world, I was directed towards a recent post to the Knowing Newport bulletin board by Mr. Anthony Spiratos. Given the nascent state of offshore wind development in Rhode Island and the US, I couldn't pass this one by without responding. He has since written and second and third installment in opposition to wind development near Newport.

On first read, it seems that while the author has spent some time coming up with a reasoned opinion, not in my backyard is the driving motivation for this article. On reread, I've changed my opinion and think that the author's core argument is that he doesn't want a wind farm near his home.

While it may be the case that the current proposals by the state and Allco to place wind farms offshore in Rhode Island are not economically or environmentally sound, much of what the author of these articles has said is not entirely correct, or out of date so far as I can tell. I do not make claim to be an expert, but just as this author has found sources to back up the position that wind is a bad idea, I've found contravening evidence and reports, or read what I presume to be the sources used and come to different conclusions.

Below I will examine the points in the first of his article. The format is that I will summarize in the first paragraph my understanding of his opposition to wind power, and then discuss or respond as appropriate. His second article expanding his opposing points will be responded to in a separate post. The original articles are here (Knowing Newport) and here (RI 12th) on the subject of offshore wind development in Rhode Island. There is also a third installment in Mr. Spiratos' series, which has been posted (RI 12th) and I will respond to if warranted.

Effects of wind turbines are devastating, because:

  1. Property values are negatively impacted by planning applications for wind farms, therefore development of a large wind farm off Aquidneck and Little Compton will damage the local tax base due to property devaluation. A report from the United Kingdoms Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors(RICS) studied the effects of wind farm installations on property value.

    Review of the study shows that the impact was limited to properties within 1 mile of ground installations during the planning phase, and not after construction and during operation. The study did not examine the case of offshore wind installations. The study's report is available as a PDF. This RICS study also references an earlier study by the same organization which found a negative impact on property values and a US study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project that indicated no change, or an elevation of values within 5 miles of the wind farm. Again, no study included property value effects from offshore installations.

    Interestingly, the Mayor Nysted, Denmark has been quoted in the Boston Globe as saying "They're all going up" in reference to property value in his town after the installation of an offshore wind farm.

    It should be possible already to determine if there has been any impact from the installation of the windmill at Portsmouth Abbey now that it has been in operation for over a year.

  2. Property Damage is costing money in insurance claims in Germany.

    I can find no released study or report indicating where the 200 million Euro figure is sourced. No indication is given by the author, or what I believe is his source to indicate what the nature of the property damage and the cause. The quote seems to have first appeared in this article on UKs Farmers Weekly Interactive in 2004, but is not attributed.

  3. Windmill operation creates infrasound and other effects and these are very large structures, the size of the Statue of Liberty.

    The infrasound impacts will be discussed in below in possible impacts on marine life and in part two in their impacts on humans. He is correct, the wind turbines and towers are expected to be up to 400 feet tall.

  4. Wind turbine installation contribute to light pollution, pose a risk to birds and boats. The mayor of Nysted, Denmark home was lit at night by the offshore wind farm near that city. He refers to an OSPAR report about the impacts on citizens and wild life near wind installations.

    He appears to be quoting this article in the Boston Globe, which goes on to say that the problem was resolved by complaints to the government. The quote from mayor Dambso-Andersen is misrepresented. Several other articles can be found that describe the mayors initial reactions to the project and his later views on the impact it has had on that city. These can be read on at Cape Cod Today, and on page two of this Boston Globe editorial.

    No mention of light pollution impacts on night time sky viewing are made in any of the sources on existing installations. The towers are lit with navigation and air traffic safety lighting, I'm not sure what significant impact these will have at a distance of 1.5 miles. There will likely be impact on viewing stars and celestial objects near the horizon in the direction of the wind mills due to both their blotting effects and lights, but unlikely to be a general "washing out" of the night time sky on shore.

  5. There will be disturbances to marine life because increased sediment temperatures and EM fields near transmission cables as well as noise and vibrations released into the water which may drive species away.

    These potential impacts appear to be taken from an OSPAR report detailing possible impacts, but not a study of actual impacts on habitat. At least several of these problems have been addressed in other installations or are understood on how to remediate, including the use of bipolor DC cables to reduce the EM field of the transmission line, as well as using DC transmission line to minimize heating effects.

    A recent study produced in part by the Danish Energy Authority attempted to address the impact of construction and operation of offshore wind mills on marine and bird life. Their conclusions are that generally there is no net impact, and a possible increase in biodiversity due to the creation of new habitat niches on the new underwater hardscape. This is no different than the hundreds of years of permanent debris that have ended up in the ocean creating new habitats in the ocean wherever humans go. While every site is different, and results in the US may be different due to different water temperatures, salinity and marine populations, there is no way to know without building a wind farm and studying the impacts as the Danes have done. A summary and the original report are available.

  6. Construction and operation will jeopardize the fishing industry, wind farms will destroy the ecosystem.

    See the previous point for impacts on the marine ecosystem. What evidence is there that any of the proposed wind farm locations are active fisheries? There may be an impact if these areas are active fishing grounds and are are declared off limits to boats and therefore prevent use of these areas for fishing. This impact would need be taken into account by a full project plan and study commissioned for a specific wind farm proposal.

  7. Wind power is too variable and doesn't work correctly for integration into the grid due to voltage and frequency mismatches with the generated electricity according to Glenn Schleede, working with the Army Corps of Engineers in 2002.

    Variability is a part of the grid, as usage and generating are constantly changing in order to meet the needs of consumers. Wind operators have the technology to predict with reasonable accuracy how much power they can generate within a few day time span and provide power to the grid in accordance with demand.
    Frequency and voltage matching are a technical hurdle that has already been resolved with tens of thousands of wind mills in operation around the world. Some of Schleede's points in various documents available are that there is no reduction in baseload power, wind is high unpredictable and costs energy off the grid in order to make the power usable. Many studies have concluded that while windmills do not lead to the complete shut down of standby and baseload power systems, they do make useful contributions to the total power available on the grid. American Wine Energy Association (AWEA) has a document that explains Mr. Schleede's criticisms and relationship to wind projects over the years.

  8. Additional economic impacts on the $2 billion per year tourism, yachting, tennis, and festivals will hurt or destroy these industries. He draws a comparison to Nixon pulling Navy operations from the area in 1974 and the economic turmoil that resulted.

    It is outright nonsense to equate the Navy pullout and the installation of windmills and their economic impacts. The navy being pulled is constitutes the removal of an economic input to the region. I have no reason to doubt that it was devastating at the time. However, it is extremely unlikely that the presence of windmills on the horizon is going to significantly detract from visitors coming to see the attractions of Aquidneck Island and nearby communities.

    From the Boston Globe piece earlier referenced, "At first, Damsbo-Andersen worried the wind farm would disrupt a tourism industry based around the town's centuries-old harbor. Tourists continue to arrive even after the wind farm was built, he said. One newly popular attraction is a twice-weekly boat tour of the wind farm"

    This also ignores possible economic inputs to the region during the construction and operation. Some portion of the construction and operation costs will need to be spent in local businesses and service providers, and possibly in the creation of local jobs for all phases.
Mr. Spiratos concludes his first list of complaints by indicating that a $1.9 billion wind project could be in operation within four years. That the "pristine oceanfront littered with visual and environmental pollution of hundreds of wind turbines" will appear overnight and destroy a "gorgeous, delicate and untouched environment."

I highly doubt that there is currently no visual or ecological impact already made by humans on the so called "pristine" and "untouched" environment in the waters of Rhode Island. If a wind project gets under way and builds, there will be an impact, but the fear mongering and NIMBYism that Mr. Spiratos are just that.

There are currently no formal proposals under consideration. Projected costs range from 900 million to 1.9 billion according to the RIWINDS report, released in April, and summary released in September. Any guess at completion in 4 years is unlikely for a number of reasons. The RIWINDS report suggests that a state run project use an as yet unavailable GE 3MW turbine. A more complete evaluation of the highest potential sites is underway with no date for completion set and the need to not only create state level regulation, but also to study and address existing FAA, DoD, Environmental and other impacts, there are still many years to go until any construction begins. We'll be lucky to see a formal proposal in 1-2 years, regulatory clearance and approvals to follow, at best, a wind farm being online in 5-10 years.

From a guess at costs, at today's electricity costs, assuming $1.9 billion capital cost, and 150MW realized generating capacity, excluding operations costs, subsidies, grants and other incentives, assuming a 20 year capital recovery period, cost would come to approximately 7.2c/kWh. Want to bet that in 5-10 years we'll still be paying 8.3c/kWh for generation on the New England grid with our high dependence on oil and natural gas generation?

I think that some of Mr. Spiratos points are well taken and that a project should be undertaken with the utmost respect for nearby residents and the marine ecology. It is, however, irresponsible to doom such a project before it has even been considered and to start lobbing opposition in the absence of a formal proposal. It is imperative that alternative energy sources be found that reduce the emissions of new green house gases and one of the few working and cost-effective technologies available and which is appropriate to this region is offshore wind. We don't have desert environments to do large scale solar plants, we can harness some geothermal.