Ervin: A nuanced wind policy

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Jamison Ervin, who is a member of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, is on the board of the Waterbury Local Energy Action Partnership, and works globally on climate adaptation solutions.

Nuance – the subtle difference in meaning that allows us to differentiate between whether something is good or bad, silly or serious, right or wrong, when the differences between them are sometimes not easily apparent – is vital to effective policy making. And in this era of hot-button topics (think gun control, abortion, fiscal cliff), nuance is all but drowned out by feverish and impassioned rhetoric. In this particular point in history, where we are in a global and local crucible of climate and energy decisions, wind power has somehow emerged as one of these hot-button issues in which sides have become polarized, and nuance somehow has been left behind. One must become either pro-wind or anti-wind, with only a narrow demilitarized zone between the two.

After reading the recent op-ed/rebuttal piece by Elinor Osborne on the Vermont Natural Resources Council’s statement opposing a moratorium on wind, I feel compelled to call for a more nuanced approach on wind energy in Vermont than either a “pro-wind” or “anti-wind” stance.

First, let me address what I believe to be some errors in Ms. Osborne’s letter:

• Adding wind power in Vermont does significantly reduce regional CO2 emissions. When Vermont wind energy is deployed to the regional grid, the grid operators reduce the output of the most expensive power plant in the region, which is almost always fossil-fuel fired power plants, thereby reducing emissions. In fact, the region’s grid operator — ISO-New England — put out a recent study that found that obtaining 20 percent of the region’s electricity from wind would reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent. ISO-NE’s report also found that that would drive regional electricity prices down by more than 10 percent by offsetting output at the most expensive fossil-fired power plants.

• We are currently a long way away from the point of grid instability because of renewable penetration. The New England grid can handle far more wind than we are even remotely close to deploying. Arguments about “intermittent power” putting us over a tipping point are a fallacy. Germany is rapidly advancing renewables — including wind — and despite a near 30 percent intermittent renewable penetration, they have one of the world’s most stable grids. And Vermont’s smart grid will only help increase our absorptive capacity.

• While our residential electric energy use per capita has stabilized or declined, electricity use, especially commercial electricity use, will almost certainly continue to grow. In my town, for example, electricity usage continues to grow at about 2 megawatt hours per year, even with concerted energy efficiency efforts and with one of the highest per capita solar installations in the state.

Yes, wind power is essential if we are to show the nation how we can wean ourselves from oil. No, mega-wind turbines with massive road infrastructure in sensitive, newly-fragmented habitats is not acceptable.

Let me put some numbers in perspective. Waterbury has among the highest installed solar capacity of any town in Vermont – close to a megawatt of power. Yet this is less than 1/60th of the energy that our town consumes. If we are ever to hope to come close to transitioning from fossil fuels to a low-carbon economy, clean energy will have to come from somewhere. Our towns simply do not have enough south-facing rooftops and open fields to provide for the kind of solar that is needed to get us to the state’s 90 percent goal, even by 2050. We need solar, yes, but we also need hydropower and wind power if we stand a chance of turning off the carbon spigot as a town and as a state.

Wind offers an affordable, clean, efficient and reliable source of power. That is not to say that wind power is the only answer; most certainly hydropower, solar, biofuels and methane capture must be in the mix. And many of the points that Ms. Osborne addresses are valid. Here is where nuanced policy comes in. Yes, wind power is essential if we are to show the nation how we can wean ourselves from oil. No, mega-wind turbines with massive road infrastructure in sensitive, newly-fragmented habitats is not acceptable. Certainly there is a more nuanced, reasoned way forward. But a blanket moratorium does not move us any forward, it only stalls us, at a time when the full impacts of climate change are beginning to come into focus.

Does wind have a role in Vermont’s energy future? It already does, and it must certainly continue to do so. And yes, we must identify strategic locations and necessary safeguards to minimize impacts on key habitats and unfragmented forests. I appreciate VNRC’s measured, nuanced response to the wind debate. I have no doubt this is a difficult issue for them; they have spent the last half a century tirelessly advocating for the protection of Vermont’s natural resources and environment. Indeed, their dedication is why I joined as a member. To me, the fact that they are critically analyzing this issue and working to shape a better outcome for wind in Vermont is refreshing and essential. What I understand from their position is this: “If Vermont is going to develop wind, let’s find a way to do it in the right places, with the least environmental impact and the best mitigation strategies possible.”

These are not easy issues, and these are definitely challenging times. They call for less rhetoric and posturing, and a more nuanced understanding of how to meet these challenges.

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19 Comments on "Ervin: A nuanced wind policy"

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Kevin Jones
3 years 7 months ago
On your first point you overlook the important fact that all Vermont wind projects, consistent with our flawed renewable program design, are selling thier renewable energy credits into out of state renewable programs. When they do that they are neither a net increase in renewables in the region nor do they reduce Vermont greenhouse gas emissions. In fact the correct accounting for a power contract that has been stripped of its renewable energy credits is to assign the environmental attributes of the residual mix for New England to the load served by that power contract. In short the more energy… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
Erwin, You are making a few statements regarding wind energy that are at variance with the facts. Also it would be useful for you to post the URLs of your sources. Here are three examples: “Germany is rapidly advancing renewables — including wind — and despite a near 30 percent intermittent renewable penetration, they have one of the world’s most stable grids.” Germany wind 7.3% and PV solar 4.6% in 2012, a total of 11.9% of VARIABLE, INTERMITTENT energy; source BDEW and below URL http://theenergycollective.com/breakthroughinstitut/175591/germany-energy-transition-squandered-opportunity-energiewende “ISO-New England — put out a recent study that found that obtaining 20 percent of… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago

Anne,

I have significantly shortened my response to Mr. Erwin, just posted it, but it disappeared again.

Please resurrect it.

Willem

Carl Werth
3 years 7 months ago
“Yes, wind power is essential if we are to show the nation how we can wean ourselves from oil. No, mega-wind turbines with massive road infrastructure in sensitive, newly-fragmented habitats is not acceptable.” Clear, succinct and to the point. This “nuanced” stance above is exactly what I have been trying to convey to those I engage in discussion about IWT on Vermont ridgelines when they push rhetoric and call me anti-wind. Thank you, Mr. Ervin. I have always wondered – was there ever any thought siting IWTs on Vermont mountains that already have roads to their summits in place –… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
Carl, It is not that simple. Here is an example regarding the Bolton Valley Ski Resort: Since October 2009, the Bolton Valley Ski Resort has had a Vermont-made, 100 kW “community” wind turbine, project capital cost $800,000 (includes a $250,000 gift from the Clean Energy Development Fund); vendor-predicted energy production 300,000 kWh/yr, for a CF = 0.34; vendor-predicted estimated useful service life 20 years. A recent check of the Bolton Valley website in January 2013 indicates actual energy production from October 2009 to-date (39 months or 3.25 yrs) was 509,447 kWh, for an actual CF = 509,447 kWh/(3.25 yr x… Read more »
Annette Smith
3 years 7 months ago
So where would you like Iberdrola to build wind turbines in Waterbury? Time to step up, all you people who think this is so important. Identify where you want them in your community. We keep hearing the same things repeated, most recently by Bill McKibben, that wind turbines displace fossil fuel emissions. Tell me which plants have reduced their fossil fuel consumption in response to the 767 MW wind energy on the New England grid. My research indicates that wind often displaces other renewables such as hydro and biomass, and it interacts primarily with natural gas since there is hardly… Read more »
Doug Reaves
3 years 7 months ago
I am not opposed to wind power, but I believe that these projects should be owned by the public rather than private investors. Wind power, by its nature, depends on the commons – wind, viewshed, wildlife habitat, and (up to this point) mountain tops. I am dismayed that we are letting these valuable public resources be eaten up by private and corporate interests rather than sharing them with all. I am also dismayed by the lack of imagination and planning being applied to the very important task of eliminating fossil fuel dependence. It seems we have latched onto mountain top… Read more »
Elinor Osborn
3 years 7 months ago

It’s obvious from today’s opinion piece and from the replies that there is much confusion as to what the facts are concerning ridgeline wind. And more information is coming out as Vermont’s ridgeline wind comes into production. (see a VPR piece broadcast on 1/31/13.) That’s exactly why a moratorium is needed— in order to bring out all the facts in a careful study so Vermont can plan a reasoned and thoughtful direction to go with renewables. It’s important to know that the moratorium concerns ridgeline/industrial wind only. It does not affect smaller wind installations.

3 years 7 months ago

August 16, 2012 Grid instability issues in Germany sends industry scrambling for solutions

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/instability-in-power-grid-comes-at-high-cost-for-german-industry-a-850419.html

David Hallquist
CEO, Vermont Electric Cooperative

John Greenberg
3 years 7 months ago
David: I just read the Der Spiegel article to which you and Annette Smith both make reference. As far as I can see, the only reference to wind is this: “The problem is that wind and solar farms just don’t deliver the same amount of continuous electricity compared with nuclear and gas-fired power plants. To match traditional energy sources, grid operators must be able to exactly predict how strong the wind will blow or the sun will shine. But such an exact prediction is difficult. Even when grid operators are off by just a few percentage points, voltage in the… Read more »
Annette Smith
3 years 7 months ago

Please watch this video of Luann Therrien speaking at the press conference yesterday:

The Therrien family needs a place to live, and Steve Therrien needs a job. Both their home and the health has been destroyed by the Sheffield wind project. There is nothing nuanced about what has happened to them. It is not acceptable, and shame on Vermont if we can’t put these people first, before wind industry interests.

3 years 7 months ago

I think a most important nuance that has been previously elucidated by James Howard Kunstler is that technology will never be a replacement for energy. It is tempting to believe that Rube Goldberg machines, such as IWTs, smart meters and high-frequency ballasted light bulbs will somehow replace our need for fossil fuels, but these approaches are dangerous progress traps. They all make the grid less stable by reducing power quality and make our homes less safe.

Lance Hagen
3 years 7 months ago

Mr. Post,

I have a technical question for you. In the VPR news report, Mr. Hallquist implied that the reason that the ‘capacity factors’ (CF) are low for local wind project is grid stability, forcing these projects to ‘curtail’ generation. You have stated in prior posts that you believe that the wind quality is also poor. My question is, if magically the grid stability was rectified, such that ‘Curtailment’ wasn’t required, would we still fail to achieve CFs of 0.32, due to wind quality?

Peter Romans
3 years 7 months ago

Mr Ervin actually makes an excellent case for the moratorium. Let’s say that there is a reasonable way to incorporate IWT’s in our grid. By his own admission, Ervin agrees that we have not found that “nuanced” approach. The status quo pits individuals or towns against corporate resources and the political power of the governor, the House, environmental orgs, and our flawed review process. Throwing in Sanders and McKibben ensures that there will be nothing subtle or nuanced about our next wind installations.

Richard First
3 years 7 months ago

Show me a wind turbine that sits atop a car/truck/airplane and reduces it’s Co2 emissions…then we’d have something to talk about.
Thanks to the other citizen comments above – great job explaining the real cost of this false choice for VT.

Moshe Braner
3 years 7 months ago
There are several factual errors in this article: “ISO-New England — put out a recent study that found that obtaining 20 percent of the region’s electricity from wind would reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent.” – that is mathematically impossible. First of all, most of our CO2 emissions are not even from electricity generation. Even if you amend that statement to say “would reduce electrical generation CO2 emissions by 25 percent” it would only be true if * 100% * of the power displaced by wind would have come from fossil fuels. “While our residential electric energy use per capita… Read more »
sandy reider MD
3 years 7 months ago
That the health impacts on those living near these industrial wind turbines is largely ignored by all the number crunchers is a serious oversight. My limited clinical experience and observations here in the NEK coincide with those noted by others all over the world …. these big turbines are deleterious to human health and if not sited correctly will continue to harm Vermonters. Those financially unable to abandon or sell their homes are in a bad fix. The VT Department of Health, charged with protecting the health of Vermont’s citizens, has been conspicuously absent from this debate and should take… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
In contrast to several comments, adding wind to the utility system has direct carbon dioxide reductions (CO@. Power plants are dispatched together in a regional grid. Adding wind energy in Vermont causes the utility system operator to reduce the output of the most expensive power plant in the region – almost always the least efficient fossil-fuel fired power plant. According to a 2010 New England independent grid operator study, each megawatt-hour (MWh – enough to power a typical home for a month) of wind energy delivered to the regional utility system saves 943 pounds of CO2. The New England system… Read more »
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