To the Editor:
A recent op-ed on wind power unfortunately contained considerable misinformation. With a little research, anyone can find numerous peer-reviewed studies and strong evidence to show that wind power is a clean, safe and homegrown source of electricity and American jobs. Consider these facts:
The argument that wind drives up electricity costs is just plain wrong. According to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) who operates New York’s transmission system and competitive electricity markets, wind generation actually saves consumers money. In testimony filed with the NYS Assembly Energy Committee in 2009, CEO Stephen Whitley testified, “Our studies show that for every 1,000 MW of wind added to the system, wholesale energy costs are reduced by $300 million dollars.”
As for how the power grid actually operates, the bulk transmission system backs up all power sources. On a daily basis, system operators must deal with large factory equipment coming on and offline, millions of people turning air conditioners and other appliances on and off, loss of transmission lines, and fossil and nuclear power plants suffering unplanned outages. Changes in the output of wind farms are relatively easy for system operators to integrate, because they occur slowly and can be forecast 4-24 hours in advance.
It would be far more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large fossil and nuclear power plants, which experience large, instantaneous, and unexpected outages, requiring grid operators to keep over 1000+ MW (enough to power a small city) of fast-acting, expensive standby generation ready 24/7/365 in case one of those plants goes down.
While wind turbines do require land for siting, it’s instructive to compare them with coal mining, which every year disturbs several times the total amount of land used by wind farms. Then, an equal amount of new land must be consumed every year to obtain new coal. Only 2-5 percent of the land area of a typical wind plant is actually physically occupied by wind turbines and other equipment, while the remaining 95-98 percent can continue to be used for farming, ranching, timber, or whatever its prior use was.
Wind power is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels it displaces. Incidental losses of individual birds at turbine sites will never be more than an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activities. Conservation programs by wind developers save habitat and help protect birds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) acknowledges that wind energy is not even close to being a leading cause of mortality with respect to birds.
Claims about wind turbines’ effects on health are unfounded. A 2012 study from the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health stated, “the strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.” As an energy source that produces no air or water pollution, wind power is essential to reducing the public health impacts of U.S. energy production.
As for federal energy subsidies, fossil fuels and nuclear energy have received subsidies for many decades and continue to do so at a far greater rate than renewables. According to a recent study by the Environmental Law Institute (a nonpartisan research and policy organization) over a 7-year period from 2002-08, fossil fuels received substantially larger energy subsidies than renewables. Subsidies to fossil fuels totaled $72.5 billion versus $29 billion for renewables. Of the $29 billion, the bulk of the subsidies, $16.8 billion, went to corn ethanol.
Wind’s primary incentive, the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), is an effective tool to allow developers to raise private capital in the marketplace and bring renewable energy projects to completion, and has helped leverage $75 billion in private investment since 2005. The PTC applies only to actual electricity produced from utility-scale wind turbines. With the PTC as its engine, the wind industry has experienced an average annual growth rate of 35 percent over the past four years and currently supports over 400 manufacturing facilities across 43 states, all supplying true blue American manufacturing jobs.
With stable tax policy the wind industry can grow to nearly 100,000 American jobs in the next four years, including growing the wind-manufacturing sector by one-third to 46,000 American manufacturing jobs. The Department of Energy during the George W. Bush Administration estimated the wind industry would support 500,000 jobs by 2030 when wind would also provide 20 percent of our electricity, if the right federal policies remain in place.
Unfortunately, this enormous progress is threatened today, with the PTC expiring at the end of 2012. As families across our country struggle with unemployment, and as businesses are cutting back just to survive, it’s past time for Congress to focus its ideas and efforts on proposals that will create jobs and get our economy moving again.
Wind energy is clean, abundant, and homegrown, and its cost is dropping. American wind energy is not only a manufacturing market that America can compete in; it’s a market that we are winning.
Let wind finish the job.
Carol E. Murphy, Executive Director
Alliance for Clean Energy New York