Land-based turbines face headwinds

'At the time we started this, you had energy prices going nowhere but up...'

There are more commercial-scale wind turbines on the Rhode Island horizon than ever before and offshore wind farms that could generate a substantial portion of the state’s energy remain on track. More

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ENERGY

Land-based turbines face headwinds

'At the time we started this, you had energy prices going nowhere but up...'

PBN FILE PHOTO/FRANK MULLIN
WORTH THE ENERGY? The Portsmouth-owned turbine adjacent to the high school is now broken, with the town recently postponing a decision on whether to spend money to fix it.
Posted 9/3/12

There are more commercial-scale wind turbines on the Rhode Island horizon than ever before and offshore wind farms that could generate a substantial portion of the state’s energy remain on track.

But in many respects, the outlook for land-based wind power in the Ocean State has darkened recently, especially for municipal energy projects that had gathered momentum over the last five years.

In the depths of the recession, renewable energy in general and wind power in particular offered an attractive potential public finance and environmental-sustainability opportunity that cities and towns across the country jumped on.

Since then, in Rhode Island all but one windmill project involving a city or town government has either been abandoned or is in limbo.

And the one town-owned turbine that has been built, by Portsmouth adjacent to the high school, is now broken with the town recently postponing a decision on whether to spend money to fix it.

“I would say the last year or two the wind industry has taken a hit,” said Bristol renewable energy consultant Bob Chew.

In July, Westerly abandoned a public-private partnership with North Kingstown-based Wind Energy Development LLC to build two turbines on town land because of resident opposition.

In Jamestown, a five-year, $170,000 study of building a turbine at Taylor Point was abandoned last month over declining economic prospects and mounting concern over the risk and reward involved.

On the other side of the Claiborne Pell Bridge, the largest municipal wind-power project in the state – the 25-megawatt Tiverton wind farm proposed by the nine communities of the East Bay Energy Consortium – was halted this summer amid a series of political and legal concerns.

“This whole turbine discussion really consumed everything that we were doing and now we do want to look at [other renewable energy] projects,” said East Bay Energy Consortium Chairwoman and Newport City Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano about the project, after Bristol pulled its representative from the group’s meetings last month.

Although they have become much more common here and across the country, wind turbines still draw significant opposition from residents concerned about aesthetics and safety in whatever town they are proposed.

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albertjaynock

If Wind Power is facing headwinds, so do the rest of us. The debate over continued tax credits, along with other subsidies, fails to acknowledge what the real consequences are: higher utility rates, taxpayer subsidies, and possibly increased (yes, increased) fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.

Wind power doesn’t decrease our dependence on imported oil. Oil isn’t used to make electricity. It’s used for transportation, which is driven in turn by all those SUVs on the road and the shipping costs that come with the globalization we turn to when government regulations and union monopolies make producing our own goods uncompetitive. And it does not reduce our need for conventional power plants. We still need those when the wind doesn’t blow.

So what about protecting our environment and reducing global warming? Let’s take a look at how it’s gone so far. In Texas, where they have over 2300 wind turbines connected to the grid, the Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT) has determined that because the grid has to use conventional sources to adjust for the fluctuations in wind power, the fossil fuel use (in this case, natural gas) and carbon emissions have actually gone up, not down. (This is sort of like what you get driving your car in stop and go traffic.)

So why are we doing something that triples our electric bills with “alternative energy” surcharges? Ask the politicians and industry folks who have found a new public trough to feed at. And guess who is paying for it. Wind power is facing headwinds alright, and it is being paid for by us.

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