Better Energy Ideas


Those who oppose the wind industry do indeed have ideas about improving energy production in environmentally responsible ways. But we insist on grounding our ideas in reality, not delusions about such highly problematic technology as windpower. Despite the industrial size of its plant, wind energy doesn’t work very well here in the East; it is too inefficient. The wind doesn’t blow with sufficient regularity and intensity for the turbines to capture enough energy to make much of a difference relative to the size and rate of our demand for electricity. Imagine a thousand hamsters working out on their treadmills. They will also produce electricity–but what’s the point!

The wind industry tries to compensate for these problems by making its turbines larger and placing them on high ridges with good wind, but their operation still requires back-up from fossil-fueled power plants. Even if we placed huge wind turbines at all the good wind sites possible in our region, saturating the uplands of the Mid-Atlantic with 35,000 windscrapers, this would still not reduce the mining or burning of coal, given our demand. Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined have little more than one-half of one percent of the nation’s wind potential. Consequently, the wind industry here in the East is not even a partial answer to the problems of air pollution and global warming, as its supporters claim. The higher utility rates, massive tax credit give-aways, threats to wildlife, heritage views, and property values all engendered by the wind industry are by-products of the cruel politics of the placebo so easily fashioned these days through wishful thinking.

What to do instead? First we must get serious about conservation and protecting our health. The efficiency of fossil fuels will keep them at the forefront of energy production far into the foreseeable future. However, in the short run, if we demanded, among many other measures, that our political representatives required the average motor vehicle to achieve a standard of 38 miles on a gallon of gas, we would not need Middle Eastern oil. And if we gave the coal industry the tax incentives now offered to wind in order to hasten the transition toward cleaner burning, more efficient equipment, we would make dramatic improvements in our air quality and begin to reverse the present dire circumstance whereby, every five years, the number of asthma patients, many of them children, doubles.

We must also reverse the deregulation of public utilities. This is an arena where the health of the public must be valued over investor profits. By allowing our electricity supply to become privatized, costs will continue to rise while the electricity production infrastructure will continue to deteriorate, putting at risk the ability of utility companies to deliver energy when needed, especially at times of peak demand.

Over the long haul, however, only nuclear fusion will carry the day, for we will eventually run out of fossil fuels or at least have very limited, costly supplies. Therefore, we must engage now with other nations in a strategic research initiative that will one day allow us to harness the power of the sun in ways which wonÕt require vast amounts of energy to produce very little. Twenty-five years ago, this nation opted out of such an international arrangement to pursue on-going policies of profligate waste–at our peril.

Meanwhile, the wind industry itself, if properly channeled with stringent siting rules and assisted by more thoughtful federal initiatives, might mature sufficiently to justify some of its claims. While the United States east of the Mississippi River contains about five percent of the nationÕs total wind potential, plains states have enormous wind potential. North and South Dakota, along with Kansas, have nearly 75 percent! What they lack are accessible (and costly) transmission lines (which the East has abundantly). We could redirect incentives for the wind industry to go where the wind really is. As it does for highways, the federal government could subsidize the building of transmission lines to support fields of wind turbines in very high wind potential areas; these would not have to be located on high ridges in places known for wildlife migration. Care would have to be taken neither to place them within several miles of housing nor to destroy important historical views. Throughout this scenario, tax incentives for wind would be tied directly to reductions in the burning of fossil fuels.

This kind of marriage between promise and product, government and business, technology and adequate raw materials, which is also considerate of the needs of people to live quietly and healthfully in their environment, should exemplify all responsible development.

Jon Boone, Oakland, MD

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