A Quixotic Windmill Campaign
January 8, 2003
by Dennis T. Avery
Greenpeace rang in the New Year with a huge video playing over New York’s Times Square telling Americans to spend a trillion dollars on windmills. Greenpeace wants to adorn our landscape with 300,000 huge windmills—each 250 feet high—to generate 12 percent of our electricity by 2020. The catch is that the windmills won’t replace the need for conventional power plants. (There are lots of times when the wind doesn’t blow.)
The windmills will simply be an ugly, expensive, add-on to our power grid.
Greenpeace says the windmills would create lots of jobs. They would. Unfortunately, the trillion dollars spent on windmills (and thousands of miles of new power lines to connect them) would be taken from more constructive uses of taxpayer money—such as finding a cure for cancer, or rescuing Social Security from bankruptcy.
For Greenpeace, however, the windmill idea represents policy progress. Twenty years ago, they mainly wanted fewer humans, living in mud huts with no electricity. Now, Greenpeace brags that on windy nights in western Denmark, windmills provide 50 percent of the electricity generated. But nobody needs much power at night in western Denmark. Because electricity can’t be stored, most of the windmills’ output is exported (at a loss) to neighboring countries.
A bigger criticism of the windmill campaign is that Greenpeace thinks it will prevent global warming. The eco-activists still don’t understand Mother Nature’s powerful cycles.
In 1999, the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition took out full-page ads in the New York Times claiming the Snake River salmon would go extinct unless the government tore out four dams. But, with the dams still in place, the Snake River salmon are flourishing. A known 25-year cycle in the Pacific Northwest salmon fishery reversed itself right on schedule. Salmon catches in 2002 were up more than four-fold, and soared even more in the Snake River. A pattern in ocean currents, not the logging, farming, and dams that eco-zealots love to hate, rule the fish populations.
The cycle in the earth’s temperatures is much longer: about 1,340 years according to the latest research. History tells us about the Medieval Warming (950 to 1300 AD) and the Little Ice Age that followed (1300 to 1850). History also tells us Jesus lived through the Roman Warming (200 BC to 400 AD) that was also followed by an icy age.
Now, Dr. Gerard Bond of New York’s own Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has analyzed iceberg debris in deep seabed cores from the North Atlantic. The cores show nine mild global warmings, alternating with nine harsh global cold spells, in the last 12,000 years—coinciding exactly with a known cycle in the magnetic activity of the sun!
Which brings us back to the idea of beggaring ourselves to build huge, ugly windmills that would tower over millions of acres of land and seascape. Germany has pledged to decommission the nuclear power plants that provide 30 percent of its electricity and replace them with some 30,000 huge wind towers. The German government is placating people worried about noise, visual pollution, and destroying millions of acres of wildlands by claiming that most of the windmills will be offshore, on barges.
But wind-powered electricity is at least five times as expensive as conventional power, and barge-mounted windmills are vastly more expensive than land-based windmills. (Think of the storms, and the miles of massive steel anchor cabling needed to keep the wind barges afloat and upright.)
Offshore barges produce less than 200 megawatts of electricity in the world today, mostly in Denmark, where the government is now turning away from its costly wind-power adventure. Greenpeace is talking about 325,000 megawatts of wind-driven electricity for America alone.
However, when a wind firm applied for the permits to build an offshore wind farm in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, everyone from the Sierra Club to Senator Teddy Kennedy rose in protest. “Not here!” they cried, though the Nantucket shoals are one of the few places in the United States where an offshore wind farm makes sense.
Could it be that the wind-power campaign is a Trojan horse? Does Greenpeace dangle the windmills we haven’t yet seen and learned to hate to prevent approvals for clean-coal and nuclear plants that would produce our electricity at less financial and environmental cost? Like the costly light-rail lines that no one rides, but which help block approval for the new highways that would actually relieve our traffic congestion?
Let’s send Greenpeace back to the drawing board for a better solution. In passing, we wonder who paid for the Times Square video performance, and how much good that money could have done to solve problems in real life.
This article appeared in the Knight-Ridder Tribune on January 2, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.