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Economists Without Calculators
Be wary of op-eds in the New York Times that tout an “environmental revolution.”

Wind turbines in Lincolnshire

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Robert Bryce

If you think offshore wind is the answer, the costs will easily be double those on land. But placing more turbines offshore is meeting stiff resistance, and putting them on land isn’t easy either. The backlash against wind energy is global, and it’s growing. Europe alone has more than 500 anti-wind groups. In the U.K., where fights are raging against industrial wind projects in Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere, some 285 anti-wind groups have been formed. In May 2011, the BBC reported that some 1,500 protesters descended on the Welsh assembly, demanding that a massive wind project planned for central Wales be halted.

One of the biggest issues for wind projects is noise. Numerous studies have demonstrated the deleterious health effects caused by the low-frequency noise and infrasound generated by large wind turbines. The Canadian province of Ontario has been Ground Zero for the fight. According to Beth Harrington, a volunteer spokesperson for several Ontario-based environmental groups, about 40 families in Ontario have been forced out of their homes due to wind-turbine noise.

In January the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the province’s biggest farm organization, called for a moratorium on new wind-project developments, saying that the push for wind energy had “become untenable” and that “rural residents’ health and nuisance complaints must be immediately and fairly addressed.” Last July, Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal examined the noise issues related to large-scale wind projects and concluded that “the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.”

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Several countries are establishing minimum setbacks to keep wind turbines from being built too close to residential areas. In February, John Kelly, a member of Ireland’s Seanad, introduced a bill that will require large new wind turbines to be at least 1.5 kilometers from any residence. In mid-2011, the Australian state of Victoria responded to the public uproar over wind-project siting by announcing that it would enforce a two-kilometer (1.25-mile) setback between wind turbines and homes. Earlier this month, in the U.K., the Lincolnshire county council imposed an identical setback from homes, and the council’s leader, Martin Hill, told a local newspaper that “enough is enough . . . Not only are these things spoiling our beautiful countryside for future generations, they could also seriously damage our tourism industry. Who wants to spend their holiday looking at a 400-foot turbine?”

Hill went on to ask “who wants to live next door” to a wind project. “People enjoy living in Lincolnshire because we have a great way of life, not because the landscape’s blighted by wind farms.”

Here in the U.S., about 140 anti-wind groups have been formed. And an analysis of public records and newspaper clippings shows that more than three dozen cities in eight states have passed ordinances that either ban or restrict construction of large-scale wind projects. Indeed, people in rural areas around the world are complaining about being “blighted by wind farms.” That can be seen by looking at newspaper stories from Missouri, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Taiwan, Ireland, and New Zealand.

There’s a wealth of easily web-searchable information on the wind-turbine noise problem, including this long report from the Australian Senate. If Azar, Sterner, and Wagner wanted an individual account of the problem, they could have read about Samantha and Carl Stepnell, who were forced to abandon their home in rural Australia due to infrasound produced by a large wind project built near their 4,200-acre farm.

Alas, rural landowners appear to be of little concern to the economists from the Environmental Defense Fund and their Swedish co-author. Instead, they claim that the “solar and wind revolution is just beginning.” Had they bothered to use a calculator, they could have seen that their “revolution” is a thoroughly inadequate response to a global issue.

Op-ed writers are welcome to their own opinions, but not their own facts. It’s well past time for a real debate — using actual numbers — about global energy policy. But the chance for that debate is only harmed by glib claims about an “environmental revolution” that can occur only if we make energy much more expensive.

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.



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