McQuiston: The Cost of Wind

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(Host) As editor of Vermont Business Magazine, commentator Tim McQuiston
has been trying to calculate the relative costs of producing
electricity by different systems, but the recent vote in Newark has him
thinking about something else entirely.

(McQuiston) The good
people of Newark essentially voted down a local wind farm development.
And, get this, they voted it down BEFORE they knew how much they would
have been paid for it.

Here they were on the verge of getting,
quite literally, a windfall in revenues and they opted out because they
were concerned with sightlines, and the impact on wildlife. And, it
seems to me, they weren’t persuaded by the argument that they should
shoulder the burden of taking one for the team and saving the world from
global warming.

I think it’s fair to say that the Northeast
Kingdom has been a target of wind farm developers because it’s sparsely
settled and doesn’t have a great deal of political influence. But it
does have a lot of independent thinkers. The townspeople of Lowell, for
instance, wanted a wind farm; those in Newark did not. Local control at
its best.

So now I’m thinking that the real cost of an energy source may simply be measured by how much it’s being fought over.

for spots of contention here and there, people don’t seem to be
fighting much over solar; and to me that suggests that solar is fairly
inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Likewise, there’s been a
lot of saber-rattling over nuclear. But no one really seems to mind the
Green Mountain Power deal with the once-vilified Seabrook. And despite
calls in some quarters for more nuclear plants, I very much doubt
there’ll be a rush to build new ones, like there was in the ‘70s. So
frankly, both solar and nuclear seem rather innocuous at the moment.

there are big battles over tar sands from Canada, which would be turned
into gasoline. And although coal is cheap, it’s strip- mined and
jam-packed full of carbon and a whole lot of other stuff. So it seems
that everyone has an opinion when it comes to coal.

Natural gas
heats our homes, keeps the lights on, and it’s been made cheap with the
help of hydro fracking – a controversial technology. Cheap and
controversial make for a good fight and I think that clearly identifies
natural gas as an important energy source.

Then we come to wind.
And if wind were not financially viable, developers wouldn’t be working
so hard to build turbines across ridgelines and people wouldn’t be
getting arrested trying to stop them from doing it.

But it would
take roughly a thousand wind turbines to supply the equivalent of
Vermont’s electric use. And no matter how cheap it could be, no one in
Vermont would want anywhere near that many. To date, there are only 52
in operation or currently under construction.

Still, make no
mistake, wind isn’t pie-in-the-sky hippy talk. There’s money being blown
around in the Kingdom and people want to catch it. The protests in
Lowell and the town vote in Newark are likely to be just beginning of a
long fight over an increasingly important energy source.

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