Monday, June 05, 2006

Bats Oppose Wind Power: Does the Coase Theorem Apply Here?

How much more wind power should the U.S invest in and where should these pretty wind turbines be placed? Not in Ted Kennedy's backyard on cape cod for sure, but where? At the University of Chicago, the wind blew hard off of Lake Michigan maybe the midway could become a useful space after all? The environmental movement faces a challenge in stating its priorities. Is climate change the #1 issue that is far ahead in importance of other issues such as maintaining the size of the bat population?

If wind power is "green" but it is a disamenity in terms of beauty and it chops up a few bats and birds, is it a net winner? Clearly this depends on how much power it creates and how much we value this lost natural capital. Will contingent valuation guys get to dust off their tools to price these bats?

My policy suggestion here would be to have an auction where windy communities would be offered compensation for accepting the turbines. Whoever has the lowest willingness to accept would be allocated the turbines. There would be a public choice question of what these "winning" communities would do with the money they receive but wouldn't this be an efficient outcome that Coase would like?

June 6, 2006
Debate Over Wind Power Creates Environmental Rift

OAKLAND, Md. — Dan Boone has no doubt that his crusade against wind energy is the right way to protect the Allegheny highlands he loves. Let other environmentalists call him deluded at best, traitorous at worst. He remains undeterred.

For four years or more, Mr. Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.

Wind farms on the empty prairies of North Dakota? Fine. But not, Mr. Boone insists, in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia, areas where 15 new projects have been proposed. If all were built, 750 to 1,000 giant turbines would line the hilltops, most producing, on average, enough electricity to power 600 homes.

Wind projects are in the midst of a huge growth spurt in many parts of the country, driven by government incentives to promote alternatives to fossil fuels. But Mr. Boone, who wields a botanist's trowel and a debater's knife with equal ease, wants to slow them down with community activism, regulatory action and legal challenges.

His crusade harks back to the campaigns against nuclear power plants, toxic-waste dumps and dams on scenic rivers that were building blocks of the modern environmental movement. But the times, and the climate, are changing. With fears of global warming growing more acute, Mr. Boone and many other local activists are finding themselves increasingly out of step with the priorities of the broader movement.

National groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club used to uniting against specific projects are now united for renewable energy in general. And they are particularly high on wind power — with the caveat that a few, but only a few, special places should be turbine-free.

"The broader environmental movement knows we have this urgent need for renewable energy to avert global warming," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace U.S.A. "But we're still dealing with groups that can't get their heads around global warming yet."

Indeed, the best winds, especially in the East, tend to blow in places that are also ideal for hiking, sailing, second homes and spirit-soothing views. These include the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod and the ridges of northern Appalachia. Local opposition to unwanted development remains a potent force.

So when it comes to wind, the environmental movement is riven with dissonance and accusations of elitism. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s very public opposition to the 130-turbine Cape Wind energy facility proposed off Nantucket Sound has driven a wedge between activists. Dan Boone's circuit riding against wind projects, while not attracting the same celebrity notice, has exasperated many Sierra Club compatriots even more.

Like Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Boone says the areas he wants to protect are uniquely vulnerable. His family owns property near the proposed projects, just as Mr. Kennedy's does near the Cape Wind site.

But Mr. Boone says that wind supporters are the ones pursuing their own agenda at the expense of the public interest.

"I'm not sure that wind turbines in this region will significantly reduce the outcome of global climate change or actually have any role," Mr. Boone said. "The very limited benefit doesn't justify the risk of wiping out a lot of interior forest habitat."

National environmental leaders reject this argument.

"There's no free lunch," said Paul Hansen, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, a venerable sportsmen's group. " 'Not in my backyard' is not environmentalism."

The Alleghenies are a big backyard, with views that are both spectacular and problematic. Flowering shrubs like shadbush and preening flowers like trillium are framed by oaks, maples and longleaf pines. But intermittent industrial tree farming has repeatedly denuded some mountainsides. On both sides of the border near here in far western Maryland, second-home development is booming. The air has often been fouled by the Mount Storm coal-fired power plant.

If Ned Power, a wind-energy development company, puts up 100 or so turbines along 14 miles of ridgeline near Mount Storm, wind-energy supporters say, how much does that further spoil the landscape?

Kevin Rackstraw, a regional manager of Clipper Windpower whose proposed 40-turbine project in western Maryland has drawn Mr. Boone's fire, said opponents lacked perspective.

"Dan looks at all the impacts of a given wind project," Mr. Rackstraw said, "but doesn't say: 'If we didn't have wind, what would we have?' Coal. Think of the impact of acid rain and mountaintop removal."

The Ned Power project is just one target of Mr. Boone, 49, a former state wildlife biologist who now works as a consultant. In interviews, he said he first focused on the issue when working as a botanist on a study related to an early wind power project. The environmental-impact statements, he said, were grossly inadequate.

Now he drives from Highland County in western Virginia (where 38 turbines are proposed on Tamarack Ridge) to Bedford, Pa. (where early discussions of an unnamed project are under way) to talk to local groups or crystallize their objections for them. In Annapolis, Md., and Charleston, W.Va., he uses state utility regulators' licensing hearings to throw up roadblocks before wind projects. He is eager to argue with industry officials in any venue, questioning their facts, assumptions and motives.

"The rush is on now because a lot of the places they've targeted have no zoning, and it's easy to get in that kind of large-scale development," he said. "This part of the country has really good energy prices. Developers are keying in on that."

Mr. Boone's quiver of anti-wind arguments includes economic analyses, but his first line of attack is biological: he contends that they are a threat to bats and potentially to migratory birds and that they break up forest habitat.

Scores of raptors and other birds were killed by the first generation of wind turbines set up at Altamont Pass in Northern California. Since the Altamont Pass turbines were erected in the early 1980's, turbine design has been altered, and most subsequent studies have shown that birds tend to fly above the height of most turbines though some experts say more studies are needed.

But the turbines south of here in Thomas, W.Va., have been lethal to bats. More than 2,000 were killed in 2003 at the Mountaineer project, whose 44 turbines are owned by FPL Energy, a big power company that is the wind industry's dominant player.

Industry officials agree that the bat mortality measured at the Mountaineer site is unacceptable, and they are studying the benefits of deterrent devices and the best ways to modify turbine operations in bat-rich areas.

To Mr. Boone, wind energy will never make a big enough difference to justify its impact in the region. "You have to remember that these tax advantages are so huge," he said, "that these developers are keen to latch onto all the mythology — whether it's global warming or something else."

Asked if he thought global warming was a myth, he said: "No, I'm not calling it mythology." But industry officials, he contended, will "take things out of context."

Mike Tidwell, the director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network and one of Mr. Boone's adversaries, bristles at the attack. "Wind industry guys are the straightest-shooting people," Mr. Tidwell said. "Most got into it because they had an environmental ethic."

But Mr. Boone has plenty of allies, too. "He's the greatest naturalist I've even known," said Betsy Johnson, chairwoman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. "Dan has been very helpful in educating us with what problems there can be with an energy source like wind."

The industry Mr. Boone regards so suspiciously is on a roll. The total share of energy that wind farms generated nationwide in 2004 was tiny — about one-third of 1 percent, according to the Energy Department. But by 2020, according to industry estimates, wind's share of the county's energy portfolio could grow ten- or twentyfold.

For the environmental movement, wind supporters say, the transition from the protection of place to the protection of planet is bound to be wrenching.

"Wilderness conversations are spiritual," said David Hamilton, the Sierra Club's national director of global warming and energy programs. "We've always been a place-based organization, protecting places," but "protecting our climate" is "just looking at it from a different angle and a different elevation."


Anonymous said...


I have a cousin out near Buffalo who just told me about what sounds like practically a secret meeting that is about to occur between the Horizon wind turbine folks and the Town of Perry. He works with an environmental firm out there and he is shocked at how shady some of these deals seem to be getting. They are trying to sneak through the approval of the Environmental Impact Statement! The scope for the work was only just approved but the EIS document has been ready for several weeks and they intend to try and jam it through in a quiet, little, practically secret meeting. He says there has not even been a chance for the town’s engineer to review it!

They are apparently trying to meet some deadline in Albany at the end of the month – if they miss it they will be delayed by at least a year. Really sleazy!!
I've now found out that the meeting wasn't even noticed in the paper and it's Monday, June 26th at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon!! All the town did was put a few flyers up and never got it in the paper as a town meeting notice! I cannot get to Perry on Monday at 4:00 because like everyone else I have to work until 6:00 p.m. (and this is probably what they're hoping, that people will be working and won't come to the meeting! And they'll get the EIS through with no opposition from townspeople!)
Please help! Get to the meeting in Perry (or let everyone on your mailing lists know about it so THEY can!) to let the town board know and all of Perry know why these turbines are harmful for their community, our environment and our way of life!

Please forward this email/meeting notice to your respective group's mailing list to notice everyone since the town of Perry is not noticing this meeting!

Anonymous said...

As an investigator in wind power, I'm amazed at how these urban legends about bat kills seem to have a life all their own. If those bird (or bat) lovers realized just how many hundreds of millions of birds and bats are killed every year, they would have at least some knowledge upon which to make an intelligent decision. The hard simple facts are that there have been very few places that bat kills have been reported. One was in West Virginia and the other in the upper Midwest. In neither case were the number of fatalities anything of consequence. In most cases they occurred mostly for bats that migrate, where huge swarms
fly thru the night. Considering the population densities of the bats in question, the fatalities (around 200
or so, although they couldn't all beattributed to wind turbines) can be considered trivial. If there weren't bat loving individuals on the site, I dout that anyobserver would have thought it important enough to even mention. What the bat lover obviously doesn't know is just how many bats and birds are killed every year from
non-wind turbine events. The typical wind turbine results in les than one bird fatality per year, as documented by regular observers. Now look at the
bird and bat fatalities every year in the US that are due to : windoes and glass doors - 900+ MILLION. That's right - it's almost a BILLION birds and bats. From cars and trucks - 50 to 100 MILLION; from electric transmission line electrocutions and collisions -
approx 174 MILLION; killed by cats - 100 MILLION; colliding with communication lines - 10 MILLION.
So you see, anyone who claims that
wind turbines (even if we had a million installed) are a significant source of bird and bat deaths in this country is simply lying, whether they know it or not.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment from the "investigator" in wind power - I would be interested in where you are obtaining your so-called "facts" regarding bat and bird fatalities. Yes, many birds collide with buildings and power lines, typically bats do not - they have echolocation which normally prevents them from running into stationary objects - especially large ones such as buildings. I'm also not sure where your facts came from regarding the number of bat fatalities, it is in the thousands, not the hundreds and studies have been conducted in Pennsylvania, West Virgina, Massachusetts, and California.

Some claims of population impact may be exaggerated. However, given the low reproduction rate of bats & the tendency of wind companies to site turbines on forested ridgetops which are often migratory paths, they can have a significant impact on certain local populations.

Also, consider this about wind power. Wind industry execs love to tout "Zero Emissions" and "Green Energy" - what they fail to mention is the environmental impact in producing and transporting their product. It takes 5 to 7 semi-trucks to transport 1 turbine. Wind farms at their smallest have around 40 turbines. Also, consider the fact that many of these turbines are manufactured overseas and are transported thousands of miles on several cargo ships which operate on low grade "bunker" fuel and produce excessive emissions. How green is that?

camodiver said...

I live in Manistee Michigan where , in October, I attended a meeting meant to introduce the public to the proposed White Pines Wind Farm in Mason County. A virtual reality drive presented the viewer with the 28 widely spaced 420 ft. turbines that barely peeked over the tree line. I overheard an elderly lady reply to her husband “see it’s not so bad, the trees will hide them”. Based on the video an easy conclusion to make, unless you’ve walked the property, where due to regular logging the trees are only an average of 50-60 ft.
There are currently proposals to place industrial sized wind farms in the national forests of Vermont, Michigan, and Virginia. Forests in other states await further study. The companies seeking to develop our forests are large and foreign owned; British Petroleum seeks to develop nearly 10,000 acres in Michigan and Iberdrola Renewables of Madrid, Spain would move on the Green Mountains National Forest of Vermont. Each of the giant turbines requires a 60 ft. diameter cement pad 30 ft. deep. This along with the massive infrastructure to support their construction will devastate these fragile ecosystems. These are not the vast open public lands of the west, only 13% of our national forests system lies east of the Mississippi River. Because of their proximity to large urban areas they are enjoyed by millions and form the foundations of thriving tourist economies. Why isn't such a looming and potentially devastating threat to our national forest system being more actively publicized by the myriad array of conservation groups previously charged with their protection? Perhaps when having to make the choice of protecting the wilderness or standing in the way of long awaited “green technologies” many are choosing to stand silent. Are the millions of tons of cement poured to construct a wind farm any less malignant to these ecosystems than the cement that would be used to build a coal fired electric plant over them?
Why, you also should ask, in such economically depressed times can’t leases be signed to locate these industrial sized projects on the states previously cleared private lands? On November 20,2008 Michigan’s second largest utility,Consumers Energy, announced the construction of meteorological towers to study the wind-generating potential of more than 28,000 acres of easements on private land in two Michigan counties, Tuscola and Mason. Mason County is the location of the proposed White Pines Wind Farm. Why would our government entertain such proposals when viable alternatives to the use of public lands is available?
What will be lost? Nearly 10,000 acres of the Manistee-Huron national Forest that borders on lake Michigan containing two crystal clear watersheds, Gurney and Cooper Creeks. This forest lies adjacent to the Nordhouse Dunes, the lower peninsulas only designated wilderness area. Here generations of residents from ours and neighboring states have camped,hunted, and enjoyed the outdoors in a variety of ways. The area supports the typical variety of woodland fauna, including black bears, and in recent years has welcomed the resurgence of bald eagles, it is a beautiful forest.
By hiding behind this “green label” has big business finally found the back door into our forest system they have long desired? I believe our forests are no place for this type of development, they are a legacy, handed down to all Americans and should never fall victim to any administrations “pet projects”. The forests of Vermont and Michigan may be the first to fall and thus set a dangerous precedent with far ranging implications for the entire national forest system. Due to the lack of media attention this story currently garners I would encourage those who realize the importance of our remaining wild spaces to spread the word and let your voice be heard. We cannot save the planet by adding to its deforestation.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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