- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

It’s the Obama hour, and for some that means the wind power hour, a time when this supposedly cheap source of endlessly abundant energy will have its nonpolluting breakthrough, but just a minute. Let’s visit with Ted Kennedy and learn how he feels about one particular instance of the new dawn.

He is against it. Or more specifically, as news accounts tell us, he has spent eight years fighting a Nantucket Sound wind farm that would cost upward of $1 billion, consume 24 square miles with 130 turbines reaching 440 feet each into the sky, would be unsightly, could play havoc with birds and just might double the electricity costs of the customers it reaches.

Aw shucks, there’s no environmental threat here, said a federal agency in the last hours of the Bush administration, but there are more approvals needed, more bureaucrats who could say yay or nay, and Mr. Kennedy and other Cape Cod residents hope an Obama administration will snuff out the project.

Maybe it will for one reason or another, but President Obama himself, of course, has been an incessant cheerleader for renewable energy even to the extent that his economic stimulus plan includes $8 billion in loans for wind power, solar and like projects. Mr. Obama mentioned wind power in his Inaugural, and on his train ride to Washington from Illinois, he went so far as to visit an Ohio factory that makes bolts for wind turbines and is already booming because of the 400 percent increase in using wind energy during the Bush years.

And yet, if they don’t already, Mr. Obama and his energy team need to understand that the objections raised about the Cape Cod venture are not some quirk in the wind power story, but are instead illustrative of a host of issues haunting this purportedly benign instrument of America’s energy salvation.

Wind farms kill birds, for starters. In Altamont Pass in California, it’s reported, whirling turbine blades have hacked tens of thousands of birds to death, leaving us with fewer golden eagles, red-tail hawks and owls among many other species. Go to Kansas, and the victims are migrating prairie birds. In some places, it’s bats that die, and while there are mitigations - higher windmills built away from flight paths and turned off during peak migratory hours - it’s not clear this threat will wholly dissolve.

Wind farms kill scenery, too, whether it’s views of mountain landscapes in the Appalachians or views of the Atlantic from the New Jersey shore. The assault is no minor thing, especially considering how much land wind farms gobble up. The windmills built by billionaire T. Boone Pickens in Texas will spread out over 800 square miles in their effort to produce as much electricity as a nuclear plant, and, by the way, will be far away from his house - he doesn’t want to have to look at the eyesores, he has been quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, building that wind farm will be no cheaper than building a nuclear plant would be. The price tag reportedly will be around $10 billion. Windmill construction is in fact costly, and then we come to another fact. Because the places where it is most practical to generate electricity from wind are far from where large populations reside, the nation will have to construct a new, expensive transcontinental transmission grid.

Enough? There’s more. Wind doesn’t blow on demand, and this undependability means wind farms are seriously limited in how many times more of the nation’s electricity needs they will supply beyond the present figure of 1 percent.

Yes, wind may play an increasingly important role in our energy future, but no one should assume it’s an environmentally pure, no-drawbacks and major answer to what ails us.

Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.


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