Over the last month the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has been lashing out with increasing energy at wind energy opponents. Like all industry lobbyist groups they tend to do their best work in secret, behind closed doors, working with compliant bureaucrats, politicians and scientists. It is unusual when they come out of the shadows and bother themselves with the public. Their web site’s home page suddenly features their CEO, Denise Bode, in a video along with a message that “The American Wind Energy Association thwarted another attack against renewable energy by the fossil fuel lobby last Friday as they attempted yet another anti-renewable energy PR push based on falsehoods and inaccurate reports.” The previous sentence and her video contain so many untruths I’m not sure where to start. But I’ll try.
The issue at hand is that of carbon emission savings resulting from wind energy. Since saving emissions is the main reason politicians are throwing money at the industry, any hint that wind turbines don’t actually save on emissions is a mortal threat. To the readers of my site this lack of savings is not a surprise, and other more authoritative sites like masterresource have been saying the same thing for several years now. The recent kerfuffle started with the April 2010 release of a book by Robert Bryce, “Power Hungry“, which gave a well-researched explanation of why the savings are somewhere between insignificant and negative. The book itself got AWEA’s attention – which died. Just before the book was released (but too late to be included) the Bentek study – which was the first study to use actual measurements – was published. It confirmed everything Bryce was saying. John Andrews got things started with a column in the Denver Post which was dutifully (but not convincingly) rebutted by the local energy company, Xcel. Armed with all this, on August 24 Mr. Bryce wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal that really got everyone’s attention.
AWEA had no choice but to respond [link went dead], and along with Ms. Bode’s video they had one of their employees, Michael Goggin, write up a series of rebuttals. I was pleased to have received one of Mr. Goggin’s rebuttals myself. He also posted a more substantive rebuttal at bravenewclimate. That may have been a mistake – the readers and commentators there include many of the planet’s leading experts on how wind turbines don’t save on emissions – people with engineering degrees who have worked in power plants. Goggin has a bachelor’s degree in social science. Even from Harvard, even with honors, that isn’t much of a contest. Even I joined in.
Enough of the history; now it’s time for more substantive comments on AWEA’s rebuttals, which come down to the following points.
- They have successfully defended themselves against these attacks.
- These attacks were made by the fossil fuel lobbies.
- These attacks were based on false information.
- DOE data shows that wind has resulted in emissions savings.
- Good results have been achieved in multiple European countries.
- Any claim that wind doesn’t reduce emissions violates the laws of physics.
- Fossil fuel subsidies are five times those for wind.
- They want a strong new RES bill from Congress.
- If we don’t, too many green American jobs will be lost.
Every one of these points is either untrue or undesirable for the general populace. At the risk of being tedious, here’s a quick paragraph on each of their points.
- By acting confident of their positions they hope to convince people that these positions are in fact valid. This is marketing 101. So far, I haven’t heard any defense of their position from anyone who doesn’t have an interest. Understand that because of political pressures, the bureaucrats in the nominally disinterested DOE also have an interest.
- There’s three major fossil fuels at play here – oil, gas and coal. Oil and wind have almost no overlap. The oil industry is not threatened at all by wind, and knows it – even BP is in the wind business. Just look at their PR ads. The gas industry is looking for ways to sell more gas, now that large new fields have been developed. One of their more promising new customers is utility companies, who will need additional gas plants to balance the variability of wind. Gas + wind is more salable than gas by itself, and the gas industry has correctly figured out that the easiest way to drive up gas usage is to install lots of wind turbines. Bentek may have been sponsored by the gas industry, but if you actually read that study, it wasn’t anti-wind; rather it was anti-coal. Only coal has something to fear from wind (actually gas + wind, in that order).
- The wind industry continues to claim opponents are basing their arguments on false data. What they don’t do is to actually show, with solid empirical evidence, exactly where the opponents’ data is false. There’s a good reason they don’t – they can’t. Instead, they stress the next point.
- The DOE does publish numbers that, if interpreted a certain way, do lead one to conclude that co2 emissions are going down. The DOE itself is not so eager to attribute the lower emissions to wind. AWEA quotes some numbers from DOE/EIA reports, but doesn’t mention that these numbers are estimates (backup link), obtained from calculations based on assumptions that were demonstrated by the Bentek report (among others) to be untrue. It is totally predictable that AWEA (being in business, after all, to make money for themselves and their clients) would search out favorable estimates that might appear to be authoritative, and disregard actual measurements that are unfavorable. If the wind industry ever comes up with any favorable measurements then we can talk – but they’ve had a lot of time and haven’t managed to do so yet, and one has to wonder why.
- What results are these? I am not aware of any countries, European or not, that have ever come out with a convincing set of measurements that shows wind leads to emissions savings. Denmark has been well studied by a number of people and has yet to do so.
- Which law of physics are they talking about? They don’t say, and with good reason. There certainly are laws about not being able to make or destroy energy/matter, but they have nothing to do with emission rates. Of all their statements, this one rankles the most. Certainly no real scientist contributed any intelligence to AWEA’s campaign. I suspect Goggin and Bode (who has poli sci and law degrees) got together and in their ignorance came up with this one. I hope it destroys their credibility, as it should.
- The subsidies for fossil fuels may be five times that for wind, but those fossil fuels produce 100 times the energy. On a per-megawatt-hour basis, wind gets 20 times the subsidies of fossils and nuclear. At the current rate of wind build-out, the subsidies for wind will become larger very quickly. Update August 7, 2010: Mission Accomplished.
- Of course they want a strong bill from Congress. Without government subsidies and mandates nobody would ever install wind turbines, and AWEA knows it. This doesn’t mean it is a good deal for the rest of us.
- Putting money into wind energy is like pouring it down the drain. And while pouring money down the drain, you end up losing jobs in other sectors. Unfortunately those losses aren’t as visible as the few new jobs that are created. So politicians parade around visiting wind turbine construction factories, taking credit for those jobs, while avoiding the unemployment lines their policies have lengthened.
I was quite pleased that, finally, the news of the wind farm scam has started to penetrate the mass media and the general populace. I am also pleased that AWEA’s rebuttals are so easily shown to simply be self-serving spin. Wind energy, at least in its current form, is a loser, from every imaginable perspective. I can only hope that enough people find this out and start to care enough that the politicians take note before too much further damage is done to our economy and environment.
Update, September 24, 2010. I mentioned masterresource above. Jon Boone, one of their contributors, wrote a 4-part rebuttal of AWEA’s points. It is well worth reading the whole thing.