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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Charlestown wind energy policy doesn’t blow

Alternative energy: Charlestown-style
Deputy Dan Slattery thinks this is GOOD for you
It sucks
By Will Collette

While the rest of the world, and indeed the rest of Rhode Island, and in particular South County, moves forward to put wind power squarely on the list of new, non-polluting energy sources, Charlestown sucks fumes.

On November 14, the Charlestown Town Council enacted yet another wind energy ordinance, this time one that makes it virtually impossible to use wind energy to provide power to homes and farms.

The Planning Commission, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, promoted their sham residential wind energy ordinance as a statesman-like balance between the public interest and individual rights. But all they did was pander to our town’s most fanatical element, the small band of radical NIMBYs who think that all wind energy is evil.

They may have the Westerly Sun fooled, but there are lots of people in Charlestown who see through this cynical – and backwards – attempt to stymie alternative energy’s progress.

"Wind power scares me"
The wind-energy-is-evil cult have two solid supporters on the Town Council – Deputy Dan Slattery, who announced some months ago that he has done exhaustive research – secret research, of course – and has determined that wind turbines make your head explode. 

And Councilor Lisa DiBello believes that being anti-wind is the way the political wind is blowing. Tom Gentz, who is all set with his solar panels, makes the third and deciding vote in a long string of 3-2 NIMBY votes. Our town council is almost as predictable in this regard as the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Westerly, Narragansett and South Kingstown are moving forward rapidly to line up sites and wind energy contractors. The state Department of Environmental Management is erecting wind generators at state beaches. Projects, large and small, are underway all across southern New England.

Only North Kingstown seems to share Charlestown’s primitive attitude toward wind energy – for much of last year, Charlestown and North Kingstown seemed to be competing to become Rhode Island’s NIMBY capital, until Charlestown won, hands down, by passing the first total ban in the entire United States on all wind energy .

This could make your eyeballs fall out
North Kingstown, quietly, passed the second

But despite our uncompromising NIMBY posture, the wind industry continues to advance – in efficiency, in design, in widespread acceptance and in investment.

Investors are putting more money into renewable energy projects than into conventional energy sources for the first time ever. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, investors plunked $187 billion into renewal projects, compared to $157 billion for fossil fuel-fired power plants.  The UNEP noted that this shift in investor capital is happening DESPITE the impasse on a worldwide agreement on greenhouse gasses and global economic problems.

One interesting, but unintended, consequence is profit margins of manufacturers and builders of solar and wind energy projects are dropping because the expanding market and increased demand is – contrary to the usual law of the market – creating more competitive pressure to lower prices.

The UNEP report says that 43 gigawatts of wind energy generating capacity are expected to go on-line this year and 48 gigawatts next year, up from 36 gigawatts in 2010.

One of the biggest wind energy projects in the eastern US is on track to put up a 68 turbine wind farm in rural Pennsylvania that will generate 140 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 38,000 homes. 

But the Pennsylvania project is puny compared to the massive investments in wind energy  being made by other countries.

Germany intends to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 and they will be replaced mostly by wind energy. 

I have read a lot of anti-wind power propaganda that claims Denmark intends to roll back its development of wind energy, even though they were one of the first nations to invest heavily in the technology.  It turns out that NIMBY propaganda is a lie. In fact, Denmark is doubling down on wind power, with a new energy plan that will make the country 100% on renewable energy by 2050. Wind power is central to that strategy. 

And we in Charlestown will stick with our oil heat, propane and wood. We’ll stick with reliance on National Grid. We will pay what the market demands of us. We will accept the incredible pack of lies and propaganda our town NIMBYs spread around town like a nice, thick coat of manure.

We will let Deputy Dan Slattery bloviate about his "extensive research" into the health effects - he has ANOTHER secret folder of information that informs him, but no one else. Deputy Dan - open up your files, or shut up!

We once had near consensus in Charlestown in favor of wind energy – at least that’s what CCA’s own poll said, and that’s what Tom Gentz, then a CCA leader, told the Town Council. But Larry LeBlanc’s outsized and ill-conceived Whalerock project turned that consensus into a wide chasm. The CCA and the Town Council majority – once supporters of wind energy – now think wind power is very bad and very unhealthy.

Before the Town Council voted 3-2 to enact the fake residential wind energy ordinance cooked up by Ruth Platner and the Planning Commission, local residents Don Stevens and Scott Keeley challenged the wisdom of the decision to put small wind generators out of the reach of Charlestown homeowners. Stevens noted that wind technology is moving so rapidly that the assumptions behind our ordinances are already obsolete.

Keeley asked the Council why they should, for all practical purposes, ban residential wind energy while doing NOTHING about the portable generators that were a prominent feature of Charlestown life in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

The Council members did not answer that question. But on its face, it says a lot about Charlestown’s energy policy. Wind = bad. Diesel-powered generator = good.

A friend and colleague pointed me in the direction of the debate, now well over a century ago, between the proponents of DC electrical power (a fight led by Thomas Edison) versus the proponents of alternating current (led by Nicola Tesla), now a major fixture in every household. Edison did not like to be second to anyone, certainly not on matters electrical, so he launched a smear campaign against alternating current in general and Tesla in particular.

Edison laid it on thick - alternating current was dangerous, indeed deadly. Edison had his technicians electrocute animals with AC current to impress the media. Ironically, Edison's smear campaign and public electrocutions of animals led to the invention and widespread use of the electric chair - Edison was a staunch opponent of capital punishment.

The propaganda that "informs" Deputy Dan Slattery and the NIMBY opposition to wind energy here in Charlestown seems to have been foretold in this cautionary tale.