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Blowin’ in the Wind

How many times must a bald eagle die?

Sep 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 04 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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Debates of this kind have echoed across the country. In Groton, New Hampshire, local activists are protesting a planned farm of 400-foot wind turbines in a rural area, arguing that conservation is a better way to fight climate change than wind turbine construction. A proposal to place wind turbines in Lake Erie, just off the northern Ohio coast, has drawn a flurry of local opposition. The Blue Mountain Alliance in Umatilla County, Oregon, is agitating against wind turbine construction in its beautiful corner of Eastern Oregon on environmental and aesthetic grounds. And perhaps most famously, in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, home of the famed Kennedy compound, a proposal to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound was mired in political and legal controversy for years, with the Kennedys leading the opposition, until the project gained final approval last year.

Shrewdly, anti-turbine activists have tarred wind energy projects with the same kind of language that’s used to demonize big oil. The New Hampshire anti-wind campaigners, for example, cast their fight as one against “Industrial Wind in NH.” FairWindCT, an envi-ronmental anti-wind-turbine group in Connecticut, worries about the “unregulated installation of wind turbines.” Some of the opponents’ objections are silly. Many trumpet the fact that the power doesn’t stay “local”​—​they argue that it’s somehow objectionable that not all of the power generated by the turbines stays in the communities that house the turbines. But that fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the power grid. It’s simplest to think of the power grid like a giant bathtub​—​every power plant dumps its electricity into the tub. There’s no way to sequester the output of one power plant or wind farm and distribute it only to a particular community. 

But the opponents nonetheless have a strong case. All in all, while wind is the fastest-growing energy source, it still represents a meager 3.5 percent of U.S. electricity generation. With tens of thousands of turbines already built, that’s a clear sign that wind power is deeply inefficient. It provides just a token reduction in emissions at serious environmental, aesthetic, and quality of life costs. Even in gung-ho Germany, where sometimes it seems like every bit of spare land now sports a turbine, wind only supplies about 10 percent of the country’s power, among the world’s highest rates. The United States would have to blanket itself in turbines to make a meaningful difference in its power supply​—​an unlikely and, frankly, undesirable outcome.

Opponents of wind power got some extra ammunition earlier this month when a study from government biologists found that wind turbines had killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles over the past five years​—​a number it said was probably a profound underestimate. That should bolster the anti-turbine side. After all, how do you ask a bald eagle to be the last bird to die for a federally subsidized mistake?

Ethan Epstein is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.

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