VPIRG’s Dylan Zwicky: Wind is Part of the Solution

Comment and Debate: Wind is benign, renewable alternative

Reprinted from The Burlington Free Press
Nov. 25, 2013 10:06 PM

Dylan Zwicky of Burlington is a clean energy associate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

As long as we continue to use energy, Vermonters should expect some debate over where that energy comes from. The current public dialogue concerning the siting of energy generating facilities in Vermont is an important one, especially given the context of worsening climate change.

The vast majority of Vermonters understand that climate change is real, and that we have an obligation to do our part to stop it. That may be why we see such strong support for developing local, renewable resources, including wind power.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group released a study several years ago that examined future energy scenarios in the state. It found that 25 percent of Vermont’s electricity could be provided by 2032 with wind on just 4 percent of the state’s ridgelines. It’s also worth noting very little topographic change actually occurs when wind turbines are installed on mountains. Mining for coal destroys mountaintops, not wind turbines.

After wind is built, there is no mining or drilling for fuel, or additional waste storage as needed with other energy sources. That means no ponds of coal ash, canisters of nuclear waste, drilling waste water from fracking, or leaky pipelines that could contaminate our watersheds and aquifers. Wind power is a benign and renewable alternative to dirty energy sources.
By using electricity generated by renewables, we are building a clean energy future for Vermont, decreasing our reliance on dirty energy and fighting climate change. Wind power installed in the U.S. to date is the equivalent, in terms of reducing carbon emissions, of taking 17 million cars off the road.

As for property values, the latest, most robust studies on any impacts related to wind energy development show wind farms do not have long-term negative effects on neighboring property values. For example, just this year the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory evaluated over 50,000 home sales near 67 wind farms in 9 states and found no measurable effect on real estate prices in communities where turbines are built within 10 miles of homes.

Finally, reliable, peer-reviewed studies consistently show wind power is a safe energy source that benefits public health. A comprehensive study released in January 2012 by the Massachusetts departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health found that “there is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a Wind Turbine Syndrome,” and concluded that “the weight of evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental problems.”

Other credible peer-reviewed studies from around the world, in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia for example, also refute claims that wind farm sound causes negative health impacts.

Dirty alternatives
If we are going to talk about the negative impacts of energy generation, we ought to begin with the dirty alternatives to renewable power. Emissions from coal-fired power plants cause heart attacks and premature deaths every year, oil spills have contaminated water bodies of every shape and size. The impacts of climate change have already hit home here in Vermont, and evidence suggests that severe storms will hit with greater frequency and strength as climate changes gets worse.

It is irresponsible to suggest that wind power — a popular and clean alternative to dirty fossil fuels – should be taken off the table in Vermont. There is no stronger advocate for energy efficiency and solar power than VPIRG, but these technologies can’t do it alone. We need to take advantage of all of the clean energy options available to us.

Given the overwhelming evidence that wind is far superior to the traditional fuels we currently rely on, the question is not whether we need wind, it’s where and how we build wind in the state. We cannot afford the price of inaction when it comes to building a clean energy future.