The alternate reality of wind power

A couple of days ago an article appeared in Slashdot and several other places suggesting that ‘wind turbine syndrome’ was a matter of mass hysteria — communicated by word of mouth rather than exposure. Following the entrails the source for this was a wind advocacy group. The discussion on Slashdot was the usual chain of viewpoints — offering opinions but few facts. And plenty of off-topic remarks about nuclear power and cell phones.

On the face of it this would appear to be a counter-strike to the rising rural opposition to the invasion of large scale wind power into unwilling communities. And a good study from last year where high levels of very low frequency sound were measured in the homes of people in a wind plant in Wisconsin. But part of the problem with this is the insistence that there is no evidence that harm is even possible. It is as though the wind advocates are telling people that noise and flicker from huge wind turbines obeys different physical laws than anything else in the world. In this alternate reality, low frequency sound from a wind plant will have different physiological effects than similar low frequency noise from a large industrial blower, military sonar or aircraft vibration. So if analysis shows that noise in the frequency ranges that the US military found made some pilots ill, or that weapons developers were using for crowd control — if the source is a wind turbine it will have a different effect… and we should believe them? And do any of the proponents (David Suzuki, for example) live anywhere near these things?

But there seems to be a lot of this willing suspension of disbelief going around. Our leaders and their propagandists are telling everyone we need more and more wind power — and soon rural areas (to say nothing about bird habitats and migration routes) will be covered with these things.  But the evidence is that much of this power is unusable as it is created when demand is low, so is sold off at a loss. And hydroelectric power is being spilled to make room for wind, as is nuclear. So with gas turbines on standby to step in when wind falters more greenhouse gases are being released than ever.  Why?

We are assured by these same folks that the Smart Grid ™ will losslessly move power across the province and successfully juggle the hundreds of randomly varying generation sources to support our electrical workloads. In the final report on the 2003 blackout one observation was telling – the scale of the blackout was due in part to an inability to manage the interactions within the grid. The power industry (plural, really) has been interconnecting things without any real grasp of the  complex dynamics of the resultant structure. So a failure in one place propagated in seconds across the grid causing multiple failures and overloads. Somehow I doubt that the folks who run the politicized and balkanized power system in Ontario are that much smarter. Listening to them it sounds more like a big drug dream than the result of any sober engineering work.

But it goes even deeper. A few days ago I had a discussion at the ‘public’ meeting with one of the wind company people who are planning on carpet bombing Amherst Island with wind turbines.  Tightly packed lines of these immense monsters will cover the landscape — guess they had to have a certain number to make the project. So they did… Reading the alternate energy press one gets the idea that the engineering objective is to provide enough spacing to minimize noise and multi-turbine wake losses. Even the Wikipedia article on wind plant engineering talks about this. The measure is in multiples of the turbine blade diameter — so if the target spacing (per Wiki) is 10-15 rotor diameters, a 150m rotor would space these things 1.5km apart as a minimum. Doing a little ruler work on their map shows some as close as 3 diameters. But these folks said their ‘science’ says they can do this… really makes me wonder if they use pi as 3 for convenience as well. Glad its not my money at risk… a pity I will be paying for it through one of the highest power costs in North America.

An aside on power costs: There was a recent column in the New York Times about the negative impact of soaring power costs on economic activity in Europe. What was interesting was the mention that manufacturers were starting to talk about moving their facilities to the US because of lower power costs. I must wonder if anyone thought through what the costs of the Ontario Green Energy ™ program would do to Ontario businesses? After all, to pay for all this one must have positive economic activity — same goes for tax revenues to pay for all the government. One does not build a prosperous society by driving out employers. But once again these folks seem to inhabit a bubble untouched by the same realities the rest of us inhabit.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, when an engineer designed a bridge or an arch, he was required to stand under it as the construction supports were removed.  That way, the engineer had a real, personal interest in getting it right.  But in the alternate reality of Ontario’s wind invasion — are any of the designers or advocates at risk? Somehow I doubt it. They all seem to be pretty enthusiastic that someone else should take one for the team — but I don’t see any of them doing it. How many of these folks even live near a wind farm? Perhaps after construction the team should be required to live in and amongst the things for a while — a year would be a good start.

But short of that unlikely measure, the only thing that might help would be to simply admit that wind farms were part of the same physical reality as everything else. And that factors found to be harmful to some people when generated by other sources could be harmful when generated by wind plants. To expect anything different is really insane.

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