Overblown Indeed
April 19, 2012 Economic Illiteracy

Our student paper printed this article on how arguments against wind are overblown. For interested students, I will be going into the gory details in Eco 238, so will not rehash all of the economics of wind here. I’ll sporadically return to this piece in between my puppy drownings and coal burning rituals, but here is one particularly interesting assessment:

On the issue of bird mortality, the statistics reported last week were absolutely incorrect. FWS reports that wind turbines account for 33,000 bird deaths per year, significantly lower than the 500,000 claimed last week. To put this in perspective, turbine collisions account for 0.003 percent of bird deaths caused by humans. Pets, power lines, pesticides, automobiles and communication towers, on the other hand, each contribute several million deaths per year — power lines alone are estimated to contribute 130 million deaths per year; pesticides come second at 70 million

I like to put the arguments like this in their best possible light. The article this one is responding to made the claim that windmills are like cuisinarts, chopping up birds and bats. That is true to some extent, but the author here is correct that the common claims seem to be overblown. However, the irony of having an “E’nvironmentalist play “comparison games” about all the things that kill wildlife is pretty disturbing. It used to be the case that all life was sacred, that no tradeoffs when it comes to the environment are OK (evidence for that view is actually at the bottom of this very piece) but now when it comes to the darling of green subsidies, wind, then well, tradeoffs are OK. Windmills kill fewer birds than other things, so they’re OK? Pardon me for getting a headache.

But that’s not really the irony here. The irony is that when some birds were shown to have been killed over the oil sands of North Dakota, the “E”nvironmentalists had a conniption, although those magnitudes are far smaller than the small wind ones. But that’s not really the irony that I care about. That would be, like, so 6th grade, and like, so, uh, yeah, anti-science.

The irony is in the very data that the author uses to “defend” his point. What is that? I’ll repeat it clearly:

— power lines alone are estimated to contribute 130 million deaths per year; pesticides come second at 70 million

Ding dong. Game over. One of the major drawbacks of wind is that the places where the wind blows occurs far from the places where the electricity is needed. In other words, rolling out even a modest proportion of the electricity grid as wind would require a massive expansion of high voltage transmission lines all across the country, including in places birds and bats like to migrate and live. If power lines are the major killers of birds, and if producing “safe” windmills requires massive expansions in the power grid, then we should be utterly aghast at the development of wind power on the very claims that this author is trying to make. To say that windmills, therefore, don’t kill birds is like saying that alcohol doesn’t kill people in drunk driving accidents. Sure, the alcohol itself does not do it …

Of course, the author ends the piece with the usual green-washed flourish, that he, the so-enlightened one is just speaking truth to power, just working with the actual science, while the rest of us are tossing virgins into volcanoes:

Ultimately, wind energy on a large scale should be judged based on scientific studies, common sense and a healthy concern for future generations — not on outdated concerns and misreported statistics. To continue to present unfounded arguments from decades past — promoted in large part by big oil interests — and to dismiss the opportunity to secure a future powered by sustainable energy practices is a travesty. I, for one, believe in progress, and I will not be content with harmful, archaic fossil fuel practices.

And that’s not even the half of it. But this post is already too long, and I’ve got a class to go indoctrinate teach.

"5" Comments
  1. “… a healthy concern for future generations ….”

    The best way to show a healthy concern for future generations is to (a.) Let them make their own decisions on solutions to problems as we have pretty much been able to do and not lock them into commitments that could become rapidly obsolete while (b.) they have to pay for them. What could be more collectively egomaniacal than building an extensive and expensive passenger rail network for FUTURE riders to use and PAY FOR when we have no concept of what even the near future holds? In the relatively recent past of 1955 few people envisioned a world-wide web and a computer in most shirt pockets. We can’t know what people will want or use in even what remains of our own lifetime.

    “… promoted in large part by big oil interests ….”

    “Big oil interests” are interested in finding more oil, as opposed to sabotaging alternative forms of energy. In an undistorted market, if and when oil becomes more scarce it will become more expensive and alternatives that are currently uneconomical or even undiscovered will then be viable. The state, with pathetic taxpayer-funded subsidy programs like ethanol, wind and solar power that pacify cronies can only get in the way of true progress.

  2. Good headline.

    The Amish and Mennonites have wind power right: put up a windmill to pump water (if that is the best way to get water) but don’t expect the windmill to power a generator to run your milking machines. It may be four AM, and winds are usually calm then. Instead, you fire up your generator, which has to make the least concession to modern technology, but includes the principle of rapid oxidation.

    At least these people take care of themselves, which is a whole lot better than one can say about all the people looking for a handout from the government. They bought their windmills before Members of Congress thought about the Energy Tax Credit. They are way ahead of the organic farming people on the use of cow manure and composting.

  3. I liked Speedmaster’s questions, before the editors decided to censor Deniers. Guess you have to pay tuition to get into the wrong side of the conversation. How brave.

  4. Pingback: Some Are More Equal Than Others « The Unbroken Window

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