Moderated by Rick Badie
Last week, the world’s largest convention for the industry of wind-generated electricity was held in Atlanta. Why Georgia? Because the wind power industry is a perfect fit for the Peach State, writes Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, the convention sponsor. Meanwhile, wind energy critic Eric Rosenbloom calls the industry a waste of money and a poor job creator. He argues that the wind’s actual record has not lived up to its promises.
By Denise Bode
The South is America’s new manufacturing heartland. It’s a region of innovation and tremendous growth and one of the best places in the country to see how America can still produce great products and create great jobs in the process.
That is why American wind power is such a perfect fit for this region.
Our industry has grown so much recently that it’s almost unrecognizable from just five years ago. We’ve installed 35 percent of all new American electric generating capacity over that time (second only to natural gas) and we’ve kept 75,000 Americans working through the recession.
American wind also is powering one of the fastest-growing new U.S. manufacturing sectors, now 500 factories strong from coast to coast.
That is why our industry recently came to Atlanta to host Windpower 2012, the global wind energy industry’s largest annual trade show and conference.
We chose Atlanta because the South has become a hub for our manufacturing supply chain.
More than 90 plants currently manufacture wind energy components across the South. Last year, $200 million worth of wind products shipped through the Port of Savannah.
The ZF Wind Power gearbox plant in Gainesville is a perfect example. Workers there produce precision-built gearboxes that translate the slower rotation of the iconic three-bladed wind turbine into the faster speeds needed to spin the electric generator inside. ZF invested $98 million to locate in Georgia and employs 150 people, including more than 60 highly skilled manufacturing technicians.
Technological innovation at plants like ZF’s has transformed wind energy. Just as new technology has allowed the natural gas industry to tap shale formations, significant advances in the wind industry over the past five years also have been game changing.
Taller and better towers to reach higher wind speeds, new longer blades employing carbon and improved materials, and enhanced turbines are increasing capacity and making wind more cost-competitive.
These technologies have unlocked the South for some of the first wind developments in the region’s history.
At the same time, wind’s affordability and unbeatable fixed-cost contracts have encouraged utilities in Alabama and Louisiana to make their first-ever wind power purchases.
Consider what we’ve accomplished since President George W. Bush extended our main federal policy driver, the Production Tax Credit, in 2005. We’ve created hundreds of American manufacturing facilities as the domestic content of wind turbines has increased 12-fold, from less than 25 percent to more than 60 percent made in the United States today.
But this American success story is suffering from congressional gridlock and an uncertain business climate. Unless Congress acts, the PTC will expire at the end of the year, in effect raising taxes on these American businesses and costing 37,000 Americans their jobs within a year.
This is already impacting hiring decisions at facilities like ZF’s.
“ZF is seeking to add 110 jobs, and the PTC would help ensure the stable policy and low taxes, which accelerate job growth and economic development for the wind energy industry,” plant manager Carolin Wolfsdoerfer said recently.
“A delay in the extension of the PTC causes a drop-off in wind turbine orders, which slows down our ability to add jobs. It also affects the entire supply chain as well. We source all of our steel from North America, so when we have a lower volume of orders our suppliers — the forging companies, the casting companies and the steel mills — will experience a downturn as well.”
Don’t let this happen.
Denise Bode is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.
By Eric Rosenbloom
Climate change, dwindling resources, ecological and geopolitical concerns surrounding conventional sources of electricity — all are prominent worries today, as they should be.
Wind power companies and their lobbyists — and many in the environmentalist community — assure us that industrial wind can break our dependence on other fuels, reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and help build a “green” economy of 21st century jobs.
A closer look, however, reveals that wind’s actual record has not lived up to those promises — despite billions of dollars of public and private investment and an increasingly undeniable toll on the environment and on the citizens, mostly rural, who must bear the personal costs of 500-foot turbines thrust into their neighborhoods.
The wind is intermittent and variable, and when the realities of the electrical grid are taken into account, wind energy’s theoretical benefit is drastically reduced because other sources have to stay on line — and operate less efficiently — to not only provide electricity on demand, but also balance the fluctuating wind-generated supply.
Generous handouts — paid for by every American — intended to create a smattering of factory jobs (as promised, for example, in Georgia) could be much more efficiently spent to help the economy as a whole and to work towards seriously addressing concerns of resource depletion, energy security and pollution control.
Not only are industrial wind turbines a waste of money, they also have serious negative impacts.
Wind projects usually target open land or undeveloped mountain ridges. A single turbine weighs 250 tons or more and requires wide heavy-duty roads for construction and maintenance. It is supported by an underground foundation of hundreds of tons of steel-reinforced concrete. A group of turbines is a sprawling facility that dominates the landscape for miles. In addition, the facility needs a substation and high-voltage transmission lines to connect to the grid.
In addition to wind energy’s impact on rural landscapes and wild habitats, human neighbors often suffer from the noises generated by the giant machines. Leases typically include “gag orders” to keep landowners quiet about their complaints. Neighbors — many of them unsuspecting — are induced to silence in return for small “forbearance” payments.
As more people speak out, many jurisdictions are insisting that at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) separate the turbines from any residence to protect people’s health. Others are recognizing the necessity of limiting low-frequency and pulsating noise.
The wind industry has benefited for decades from favorable treatment by all levels of government. Yet to this day it has been unable to demonstrate the results that are still promised. Against this backdrop of a failed experiment, the clear burdens imposed by industrial wind — on our diminished landscape, on wildlife, on people’s right to enjoy their homes — are unacceptable.
It is time to hold this industry to account. Strict environmental siting and nuisance regulations are needed to limit its impacts. We need to end the many direct and indirect subsidies that prop it up.
Industrial wind has shown itself to be a great waster of resources, both natural and human. As more communities around the world learn about the harm it does and stand up to say no, our business and political leaders would do well to take heed.
The people speaking up are your neighbors, and they’re getting louder.
Eric Rosenbloom is the president of National Wind Watch Inc.