The Exchange
9:00 am
Wed March 26, 2014

Weighing Wind Power

When one of country’s first wind farms came to Crotched Mountain New Hampshire in 1980, wind power seemed an environmental “no-brainer”: a pollution-free renewable energy source.   Although the project only lasted a year, it was considered a success for the future of wind development.  Now though, three decades later, wind is facing a lot of blow-back in the granite state, including from environmental groups.  Beyond the familiar worries about tainted views, dangers to wildlife, and noise – they fear that many thousands of acres could be damaged by some expansion plans, compared to what they say is a relatively small amount of power potential.  But on the other side, wind supporters are still hopeful for the future of this alternative energy, and say what they call “short-sighted concerns” should not trump broader efforts to halt climate change. 

Credit Coal River Wind / Flickr/CC

GUESTS:

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

N.H. Status: Stalled

  • Local concerns: While three winds farms have been successfully sited in the state, the last one sparked a backlash. This led to significant local opposition to the three projects currently in the works for the Newfound Lake region.
  • Several factors also constrain much wind development in the state: not only is New Hampshire a very small state, but it puts a high value on open space, and doesn’t have strong or consistent wind in most areas.

Weighing Wind’s Greenness: Finding the Balance between Human and Planet Needs

  • The impact of a wind farm on total carbon emissions depends on what type of energy the wind power is able to displace. In N.H. it usually displaces hydropower (no benefit), and natural gas (moderate benefit), but usually doesn’t displace coal.
  • The positive impact of wind power only matters in the context of a bigger energy policy- without regulations to control emissions, wind power may end up just feeding increasing energy demand. “Slow the rate of feeding the pig, but the pig is still getting bigger.”
  • While wind turbines in Iowa cornfields do not have as large an impact on the habitat, New Hampshire is a different story. It is not extremely concerning to site wind farms in bigger, lower elevation, second-growth woods, but it is a concern to put them in higher elevation spruce/fir forests.

Offshore: “the Holy Grail of Wind Development in New England”

  • Because of the number of barriers to developing on land in the region, as well as the greater wind power available farther off the coast, offshore wind is considered highly desirable.
  • The technology for deep-water projects is still at least five to ten years down the road, with the most research happening out of UMaine.
  • N.H. does have a study of offshore wind, but it is looking at mostly economic impact.
  • While many initial concerns about the effect of wind turbines and transmission lines on marine life have been dispelled, there is still a lot to learn.

Who Decides?

  • The SEC, New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee, is the body that decides whether to approve individual wind projects. Right now it is very unwieldy.  There is a bill looking to reform the group, which would make it smaller, more expert, and not draw as much on other department’s resources.

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