Don’t Let the Energy Blowback Get You Down

February 26, 2013

By Matt Palmer

Woody Allen once said, “Time is natures way of keeping everything from happening at once.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if we knew everything at the same time, that the answers to our biggest problems presented themselves in ways that made them seem, well, obvious. Are we in this situation now with regards to the grand energy challenges before us? The world still needs oil so for many building oil sands operations seems obvious, while for others the obvious thing is building a lot more wind farms.

For the past many years, the dominant narrative about energy said that fossil fuels are dirty and alternative energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, are clean and perhaps benign. (this used to be a standard line) But life is never so simple. Energy sources like oil absolutely have negative impacts (social, environmental, political, economic), but to only focus on the negative fails to credit the tremendous good that has resulted from our ability to harness energy and by-products (i.e. like petrochemicals) that are the building blocks for our modern global society. Quickly take a moment and plan out what you could do this weekend that would in absolutely no way have anything to do with oil or fossil fuels. (Did you end up naked in a forest foraging for berries?)

Conversely, to see alternative energy sources like wind and solar as solutions without negative environmental impacts (or social, political, economic) belies that the natural world exists in a state of yin and yang: for every action introduced into a system there is a reaction.

The following article, “Wind Farms Will Create More Carbon Dioxide” reveals research calling into question a major component of Scotland’s strategy to convert a large portion of their electrical grid to wind energy by building wind farms on non-degraded peatlands. The research suggests that the infrastructure required to build on these peatlands, like roads, along with the permanent siting of the turbines destroys the peatlands ability to absorb CO2.

“The world’s peatlands have four times the amount of carbon than all the world’s rainforests. But they are a Cinderella habitat, completely invisible to decision- makers.”

One typical large peat site just approved in southern Scotland, the Kilgallioch wind farm, includes 43 miles of roads and tracks. Peat only retains its carbon if it is moist, but the roads and tracks block the passage of the water.

The research was commissioned by the Scottish government, a big wind supporter, so the results came as a surprise.

Even the initial version of the calculator found that the carbon cost of a badly sited peat wind farm — on a sloping site, resulting in more drainage of the peat, and without restoration afterwards — was so high that it would take 23 years before it provided any CO2 benefit. The typical life of a wind farm is only 25 years.

The researchers initially believed that well-managed and well-sited peatland wind farms could still cut greenhouse gas emissions, over time, compared to electricity generation overall.

But now they say that the shrinking use of fossil fuels in overall electricity generation has changed the equation, making the comparison less favourable to all peatland wind farms.

When I posted this link on Facebook, a friend reposted and someone on their feed  commented that the report was BS and likely has influenced by fossil fuel addicts. It should not come as a surprise that the industrialization of energy, harnessing even clean sources like wind and solar, is going to create some negative environmental impacts. We cannot afford to ignore realities of energy production, distribution, and consumption, no matter what the source, or to ensure that tough questions are being asked, and that foresight is employed in the planning of new energy systems. In this case, the research suggests it is bad policy to build wind farms on peatlands.

The energy challenge before us is ripe with potential potholes ready to surprise us, and throw us off course. After all, it’s not like 150 years ago when oil was discovered that anyone considered the future impacts of harnessing the power within oil. How can we make better choices, smarter plans that will ensure more of the world’s 7 billion people have access to affordable, reliable energy?

No matter what choices we make, we will have to deal with the costs. This is true whether we choose oil sands, shale gas, coal, wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, or biomass. Over the coming decades, all of these energy choices will have a place in the mix, and hopefully, new technologies will make the harnessing of each source cleaner, more sustainable, more efficient, and be able to mitigate some of the unintended consequences.

So we cannot let the blowback against different energy sources, like building wind farms on peatlands, lessen our resolve to make the technologies better, or find better locations for these industrial projects. What can we learn from our mistakes and inspire continuous improvement?


About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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50 Responses to Don’t Let the Energy Blowback Get You Down

  1. ruralgrubby says:

    What is it about wind energy that keeps the media and so many within government from questioning its value and its effects on people, land and the environment?
    The hurdle I encounter in trying to understand the rationale behind promoting wind energy is that several key assumptions are being made, e.g.:
    1 – that all of our renewable choices are approximately equal to our conventional sources regarding their cost-benefits,
    2 – that renewables are interchangeable with our conventional sources,
    3 – that using more renewables will make a consequential difference in our CO2 emissions, and
    4 – that any CO2 reductions we get from renewables will make economic sense.
    From the research I have done I see zero evidence to support any of these assumptions. If a scientific assessment had been required of wind energy to PROVE its cost-benefits claims, it would not have been allowed on the grid.
    So suggesting that we need simply to resolve ourselves to make the technology better, or that it is only a matter of sighting the projects in appropriate locations, etc. completely ignores that wind is has never been shown to be cost effective, efficient, dispatchable, reliable, environmentally sound, etc. So why even consider its use, especially when it requires billions$$ (see Ontario AG report) of public $$ to make it’s business case. Does this not lead you, to at least consider that wind (&solar) are more than likely a scam?

    • You bring up some excellent points, and there absolutely is value in examining many of the points you bring up. In fact, that is part of the mission of this documentary. The suggestion I made was far from just saying that it’s all about technology, but that we need to be looking at impacts and potential impacts of all energy sources. The Peatland is but one example of an unintended consequence of the industrialization of energy. It does us no good to only be against something. Pushing to find better solutions, better technologies to solve complex issues is important. We must also be cautious in the major rollout of technologies whose impacts are not well understood. Like I said in the post, when oil took over no one was thinking about potential impacts of that system. There are many questions surrounding the impacts of wind to humans and to the environment. They need to be treated seriously, just as we must treat the impacts from fossil fuels seriously.

      • ruralgrubby says:

        What you call “being against” something is the result of carefully examining real world empirical data that are available to determine through critical thinking and scientific method, if wind energy is suitable to meet our energy needs. Sometimes in life, there is such a thing as a bad choice. If critical thinking skills were used rather than relying on intuitive thinking, than I believe many would see how things like wind energy is in fact a scam. The AG of Ontario report in 2011 clearly revealed that renewables were receiving billions of taxpayer dollars which were approved without appropriate oversight, including regulatory and planning procedures.

        That means there has never been a full cost benefit analysis done to see whether the support of wind & solar is worth Ontario’s taxpayer funding.

        How about investigating that story where the promotion of the GEA has the potential of using well over $12 Billions of taxpayer funding to achieve exactly what??

      • Your arguments are valid. My point about being against something is not to in any way disparage you concerns, or the research you have done. I would add that I am finding research showing that there are environmental impacts to wind that need more study. There are studies showing impacts to micro climates around large wind installations, caused by the turbulence, as well as the mixing of cold and warm air. Has anyone studied the impacts of wind noise on animals or marine life? GE is doing one fo the first studies of noise on whales.

        My point about “being against” something is to say that we technology may at some point solve some of these issues. As I say in the blog: “We cannot afford to ignore realities of energy production, distribution, and consumption, no matter what the source, or to ensure that tough questions are being asked, and that foresight is employed in the planning of new energy systems.”

        If we look around the globe, e can find movements against every major energy source there is from oil sands, to coal, fracking, wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, and bio-fuels. Where does this leave us if we are only against? How do we deal with these issues and ensure that we all have energy? There are no easy answers to these questions, but there will be hard choices. Wind in Ontario, may be a bad choice. What options will people choose to live with?

  2. Bob Jamieson says:

    Re: comparison of peat to a rain forest.
    It should be noted that while a rain forest actively recycles carbon, as does agriculture and forestry. However, peat is actually a fossil fuel. Crude oil is plant material that was stored millions of years ago that we are now using. Peat is plant material stored over the last 10-60,0000 years. Generally since the last ice age. And it is used as a source of energy in many parts of Europe.

    Coming closer to home, It is likely that the subsidies in place in Ontario were excessive. I am not sure if the subsidies in Alberta could be described that way. Has anyone seen data on the carbon cost and subsidey costs of wind mills in southern Alberta?

    Might be interesting.


    • So Bob, would you you debate some of the concerns stated in this research concerning siting wind farms on peatlands?

      The issue of subsidies is an important one, as well as the impacts to placing wind turbines in populated areas. The recent CBC documentary “Wind Rush” certainly showed issues of great concern with regards to wind turbines and human health in Ontario and Denmark. Alberta has not had the same concerns because the wind development in the Crowsnest is not highly populated. I have not seen any studies on carbon cost vs subsidy cost of wind turbines in southern Alberta.

      • Bob Jamieson says:

        I am not into this blog stuff enough to know if this will go to just you or everyone????

        I assume everyone…..

        I would guess that if they developed a better understanding of water flows in the peatlands, they could likely figure out how to build roads such that minimal drying out of the peat bogs occurs.

        However, that issue is a long way from home. The more interesting issue for us is how we plan to manage the massive muskeg systems in northern alberta and B.C. Perhaps oil development here is having the same kinds of impacts? I haven’t seen anything on that issue.

        I do know that some people have looked at muskeg peat as a potential energy resource in northern Alberta. I believe there is a project being considered in Newfoundland, looking at peat as an energy source.



  3. ruralgrubby says:

    Perhaps you can explain to me why I shouldn’t be “against” this kind of insanity. “California is weighing how to avoid a looming electricity crisis that could be brought on by its growing reliance on wind and solar power. …the surplus generating capacity doesn’t guarantee steady power flow. Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.”
    Or may be this kind “unintended consequence”

    • I am not sure why you are picking a fight here. I have said don’t disagree with you or your points. What you are talking about is one of the main reasons why I am doing this documentary. The issues around wind should be of concern to policy makers and energy companies alike, as the impacts are proving to be far too real for people living around them.

      • ruralgrubby says:

        I am not trying to pick a fight, only trying to bring forward the vey dangerous implications that result from statements such as “So we cannot let the blowback against different energy sources, like building wind farms on peatlands, lessen our resolve to make the technologies better, or find better locations for these industrial projects. What can we learn from our mistakes and inspire continuous improvement?” which IMO continues and promotes wind energy as a viable source of electrical generation….. which it is NOT. Solar is not much better as are many of the non-conventional forms of so-called “renewable” generation. What seems to be missing from your understanding and efforts to investigate the energy issue is the fact that statements such as the above are continually used by a faction of the energy industry to substantiate their agenda which has nothing to do with understanding the “unintended consequences”; but instead to exploit the opportunity of making money. I am only trying to urge you to investigate the very real possibility that wind (&solar) are a scam!

      • johndroz says:

        You seem to be trying to take a reasonable stance, so let me proceed on that assumption.

        My position as a scientist and energy expert is this: 1) we have energy & environmental issues, and 2) such technical matters should be resolved by using genuine science.

        Do you agree with that premise?

      • I absolutely agree John. And, I would add that there clearly are scientific studies that are showing problems with wind. There needs to be more study, and that may mean stopping wind development, particularly in areas close to where people live. I would add that I have questions about impacts from wind to micro climates and marine ecosystems. Portraying peoples concerns about wind as NIMBYism is not constructive. I posted the article in the blog because it is an example of mistakes that can be made in rolling out technology. Much like using corn ethanol.

        I would love to hear more of your feedback on this. The debate is important.

      • johndroz says:

        Thank you again for a constructive response. If you are all about science, then we are on the same page, and these issues CAN be resolved.

        A key ingredient of real science is this: That it is entirely up to the proponents of a solution (hypothesis) to provide the scientific proof that substantiates their product.

        Does that make sense to you?

      • Yes, it makes sense. The studies on wind raise concern, and the efficacy of wind has not been proven, particularly on a large scale. Anyone who understands industrial processes knows that when you take a project from small scale to large scale new issues come to light. This is proving to be true with wind.

        One of my points in the blog is that over time technological innovations can solve what were once thought to be complex problems. The Apollo space program is a great example of this. Is wind a scam? I’m not sure I buy that. Are there questions that need to be dealt with regards to if, how, and where wind technology is used, absolutely. Just as the same can be said of most energy sources. Who knows where wind technology will be in ten, or fifty years? I agree with Bjorn Lomborg when he says that more money should be put into R&D of current and new technologies, before massive implementation. Just on the cost issue alone, Europe is paying the price for the move to wind and solar, and now Co2 emissions are rising.

        There are many initiatives that can be taken with the current system that would reduce emissions, create efficiencies, and promote better stewardship of our global environment and resources.

        Saying that we will never develop technology that can safely harness wind, is a mistake. Think of all the technologies we have today that forty years ago would have been thought to be impossible. One issue right now is that too many people are living with the consequences of wind, in the name of “green” “sustainable” energy. I think that these need to be proven.

      • johndroz says:

        Some of what you say is true, but you subsequently jumped away from a key point.

        Wind proponents have an OBLIGATION to PROVE that their product meets modern standards, i.e. is at least equal to our other conventional sources of electricity.

        {BTW, for those reading this who might be less technically inclined, that means: 1) Technically [i.e. reliability], 2) Economically, and 3) Environmentally [which includes human health].}

        Has that been done, anywhere in the world?

      • It is a great question John, and it would be great to have someone from the wind industry to step in and answer some of your questions. I would add that environmentally should also include animal and marine life health. We are currently industrializing oceans, seas, lakes with wind. Have there been studies to show the impacts on marine life? As I mentioned in an earlier post, GE has commissioned a study on turbine noise and whales.

      • I have emailed someone I know in the wind industry to respond to the questions. Hopefully they do.

      • johndroz says:

        The proof is in the pudding. These sources have reliably and economically supplied us electricity for a hundred years on the most successful grid on the planet. In the US they have been the foundation of our success — i.e. to being the largest supplier of food on the planet.

        Every source of energy has deficiencies. The very basic point is that we should not be replacing conventional sources based on hope and hype. They should only be replaced if there is Scientific proof that that they are at least equal regarding technical, economic and environmental aspects.

        Of course “environmental” means wildlife as well.

      • ruralgrubby says:

        Exactly, why even consider the consequences when there is no proof that wind is doing anything right now towards our energy issues. We are not talking about wind energy in the future Matt, we are talking about the problems that exist right now.

      • Bob Jamieson says:

        I don’t want to intrude on your discussion, but I would point out that established technologies, i.e. fossil fuels, hydro electricity, etc., have never been asked to “prove” that they are viable, so it is a bit of a tilted playing field to expect that from new technologies.

        My sense is that we will need all of the technologies we can find to address the energy demand we will face in the next few decades.


  4. johndroz says:

    Maybe I’ve misunderstood something, but I was under the impression that you had been investigating this matter for quite awhile now? If so, wouldn’t that have been the foundation of your film? Why would we be talking about consequences (unintended or not) of a product where there is no Scientific proof that it is legit in the first place?

    • We are talking about these issues because society as a whole lacks energy literacy. People are against fossil fuels and lobby to stop using them, not understanding that fossil fuels form the basis for everything we do on the planet, including being essential materials in building wind farms and solar panels. People are also against wind and solar and hydroelectric and nuclear, anon. We need a broader understanding of the importance of things like energy density, power density, scalability, ease of use etc. (see Peter Tertzakian’s nine energy attributes from “The end of Energy Obesity”) We have a system that is reliable and has provided the greatest leap in standard of living (for a small portion of the planet) in history. Yet there are drawbacks to the fossil fuel system though (politically, economically, socially, and environmentally) How do we fix these issues? How do we ensure that more people on the planet can enjoy a better life, while at the same time protecting our environment? For many the choice is dumping fossil fuels, and moving to alternative energy systems like wind and solar. But, will it matter what we system we have or switch to if we do not change our consumption patterns, how we steward the resources and the environment? Right now we have a debate so polarized that many have no idea what to think. Science plays an important role in this, but there is a bigger discussion to be had as well around our common values. Why do we use energy? Why do we use oil? What value does energy add to our lives? We need to talk about how the environment is essential to our economy.

      We are talking about consequences that exist now. From oil, from wind, from nuclear, etc. We are talking about consequences (unintended or not) because we continue to need energy, we continue to burn coal, build oil sands plants, build wind turbines and solar panels. John, you have serious concerns about wind, and have gathered an impressive amount of scientific data to back your position. Yet, more wind continues to be built. Questions exist about the cumulative impacts of oil sands development, and about the safety of fracking. Yet, oil sands development continues at breakneck pace, as does fracking. Evidence and science is still gathering on these issues, yet our global thirst for energy grows every moment. How quickly can technology move to ensure that all these processes are done safely and with minimal impact to the environment and humans is a big question. Bringing a conversation like this to a bigger audience is one way to ensure all energy companies operate with best practices, and I for one believe the majority do.

      How many people understand the difference between what wind and solar can provide as an energy source compared to oil?

      So there is blowback against wind, oil, coal, nuclear etc. and two very polarized sides fight over what choices to make. What are we going to do about it, and how will we choose to conduct ourselves?

      • johndroz says:

        Thank you for your fine commentary and insightful questions.

        There are too many points you’ve raised to answer them all here, in a blog. Maybe a phone interview?

        For instance should we change our energy policy because “some people are against fossil fuels”? IMO that is an absurdity as:
        1) 99% of the population is technically illiterate when it comes to energy matters — so why should policies be based on beliefs of the uninformed?
        2) Most of what citizens “know” about energy matters is sales propaganda from special interest lobbyists who are promoting their clients’ economic or political agendas — again should our energy policies be driven by who has the most PR?
        3) In the process of marketing their agendas, these lobbyists have dishonestly claimed that Science supports their ideology. They get away with this as most people have little understanding what a genuine scientific assessment consists of.
        4) The worst culprits in this whole matter are some mainstream environmental organizations. These people are effectively a secular religion, and are sermonizing their flocks based on faith, not facts. The debate is “polarized” as we are arguing religious beliefs, which is unwinnable.

        That’s why real Science as the basis of our technical policies is the best solution for ALL of these concerns. A Scientific assessment is: a) Comprehensive [technical, economic & environmental], b) Objective, c) Transparent, and d) Empirical.

        Basing our energy and environmental policies on genuine science is by FAR the best option we have. That is THE issue of our times, and the singularly most important message that your film should be advocating.

        I just put together some slides about this matter that should be very revealing. See ScienceUnderAssault.Info.

  5. tm4fax says:

    The Ontario AG report is not the conclusive piece on renewable energy that it is portrayed as. An independent review of the AG’s report ( finds it to have many untrue claims. I think it is high time to see who is really behind the anti-renewable movement and their motivations. No one has ever questioned this movement and what is behind it.

    • johndroz says:

      To my knowledge (a physicist, energy expert, with 30+ years of environmental work, on my own dime), there is no “anti-renewable movement”. What there is, is a resistance to citizens being subjected to the whims of salespeople.

      Your cited article is an excellent case in point. The Bridge Point Group’s sole business is to profit from renewable energy implementation. Yet you seem to believe that their response to the AG report is an objective, technically sound report that negates the AG’s conclusions. What you are reading is a sales pitch for them to continue to generously ladle from the public trough.

      It’s also interesting that you have no qualms about questions who is behind an imaginary “anti-renewable movement” yet you seem to be unwilling to question who is really behind the “renewable movement.” Once you identify those people, simply ask them to provide you a genuine scientific assessment that justifies their advocacy. We’ll wait.

      • tm4fax says:

        Here’s another perspective:

        It’s a bit long, but worth the watch.

      • johndroz says:

        And the point of your video would be? I can show you videos where supposedly competent people have witnessed aliens. Does that prove anything?

        “Di Natale is a politician, as well as a public health specialist and drug and alcohol clinician.” That wind turbines have a sub-acoustical noise issue, has been conclusively demonstrated by independent acoustical experts — which this person is not.

        Since you insist on debating what constitutes Science, please identify your educational background in the sciences, and the basis for your energy expertise.

  6. johndroz says:

    I’d suggest that the underlying assumption of your movie’s title might want to be re-examined.

    The implication I get from the words “Unintended Consequences” is that (in regards to energy and environmental policies):
    “We are making our best effort at trying to do the right thing, and unexpected bad things happen.”

    Does that essentially sum up the subliminal message?

    But the fact is that we are unequivocally NOT making our “best effort” in any way, shape or form.

    A much more accurate statement is that (in regards to energy and environmental policies):
    “We are following the advice of self-serving lobbyists. Is it any surprise that the results are poor, and expensive, and bad things happen?”

    It should be self-evident to any objective person that this PROCESS is GUARANTEED to fail — so how can bad results be “unexpected consequences”?

    The fundamental question should be: “How do we change the process for creating our energy and environmental policies?”

    IMO the answer is to have such policies be based on genuine Scientific assessments.

    That is what the film should be about.

    • John, you bring up excellent points, and science has an important place in all this. I would like to point out a definition of science from wikipedia:

      “A scientific theory is empirical, and is always open to falsification if new evidence is presented. That is, no theory is ever considered strictly certain as science accepts the concept of fallibilism.”

      We can look at many cases through history of things that were thought to be scientific fact, that proved to be wrong.

      As far as “Unintended consequences” as a title, well one of the interesting things about unintended consequences is that they are not just negative; there is also serendipity. In fact, one of the stories we are currently researching for one of the demos we are going to be producing in the next few months is a great example of a serendipitous unintended consequence with regards to an industrial process. We can look at unintended consequences in so many ways with regards to this story.

      Polarization is a huge problem. Self-interest, lobbyists, agendas, biases. Certainty, I would argue, can be the death of progress. Everyone wants to be certain they are right. How is that working so far? So how do we all find a way to step back and create some processes, methods that allow us to find reasonable and progressive ways forward? In point number 4 you talk about environmental groups sermonizing based on faith, and I suspect they would argue they have science to back up their platform, just as you do. Whose science is better?

      I don’t know the answer to this, but I do think there is a better way forward. I for one know, there is a lot I don’t know, but if in the process of making this series of documentaries questions can be asked that help to shift the conversation, if we can work to find a way to progressive consensus, then perhaps we can move people towards change that makes a difference for future generations. Whether we make the right choices or not will only become clear after we make the decisions, and time reveals the “unintended consequences”.

      • johndroz says:

        Nothing in the Wikipedia statement undermines what I’ve said. We do a Scientific assessment of claimed solutions (e.g. wind energy) and the answer will be acceptable or not based on the best knowledge we have today.

        If something consequential changes in the future, we do another Scientific assessment and see if the results are any different. At any point we are proceeding with the best information we have available at the time. What’s the problem?

        I think you are confusing terms about Science. For example, at one point that the earth was considered to be the center of the solar system, was thought to be scientific fact. The key word is THOUGHT. It had never been scientifically PROVEN to be the center of the solar system, so it was never a Scientific FACT. Instead scientists of the time used intuition (not science) to assume that the earth was so positioned.

        That’s essentially what we have now. Since wind itself is “free” and “clean” and “green” it is just assumed (using intuition) that such an energy source is a good thing.

        The irony is that most of the proponents of wind are the same people saying that the existence of the planet is at stake. If they genuinely believe that, it would stand to reason that they would want scientific PROOF that any “solutions” put forward really will consequentially benefit us — otherwise we are toast. Yet none of those people are insisting on such Scientific proof, and instead are willing to use intuition, and to accept sales pitches at face value.

        My point about the title is that once one understands the corrupt process we are using to establish technical policies, the consequences are 100% expected. How can expected consequences be unintended?

        “So how do we all find a way to step back and create some processes, methods that allow us to find reasonable and progressive ways forward?” I have already answered that important question: insist that genuine Science be the basis of our technical policies.

        “I suspect environmental organizations would argue they have science to back up their platform.” Yes that may be the case, but the fact is that they do not. They are banking on well-intentioned citizens not really knowing what Science is. There is not a matter of opinion about what is Science and what is not. Science is a well-established Process. Scientific claims either adhere to this Process and are legitimate, or they do not. These people well know that they can lie about this and the likelihood that they will be held accountable is almost nil. This is all explained, in detail, at ScienceUnderAssault.Info.

      • So we have an example happening in this thread now of competing ideas about science and whose science is right, or whether the science from a competing side is even good.

        One of the problems right now is that because there is competing science on some of these matters (and I understand you don’t accept that) there is confusion in the henhouse. Vested interests from both sides jockey for position and influence with policy makers. I was at an interesting presentation this week of a new research paper by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary which looks at energy literacy in Canada with regards to Business and Policy leaders. Not surprisingly, the findings show a lack of some basic literacy in our leadership.

        There is lots of science and medical evidence that documents the negative effects from using fossil fuels. Impacts to people who work in the industry, or live near industrial sites. Rivers polluted by mountain top mining, acid rain from power plant emissions. Impacts from oil spills like Exxon Valdez or Deep Water Horizon. We know the good side that has come from harnessing fossil fuels, and we have seen and are seeing the downside. Clean air policies with regards to fossil fuels have made a difference in cutting harmful emissions, and reducing smog.

        I am not sure where to take this with you John. I think you make some good points, and I agree that science must be the foundation of technical policies. What do we do when people refuse to agree on the science?

        I have my biases, as we all do, but I work hard to be an open system. I try to be as transparent as I can with my biases, and I acknowledge what I don’t know. That does not mean I will be argued into submission.

        Clearly this post has stirred some things up and that is great. I ask that all debate here be kept respectful, just a general rule.

      • johndroz says:

        We do NOT have any example of “competing Science.” No person on this blog, or elsewhere (to my knowledge) has demonstrated that a scientific assessment has been done for wind energy,

        I assume that you have not looked at ScienceUnderAssault.Info. Just because a scientist (or a collection of scientists) put forth a report (make a conclusion, etc) does not make that Scientific — anymore than the statements of a priest make that the official position of the Church. What makes a report Scientific is that it had adhered to Scientific standards — i.e. has followed the Process.

        Yes there is legitimate Science about some issues with some fossil fuels. So what? Why replace them with something worse?

        You have made three significant statements:
        1) that there is “competing science.” I’m politely telling you that is 100% false. Science is a proven, well-defined process. There are NOT two positions about wind energy that have both followed the Scientific process.

        2) What do we do when people refuse to adhere to Science? Well that is exactly what we have right now, so look around and you see the answer to your question. We have sales people dictating our energy and environmental policies.

        3) You won’t be argued into submission. Where is that happening? Do you expect me to accept false statements about what is Science as true? I asked you to carefully look at ScienceUnderAssault.Info to get a better understanding of the issue. Have you done that?

  7. ruralgrubby says:

    Matt, I agree with John.. What appears to be science is often not if one understands the criteria for good scientific research. The critical thing in discussing energy choices is to determine if wind energy (or other sources) can in fact provide a cost effective, techinically and environmentally sound solution to our energy needs. Have you been able to determine this If so, I am very interested in studying the basis upon which you make the claim “that all of energy choices will have a place in the mix, and hopefully, new technologies will make the harnessing of each source cleaner, more sustainable, more efficient, and be able to mitigate some of the unintended consequences”
    You seem to want to defend wind energy despite the “unintended consequences” and it appears from your position, that all it takes to make wind a viable solution, is to find better locations for these industrial projects. Perhaps you believe wind has a place in the energy mix because of the potential C02 reductions, if so do you have real world empirical data which shows that wind reduces C02 and that these reductions make economic sense? I have yet to find supportive data which shows this and would appreciate your information.

  8. ruralgrubby says: An Australian engineer who has studied e carbon intensity figures supplied by the Victorian coal fired generators which show that in the past 6 years, as more wind farms have come on line, more coal is burnt over and above what is necessary to supply the electricity. Do you see this as an unintended consequence??

  9. ruralgrubby says: Again is this an unintended consequence and are the mitigation efforts in this case warranted when it is ultimately taxpayers and ratepayers who will be responsible for the end cost? to gain exactly what???

    • Thanks for the links Rural (?), not sure how you want me to refer to you. They point to multiple issues with wind, that need to be addressed. I am currently reviewing a report by Gordon Hughes on “Wind Performance in the UK and Denmark”. The conclusions raise serious issues. I have written on this blog before about some of these issues, including that in the 30 years since Denmark moved heavily into wind development, they have not reduced their CO2 emissions because of their continued reliance on coal. In addition, most of their wind is sold to neighbouring countries. Germany’s CO2 is also rising because of the ramping down of nuclear, which has meant more coal, which is cheaper in Europe than natural gas.

      • ruralgrubby says:

        Despite your awareness of the serious issues, you still seem to cling to the idea that it is only a matter of technological advancements that will address the problems with wind energy, and with education, awareness,and literacy in energy, wind’s problems will be solved. Despite the fact that these serious issues were well known beforehand, wind energy is still being pursued in the name of addressing AGW. I personally do not know how this basic fact cannot lead you to believe that “green” energy like wind is a SCAM!!

      • Technology will never solve all problems. Whether the problems with wind around noise, human health, and other environmental impacts can be addressed is unknown, but how the known issues are addressed in the present is important and urgent. Will that mean scaling back wind development?

        We have a difference of approach on this issue. I totally get where you are coming from. I would not want wind turbines close to my community. Millions of people across the globe live every day with the direct impact from harnessing energy whether it be from oil, natural gas, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric and coal. If all of these people are successful in shutting down these forms of energy because of the impacts, what does that leave us with? No one should have to live with the impacts that come from industrial processes.

        As we look at the energy system as a whole, we need to determine what sources make sense. We have a current system based on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels work well because they are energy dense, power dense, easy to use, compact, scalable, etc. But the environmental costs right pose considerable challenges. We can also look at the economic, political and social costs that are also considerable. Can we make this system better? How do we do this? Technology is one answer. Working to close the carbon loop is a big technological challenge being taken on right now, but if it can be done, it will make a significant difference. Nuclear still has great promise with new technologies, modular reactors, thorium. Those technologies exist because bright people discovered new ways of doing things.

        Greater energy literacy, conservation of resources, creating greater efficiencies in how we use our energy resources are also part of the solution.

        I respect your opinion, and ask the same. What we are working to create here is a project and place to debate these issues with a large audience. I hope you will continue to read and contribute.

      • Matt: Some info about Friends of Science, authors of that linked “report”. Should explain a lot.

      • Thanks Martyn. I am a little familiar with Friends of Science.

  10. ruralgrubby says:

    YES!! it does mean holding off on wind energy because of the PROBLEMS. Like John said, do you pursue so called renewables to replace our conventionals when they are clearly showing huge inadequacies and problems?? they are an inferior choice. You seem to believe that there is equivalency in the science when comparing wind and other forms of energy. By understanding the required scientific requirements needed to say wind is a good solution (i.e. it provides reliable generation for a modern grid, reduces the use of fossil fuels, reduces GHG emissions, is cost-effective etc) we can assess whether to move forward on renewables such as wind. What you seem to be missing is the FACT this has never been done for wind.

  11. Nothing like a real-world case study – wind seems to be making advances in Australia > Renewable Energy Now Cheaper Than New Fossil Fuels In Australia:

    • Bob Jamieson says:

      If correct, this analysis is a game changer.

      Natural gas plants here of course are still the option of choice in terms of costs, with low nat gas prices.

      One way that our situation is different here relative to wind and solar (Western Canada) is that we already have the big set of batteries required to store energy from intermittent sources, i.e. the massive hydro reservoirs in BC.

      When wind power sources come onto the grid, we simply throttle back on the flows out of dams like Mica, (a fraction of a percent), store a bit more water in the reservoir and keep for release in later periods of high demand.


      • ruralgrubby says:

        Bob your idea about reservoirs as “batteries” or more commonly known as pumped storage ignores the fact that we as consumers are paying for this storage (i.e. the cost to use wind to fill the pumped storage) and the cost to allow this storage to generate. (i.e. paying twice) Note that in Ontario, pumped storage would mean having reservoirs that could hold the volume of Niagara Falls for days on end. Very costly and not very practical!!

      • Bob Jamieson says:

        It is not pumped storage here, we just leave the water in the reservoirs.

      • ruralgrubby says:

        Matt; You might want to listen to this expose by John Stossel. I believe it makes a lots of sense. Focus on the ethanol issue and tell me this is nothing like the wind turbine or renewable energy issue as a whole. The scariest part in all this is that gov’t rarely cancel programs that they perceive as providing some kind of benefit to the economy etc.because it is often visual and do nothing to correct the issues. John even uses your term of phrase frequently in his dialogue “unintended consequences” because these programs are faith base policy and until we stop using our intuitive mind and start using the critical mindset(or the scientific methodology), we are going to crash & burn.

    • ruralgrubby says:

      You seem to have missed a critical qualification in the article, “Renewables that are NOT subsidized are cheaper in comparison to NEW coal generation which has a carbon tax in Australia. Renewables like and wind and solar are receiving some of the highest subsidies in order to maintain their business case, plus are being forced onto the grid by policy which mandates that a certain % of the grid be dedicated to their intermittent, unreliable, inefficient, non-dispatchable generation.

      • Bob Jamieson says:

        It would be interesting to actually get a copy of this work, but I would guess it is one of those thousand dollar reports that such groups put out.

        I would think that the statement below (from the site) indicates that wind is still cheaper than new coal after removing the impact of the carbon tax on coal, but one can’t really tell without seeing the actual report.

        “However even without a carbon price (the most efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions) wind energy is 14% cheaper than new coal and 18% cheaper than new gas.”

        I would have added…” cheaper than new gas.., absent a calculation of the cost to the utility of dealing with intermittent, unreliable, and non-dispatchable generation.


  12. ruralgrubby says:

    My above post is in repsonse to Martyn’s link which BTW doesn’t provide the empirical data to support his conclusion. “Such sensationalist crusades may evoke the ‘spirit of the underdog’, but they ignore all technical issues and economic implications. This misguided green propaganda has now taken root in the media, political fora and among the general public. It is inescapable and has clouded our perception of what is natural. We believe that wind farms are the definition of sustainable whereas deforested areas signify total environmental apocalypse. Yet anyone educated in ecology will confirm that there is more biodiversity in a recently cut forest than in a concrete-laden wind farm” Again, Matt, is this considered unintended consequences???

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