Is Wind Power Really Clean and Renewable Energy or Another Highly Subsidized Green Illusion?

Don-Quixote 'tilted at windmills' in the Cervantes classic, often referred to as a founding work of modern Western literature. Throughout the two volumes Don-Quixote carries on a dialogue with his 'squire' Sancho Panza' on timeless questions like the role of institutional authority vs. the duty of an anarchist, like the obligations of chivalry in the defense one's beliefs and the preference for the glory of fantasy over the real world which includes imminent death. In each case Panza provides comments that gently counter Quixote's fantasies, known as Sanchismos, with earthy wit.

Today's anarchists might see windmills as a symbolic knight too. Today's windmills are symbolic of, as well as examples of, the clean power establishment's deceptive mis-information campaign  much as Cervantes's were of the establishment's power in the early 1600s. Don-Quixote rode into battle against overwhelming, if fantastic, forces is the service of truth and righteous-ness regardless of the judgments of others.

Tilting at the mostly well intentioned believers, who IMO, are being mis-informed and mis-directed by the corporate 'clean energy' deceivers, as i'm about to do, may be a Quixotic task...but here goes.

Windmills aren't green, they are another green illusion. Windmills are given space by money and the media because they offer no challenge to the underlying fossil fuel dependent economy in that they are simply fossil fuel in a different disguise. 'Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism', by Ozzie Zehner is a great read and this interview with him lays out the reasons for his tilting at windmills.

Windmills suffer many of the same drawbacks as solar energy in their consumption of huge amounts embedded energy in their production, the habitat they steal from other species and the ecological damage they do in the field [ask the bird lovers]. The green power folks counter with the argument that wind produces far more energy return on investment [EROI] than solar - quoting wind as 1-18 vs, solar which is only 1-1.2. The devil with all EROI calculations is in the details of what is counted and what isn't.

Similar to solar power, the realities on the ground always end up with windmills in the field producing far less than the laboratory estimates. For instance, wind is intermittent, so wind turbines require a dual system – one set of turbines for when the wind is blowing and a backup system to cover still periods. The backup system must be capable of producing as much power as the turbines so it must be a huge [usually natural gas but sometimes coal] facility that has to be built, maintained and kept idling at all times so it can jump in when called on. Alternative energy technologies all rely on fossil fuels. Sunlight and wind are renewable, solar panels and wind turbines are not.

Windmill farms alone cannot replace traditional methods of power generation they can only supply additional energy to the grid, they do not produce baseload electricity. Wind power requires massive government subsidies as T.Boone Pickens figured out, because even if his multi-billion dollar investment scheme had generated enough power to pay for itself the existing grid would never have been able to handle it. The grid upgrades in North America alone, as Nick Rosen's book 'off the grid' explains, would cost $trillions of dollars both because the existing grid is full up as it is and the wind blows not next to heavy industrial users but out prairies or the oceans.

Is wind power really clean and renewable energy? Or are the massive subsidies necessary to subsidize wind power a wasteful use of our tax dollars? Does the glare of publicity from alternative energy technologies blinds us to the real goal - reducing fossil fuel use? IMO the 'clean energy' hype and mis-information pose a great risk by conjuring an illusion of responsibility. Conservation programs should be the priority of everyone, especially governments, not the subsidizing of unproductive investment schemes if significant reductions in fossil fuel use are to be achieved. The fact is, 'The Only Green Solution to Over-Consumption is Conservation.'

The $trillions of dollars for the grid re-build aren't accounted for in wind's EROI, neither is the plummetting real estate values of the surrounding neighbors, as the Aussies now know, neither is the long term health care costs to the people who live near the windmills [the subject of $billions in ongoing court cases everywhere wind farms exist. Like every free lunch solution to our consumption driven extractive capitalist economy, wind power is a Green Illusion.

If the governments put even a fraction of the monies they do to subsidize 'clean energy' boondoggles around the world into architectural techniques like subsidizing insulation, weather stripping, efficient heating and coloing systems that make buildings more efficient and comfortable as well as cheaper to run. If they subsidize walking, bicycling, and transit infrastructure. If they used their subsidies to bolster conservation, the only truly green alternative, instead of using them as kickbacks to their corporate brethren and propaganda designed to up their popularity through simplistic jingoism, the 'market' index might drop but Don-Quixote's happiness index would soar.