Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Green Power Primer

I don't like wind generators. I don't like their looks, I don't like their sound, I don't like their damage to the landscape, I don't like their cost. I don't like the bogus arguments that they will prevent cancer or save the Great Barrier Reef. I don't like the messianic fervor with which they are being promoted. But most of all, I don't like their being mandatory.

There are several blogs objecting to industrial-scale generation of electricity from wind power. The arguments propounded by these blogs typically include the following:

(i) The fundamental drawback of low “availability” of wind power and the need for backup generation capacity; in fact, wind power is tantamount to gas or oil power which can provide backup, unlike coal or nuclear.

(ii) The high cost of electricity produced and high initial capital costs; electricity from chicken manure is cheaper. With high enough carbon taxes, and stiff penalties, you too may choose a German or Danish windmill, willingly.

(iii) The undesirable side effects (visual, audio, property values, landscape aesthetics) of industrial windfarms.

(iv) The fallacy of anthropogenic global warming, climate change, and “extreme” weather; Nostradamus as a key energy policy agent.

(v) Global and national energy use patterns and the utopian goal of substituting conventional power with “green” power; the proponents of Desertec claim that a little square in the Sahara is able to collect all the energy required by Europe. I doubt that Rommel or Montgomery were fighting over that little patch of Sahara for its sun.

vi) National and transnational policies devised to address subsidies, taxation and externalities as well as market or quasi-market mechanisms involved, e.g. carbon taxes, feed-in-tariffs, cap and trade, pilfered carbon rights, the Mafia and carbon rights, the Holy Inquisition and carbon rights, etc.

(vii) Local and international politics related to most of the above; the Green War as a sequel to the Cold War, WW2, WW1, the Great Game, etc.

The issues itemized above are quite diverse and interdisciplinary and somewhat convoluted. The proponents of wind power do not rely on any facts or figures, for that matter. They mention installed megawatts, and megawatt-hours over a year, and number of homes, and tons of CO2 -- all interesting but irrelevant and misleading measures, that have limited economic meaning and would not fit in a traditional business plan, or a consumer cost-benefit analysis calculation. What we are innundated with instead are polar bear cubs and images of imminent apocalyptic catastrophe, followed by rolling green hills with serene windmills set against blue skies and pink sunsets, with religious and messianic overtones. Monty Python material... Would be amusing, if we had the choice to pay for it, or not.

Some of my best friends are solar bears.