Ridden by the Wind

Eric Rosenbloom, August 15, 2012

The story of industrial-scale wind energy, that is, large wind turbines connected to supply the electric grid, is the same old tale of exploitative industry, of predatory capitalism, of consumerism run riot over the concerns of nature and humanity.

Wind energy does not represent change from a consumption-driven quest of continuing dividends for the investor class. It is a change of brand, nothing more. The same people behind digging up the tar sands of Alberta, drilling in the Arctic, blasting off mountaintops for coal, fracking the ground beneath our feet for methane, mowing down the rain forests, are industrializing rural and wild landscapes with the sprawling tax shelters called wind “farms”.

Like American politics, where choice is limited to which waiter you prefer to serve you from the same Wall Street kitchen (as Huey Long described it), energy policy around the world is “all-of-the-above” with politicians pretending to position themselves against one or another source to flatter different diners. Wind energy operates entirely within that game. As the realities of large-scale wind development — the decimation of habitat, birds, bats, health of human neighbors, and more — have made it harder to sell as “green”, the industry lobby group American Wind Energy Association has strategized: “We need to create a space for the wind energy industry without defining it as an alternative to fossil fuels and coal and that goes beyond being one of many ‘renewables’” (Leadership Council and Board of Directors Meeting, Carlsbad, Calif., Nov. 2, 2011). The reality is that a consumption-based economy dependent on continued “growth” doesn't need alternatives, only more choices: all of the above, whether it works or not. And that imperative excuses all.

As Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said on June 4, 2012, at the AWEA’s annual convention in Atlanta, “Anyone standing in the way of this industry, frankly, they’re un-American.”

Because there are “important” people making a lot of money in wind, and the opening up of previously undeveloped land will enrich them well beyond wind.

Enron invented the modern wind industry by buying the support of environmental groups for large-scale “alternative” energy and all that makes it profitable: tax avoidance schemes, public grants and loan guarantees, artificial markets for “green credits”, and laws requiring its purchase. Texas Governor George W. Bush was instrumental in getting the first of these implemented at the national level on behalf of his friend Ken Lay, Enron's CEO. Texas is the USA’s leader in wind energy development, not because of some environmentalist vision, but because of the opposite: Wind energy is just one more extractive industry, and with the collaboration of Enron's environmentalists it opens up land normally off limits to such development.

The twisted rationalizations of former environmentalists to excuse the obvious adverse impacts of industrial development in the form of wind “farms” are a study in madness, akin to the military “logic” of having to destroy a village to save it. The typical refrain from the likes of the Audubon Society or Sierra Club — when they acknowledge adverse impacts at all — is that wind energy, by its theoretical and never documented reduction of carbon emissions from other electricity sources, saves more birds etc than it kills. They cling to this even as only the latter is increasingly documented and the former is increasingly clearly not. They further flaunt their moral bankruptcy by dismissing the adverse effects as a drop in the bucket compared to all the other killers of birds etc. And they join the reactionary chorus of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in presenting their plea to shovel more public money to big energy investors as one for (“American”) jobs (at any [public] cost).

At the same time, neighbors of giant wind turbines who suffer adverse health effects are derided as hysterical or mendacious. The unsurprising acoustic effects of jumbo-jet-size turbine blades cutting through vertical air spaces of almost 2 acres are simply denied. Wind's apologists reverse cause and effect and blame the victims for publicizing noise problems even as ever larger blades are increasingly documented to generate intrusive throbbing and low-frequency noise, both of which not only disturb sleep and raise stress but are increasingly tied to direct adverse physiological and psychological effects. Yet the industry fights all efforts to set even inadequate minimum distances between turbines and homes or noise limits. The CEO of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, Ditlev Engel, wrote to the Danish Environment Minister on June 29, 2011, against such limits: “At this point you may have asked yourself why it is that Vestas does not just make changes to the wind turbines so that they produce less noise? The simple answer is that at the moment it is not technically possible to do so.” Especially because, as he goes on to note, they are planning even larger machines.

And if human neighbors are treated with such naked contempt in the mad logic of corporate profit growth, pity the wildlife whose last refuges are invaded, divided, and destroyed by big wind (and now big solar as well) — all with the blessing of many environmental groups.

Invaded, divided, and destroyed — nineteenth-century colonialism and twentieth-century globalism are now openly revived against our own communities. Just as the Spanish company Iberdrola steals farmland from the Zapotecas of Oaxaca, and the Indian company Suzlon steals forest from the Adivasis, wind developers in more “developed” countries — in Europe, North America, Australia — prey on their rural populations, pitting paid-off landowners against their neighbors, leaving bitterness and discord, a blighted landscape, shattered peace and quiet, an industrial waste land from which the limited liability companies extract what profit they can and then move on to the next marks.

Industrial wind development may not be the worst scourge on the planet, but that does not excuse it. Big wind is not separate from the rest of exploitative and extractive industry. It is not separate from the persistent efforts of the investor class to hoard for themselves more of the public wealth. It is, however, particularly evil because it presents itself as the opposite of what it is. It is not even an alternative evil: To add insult to injury, wind is not even a good way to generate electricity for the grid: Since it does not blow according to customer demand, it still has to be 100% backed up by other sources.

Break the spell! End the charade!

See the swindle for what it is. Big wind is an enemy of the planet, its animal and plant life, its people. It is a new brand in an old game whose rules were written to ensure one winner only, and it isn't you.

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