American Elephants


14,000 Abandoned Wind Turbines Litter the United States by The Elephant's Child

abandoned wind turbines 2

The towering symbols of a fading religion, over 14,000 wind turbines, abandoned, rusting, slowly decaying. When it is time to clean up after a failed idea, no green environmentalists are to be found. Wind was free, natural, harnessing Earth’s bounty for the benefit of all mankind, sounded like a good idea. Wind turbines, like solar panels, break down.  They produce less energy before they break down than the energy it took to make them.  The wind does not blow all the time, or even most of the time. When it is not blowing, they require full-time backup from conventional power plants.

Without government subsidy, they are unaffordable. With governments facing financial troubles, the subsidies are unaffordable. It was a nice dream, a very expensive dream, but it didn’t work.

California had the “big three” of wind farm locations — Altamont Pass, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio, considered the world’s best wind sites. California’s wind farms, almost 80% of the world’s wind generation capacity ceased to generate even more quickly than Kamaoa Wind Farm in Hawaii. There are five other abandoned wind farms in Hawaii. When they are abandoned, getting the turbines removed is a major problem. They are highly unsightly, and they are huge, and that’s a lot of material to get rid of.

Unfortunately the same areas that are good for siting wind farms are a natural pass for migrating birds. Altamont’s turbines have been shut down four months out of every year for migrating birds after environmentalists filed suit. According to the Golden Gate Audubon Society 75-110 Golden Eagles, 380 Burrowing Owls, 300 Red-Tailed Hawks and 333 American Kestrels are killed by the turbines every year. An Alameda County Community Development Agency study points to 10,000 annual bird deaths from Altamont wind turbines. The Audubon Society makes up numbers like the EPA, but there’s a reason why they call them bird Cuisinarts.

Palm Springs has enacted an ordinance requiring their removal from San Gorgonio Pass, but unless something else changes abandoned turbines will remain a rotting eyesores, or the taxpayers who have already paid through the nose for overpriced energy and crony-capitalist tax scams will have to foot the bill for their removal.

President Obama’s offshore wind farms will be far more expensive than those sited in California’s ideal wind locations. Salt water is far more damaging than sun and rain, and offshore turbines don’t last as long. But nice tax scams for his crony-capitalist backers will work well as long as he can blame it all on saving the planer.

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20 Comments so far
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I’m not a fan of wind turbines (except in very particular applications and sites), but there are several unfounded assertions in the article. And the article would be much more credible if it provided sources. I have no reason to doubt that there are 14,000 abandoned wind turbines, but I’d like to see the source.

The assertion that they produce less energy before they break down than the energy it took to make them is totally unfounded from what I can tell, at least if one is talking on average and for the current generation of wind turbines. The Nuclear Energy Institute — which is in competition with renewables — includes links of a number of studies from 2000 through 2013 that suggest that the life-cycle emissions (a proxy for energy inputs in no-carbon-emitting technologies) of nuclear power and technologies like wind turbines and hydo-electric plants are similar.

The World Nuclear Association has produced a table of Life Cycle Energy Ratios for Various Technologies. Again, wind turbines don’t come out looking too badly.

However, that they are allowed to just stand there and rust after they stop operating shows a lack of foresight on the part of the government, utilities and whomever else was responsible for their siting. Coal mines have for more than 30 years had to post bonds sufficient to cover the cost of restoring the land they disturb if the companies go bust. Nuclear power plants have to create a fund to pay for the cost of their eventual decommissioning. Sounds like too many electricity regulatory bodies and electric utilities either were asleep or consciously ignorred the problem of decommissioning.

Perhaps the 14,000 abandoned and still (partially) standing turbines were all built at a time when decomissioning obligations didn’t exist, but that they exist now.

They certainly seem to exist for offshore wind turbines. According to this document, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is
required to ensure that adequate financial assurance exists for wind farm decommissioning in the case the operator defaults or is unable to perform according to the terms of the lease instrument. A quick web search suggests that similar decomissioning obligations apply to offshore wind farms in the UK, and I presume for the rest of Europe.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Thanks, Subsidy. I did not read all 253 pages of bureaucratese, but I did skim it. And I did note the provisions in regulation for “decommissioning” within 2 years. The abandoned turbines seem to be in California. I’ve seen pictures of Tehachapi and those in Hawaii and they are a dreadful eyesore. One of the big problems is that they talk exclusively of “capacity” which is what a turbine would produce if it is running perfectly and the wind is blowing steadily at just the right speed. That doesn’t happen. And you don’t see numbers for the energy that is actually produced, which would naturally be highly variable. I have seen some evidence from European offshore wind farms on breakdowns, corrosion, replacement problems are far higher than initial estimates. It is hard to get a clear idea of success or failure, because governments who spent tons of taxpayer money aren’t apt to step up and admit that it was all a fraud.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

Just noticed I wasn’t clear: when I said “there are several unfounded assertions in the article”, I meant the article to which you provided a link, not your own article.

You’ve seen photos of I’ve seen photos of the abandoned wind turbines in the Tehachapi pass and those on the remote South Point of the Big Island of Hawaii. I’ve actually been to both places. And I agree that the turbines are a dreadful eyesore.

But, personally, I can’t say that operating ones stuck on the tops of previously unsullied hills and mountains look any better. Moreover, ones sited in remote places typically require the building of access roads, which can destroy the pristine nature of those places. (Of course, to be fair, so does mountain-top mining for coal, or the extraction of tar sands.) These are industrial developments, pure and simple. On the other hand, if the industrial development already exists, and there is room for some wind turbines, the marginal visual impact will be much less.

You say that “you don’t see numbers for the energy that is actually produced, which would naturally be highly variable.” Maybe not in statements from Presidents, but such data are readily available to those who know where to find it. The data are not hidden. And, indeed, there is a very active and lively debate on-going within the energy and environmental communities about the problem of intermittency and how to deal with it. Most independent studies conclude that dealing with it increases costs, partuicularly short-term balancing costs, but the affects on any partuicular system depends on the penetration of intermittent sources, the availability of load-following generating resources (like hydro-electric dams), and the nature of the wind and solar regime.

“[G]overnments who spent tons of taxpayer money aren’t apt to step up and admit that it was all a fraud.” I don’t think “it was all a fraud”, but I do agree that governments are not being sufficiently up-front about the costs and benefits of the different electricity-generating options, and how much they are providing in support. (Though do have a look at the studies by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which reports on federal support per kWh generated every few years.) I think the more important question is whether the federal government — read, Congress — should continue to provide production tax credits for wind power, rather than leaving such decisions to the individual states or electric utilities.

I have a good friend in Hawai’i who lives in a reliably sunny part of his county and gets paid half the retail price of electricity (the highest in the nation) for the electricity he generates from a relatively small area of solar panels on his roof. He’s happy and the electric utility is happy, and he knows also that with his solar panels (and storage batteries) he has a back-up source of power in case of a storm-caused outage, which is common in those parts. So don’t condemn solar power outright: with prices dropping, there are places where it is making sence.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

AE you deserve an Emmy for this article, i wish there were a half dozen real pictures with this excellent piece.
I’ve hated these farms from the get go, it’s not rocket science to figure out that our birds of flight have been using air streams for their travel before man existed then liberal idiots come along and put death traps right in the middle of there highways it’s disgusting.

Comment by Mike Schirman (@hey_sherm)

@Mike,

As with biofuels, the reality is more complex. Wind turbines have not been backed only by “liberals” (whatever that means). Republican politicians, especially ones in the Midwest, who can sniff federal tax credits from half a continent away, have also been big wind boosters (birds be damned!). See this article from last November:

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/wind-power-ptc-gets-republican-led-support-group

To quote from the article:

75 percent of U.S. wind capacity is in Congressional districts held by Republicans; that 67 percent of wind manufacturing plants are in GOP districts; and that 71 percent of districts held by Republicans have either wind turbines or component manufacturing facilities.

So, where were the Republicans when these facilities got established?

At least solar panels don’t chew up flying fauna.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subsidy, It is President Obama who is driving the federal support for controlling the climate to eliminate CO2 and save the world. The entire case for alarmist global warming existed in computer climate programs, not in observed science. There are undoubtedly many Republicans who still believe that global warming is a problem, but Obama is determined to save the world. Whether it is because he really believes that it is real and important — who knows? He has a five year history so far of directing projects to funnel federal money to his financial backers, and Big Green is huge and committed.

In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, he is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. The unions — also major Obama backers — want the pipeline and the big numbers of guaranteed jobs, Big Green is violently opposed. My guess, he will punt, attempting to be unable to decide or need more studies, or whatever stalling tactic he can come up with until after the election. The cost of solar is coming down, and the panels are improving, and it is obviously important for areas of Africa where any other kind of power is unavailable, and in some areas where there is lots of sun to augment regular power. I am not opposed to solar in principle—if somebody wants solar panels and buys and installs them without subsidy, fine. I am opposed to government insisting that there is global warming and that we can do something about that and using taxpayer money to force “clean renewable energy” on the country, and doing massive damage to the country and the people in the process.

The economy is not recovering, the jobs numbers are dreadful. The only improvement in last month’s numbers was in part-time jobs which completely eclipsed any gain in full-time jobs. ObamaCare is causing the loss of full-time jobs which are being turned into part-time. The EPA is killing jobs right and left and is an out-of control lawless agency. Obama’s “War on Coal” is pointless and killing thousands of jobs, while killing off the cheap, plentiful power that powers the economy.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

Wow, five rejoinders. I got it the first time! :-)

I’m not denying that Obama is pushing wind turbines, just pointing out that Republicans have not exactly been totally opposed to them. As recounted in the legislative history:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Wind_Energy_Policy

At the end of 2003 the PTC [Production Tax Credit] expired for a third time until a one year extension was granted in October 2004. With the 2004 extension, former President George Bush included the Production Tax Credit within a group of tax incentives for businesses. The PTC was extended through 2005 and also expanded the different types of renewable energies that would be included under the bill.[33] The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (H.R. 6) modified the credit and extended it through the end of 2007. In December 2006, the PTC was extended for another year by the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (H.R. 6111).

It’s not just a “liberal” policy, but a policy also strongly promoted by those ever-lovin’ Midwestern Republicans who hate everybody else’s subsidies except the ones they bring home.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

I don’t know how I managed to do that! Sorry!

We are all human and have all the ordinary human failings. Large among the failures in Congress is voting on stuff you haven’t read nor examined the case for or against. I think members of Congress have an obligation to study up, to get as informed as they possibly can. Yes, silly me. They do not think through the incentives involve and the consequences, and there is no real mechanism to deal with what turns out to be a big mistake. The EPA has taken Congress’ clear desire to assure that the air and water are clean and not harmful and twisted it into a huge grab for power and control, regulating things they have no legal interest in and doing unaccountable damage. I think the agency is beyond reform and should be abolished. As far as I know most states have an environmental arm, and Big Green has made an intensive effort to control those.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

I think members of Congress have an obligation to study up, to get as informed as they possibly can.

Wouldn’t that be nice!

Comment by Subsidy Eye

I believe wind power is going to be a big part of our energy supply in the future at least 30 %. as far as those wind turbines in Tehachapi CA, I trained on that site, And for the last five years the old lattice towers built by Vestes are being decommissioned dismantled and recycled as they reach the end of a very productive life cycle, over thirty five years. modern wind turbines pay for them self in approximately 5 to 7 years, with an average life span average life span 35 years. many times at that point owners will opt to upgrade to a new generating platform making use of the original tower extending the usable life of the tower by another thirty years.Did you get that? that’s approximately twenty to twenty five years of productive service after the turbine has paid for itself. as far as birds go, I my self am an animal lover I do not kill with out need. I am a human and I do consume, and by consuming I cause animals to get injured mostly by travel, or harvested for food but lets get the record straight. automobiles cause more deaths for birds in the world than any other cause in the world.second is aircraft. automobiles kill over 5000 times more birds in a single year in the United States, than all wind farms operating world wide I don’t see anyone giving up their car. As a matter of fact it is estimated that PETA killed more birds on their way to animal rights rally’s in a single year than an average wind farm over a five year period. I have read avian studies that have stated that birds learn to avoid turbines.I have witnessed birds changing their flight patterns around wind turbines.I am not saying birds don’t run into turbines, they do. what I am saying is I have had more birds run into my sliding glass door and break their neck and die, than I have seen killed on site by wind turbines, that is because, glass is transparent and turbines are easy to see. one wind site in Minnesota is responsible for the reduction of over one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.when a turbine is no longer productive it can be 100% recycled and in its life span leaves no carbon footprint, not bad.Those are the facts.

Comment by willam

The amount of energy contributed by wind to our national need for energy is miniscule. The world energy picture has changed. America is about to become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and oil, and wind was an interesting attempt that requires 24/7 backup from dedicated conventional power plants for the time when the wind isn’t blowing. The bird deaths are not just from birds running into turbine blades, but the air currents around them damage bird lungs fatally. Our bountiful shale deposits make wind power pretty much obsolete, and if federal subsidies are withdrawn, wind farms everywhere shut down. That has been the experience all over the world. I’m glad to know that they are dismantling the towers in Tehachapi. Pretty hideous.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

@William

Defenders of wind turbines always like to throw out bird-kill statistics related to other human-made objects, like tall, glass buildings, cars, and house cats. Yes, these features do kill birds (but not very many bats); but the wind industry is only just getting off the ground, as it were. So the numbers of birds killed are bound to increase rapidly.

The point about wind turbines is also the kinds of birds they kill, which tend not towards the uncommon. See these figures from the Audubon Society:

Every year, an estimated 75 to 110 Golden Eagles are killed by the wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA). Some lose their wings, others are decapitated, and still others are cut in half. The lethal turbines, numbering roughly 6,000, are arrayed across 50,000 acres of rolling hills in northeastern Alameda and southeastern Contra Costa counties.

The APWRA, built in the 1980s, was one of the first wind energy sites in the U.S. At the time, no one knew how deadly the turbines could be for birds. Few would now deny, however, that Altamont Pass is probably the worst site ever chosen for a wind energy project. According to a 2004 California Energy Commission (CEC) report, as many as 380 Burrowing Owls (also a state-designated species of special concern), 300 Red-tailed Hawks, and 333 American Kestrels are killed every year. In all, as many as 4,700 birds die annually as a result of the wind turbines.

Bats also fall prey to wind turbines.

A study in 2004 estimated that over 2,200 bats were killed by 63 onshore turbines in just six weeks at two sites in the eastern U.S. This study suggests some onshore and near-shore sites may be particularly hazardous to local bat populations and more research is needed. Migratory bat species appear to be particularly at risk, especially during key movement periods (spring and more importantly in fall). Lasiurines such as the hoary bat, red bat, and the silver-haired bat appear to be most vulnerable at North American sites. Almost nothing is known about current populations of these species and the impact on bat numbers as a result of mortality at windpower locations.

@Elephant’s Child

There you go again, claiming that “if federal subsidies are withdrawn, wind farms everywhere shut down.”

Proof? I doubt you have any. What the main subsidy, the production tax credit does, is boost revenues over the life of a project, thus making investments in NEW wind turbines more profitable. One can see the effects on new investments of the expiry of the PTC in 2000, 2002, and 2004 in the graph below.

However, the expiry of the PTC would not lead to “wind farms everywhere” shutting down. Investments are sunk costs. The original investors may lose, but somebody will continue to operate the plants as long as they can produce power and sell it to the grid for lower than the market price, which is the usual case, as the marginal cost of generating power from an existing facility is very low.

This expected outcome is supported by the data on electricity generated by wind over the period since 2002, which has witnessed no declines year-on-year, even in years in which the PTC was not available:

Please, use some economic logic, and stop repeating this same old canard.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

For some reason, the HTML code I used to embed the graphs didn’t work. Here is the link to the graphic showing the effect of the expiry of the PTC on new wind installations:

http://blogs.nicholas.duke.edu/thegreengrok/files/2012/09/graph-ptc.jpg

And here is the one showing the growth in annual electricity generated by wind turbines since 2002:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/archive/7/7a/20120811213008%21Wind_Power_Generation_and_Percentage.jpg

By the way, the code I used was: , except without the spaces after the “”

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Aaaaaaaaaaargh! I can’t even display the HTML code! One more time, this time with spaces everywhere:

Comment by Subsidy Eye

I give up.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

You are assuming that the production Tax credit is all the subsidy. It is not. Mandates to utilities forcing them to buy renewable energy means that taxpayers are paying an enormous subsidy in their power bills. Wind energy contracts are coming in at three and four times the cost of traditionally generated electricity. From the electricity watts produced by a wind farm, you have to subtract the portion of energy that is produced by the back up conventional plant that has to be fired up and ready to go when the wind drops. What about loan guarantees, and state support? And don’t use Wikipedia as a source for energy information.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

I am not assuming that the PTC is the only subsidy out there. But it is the main one linked to power PRODUCTION.

I can agree that without government subsidies they would be unaffordable (i.e., investments in new wind farms would dry up). But I still maintain that even if all the other subsidies and state-level portfolio standards (there is no federal renewable-electricity standard) were to disappear, the EXISTING wind farms would still find buyers for most of the power they could produce. In a totally free market there would be greater curtailments (periods during which their power is refused), but not enough to shut down most farms.

I think it rich that you demand higher authority than Wikipedia, when often your authority is some other Republican blog. I sometimes quote from Wikipedia when and if: (a) it provides a succinct summary; and (b) it’s sources are well referenced. When referring to the state or legislative history of policies, Wikipedia is usually accurate and unbiased. Don’t demand of your readers more time to identify original sources than you yourself take.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Wikipedia had quite a history of pro-radical greens, edited out any attempts by scientists to correct misinformation. It was quite a scandal. They moved their environmental editor to some other department, but didn’t discharge him. I haven’t found Wikipedia to be trustworthy.

Do not assume that the only authorities I am familiar with are those I link to for the reader’s convenience. I often choose them because they are easy to understand or short.That doesn’t mean there is no research behind it. Try not to be offensive.

Chancellor Merkel has announced that the German government is ending their support in (I think it was) 2018 or 2019. If utilities here were not forced to buy renewable power, they certainly wouldn’t. Ours includes a special form so anyone desiring to support “green power” can do so. It really drives up the cost of power. Seattle has lots of enthusiastic Greens. Money plays a big part in green ventures, and in spite of the failure of so many efforts, the Obama backers who invested survive bankruptcy quite nicely.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

Do not assume that the only authorities I am familiar with are those I link to for the reader’s convenience.

I didn’t assume that. But, again, apply the same standard: I sometimes refer to Wikipedia (checking first the sources the article cites) for the reader’s convenience, particularly if the alternative requires that they wade through hundreds of pages (see your own comment above: “Thanks, Subsidy. I did not read all 253 pages of bureaucratese, but I did skim it.”)

I often choose them because they are easy to understand or short.That doesn’t mean there is no research behind it.

See above. By the way, I do not consider any source infallible, be it Wikipedia or the conservative-pundit blogs to which you often link. I link to Wikipedia only if the information conforms to what I have also read elsewhere,

Chancellor Merkel has announced that the German government is ending their support in (I think it was) 2018 or 2019.

Please provide a link. In this recent article from the WSJ (a suitably conservative source, I hope), Merkel says no such thing. Rather she is vague, talking about freezing feed-in-tariffs by the end of 2014:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323734304578541472099838076.html

If utilities here were not forced to buy renewable power, they certainly wouldn’t.

Again, this is an imprecise generalization. Utilities will always but power if the price and the quality of the power supplied is right. They will certainly buy power from hydro-electric and geothermal plants, and plants using waste agricultural residues. So what we are really talking about here is wind and solar power.

The key feature about these sources is that their capital costs are high, but their running costs (especially solar energy) is low. So, once a wind turbine or solar panel has been installed, its owner will sell power at almost any price, and often that price will be the lowest on offer to the utility. And, in the case of roof-mounted solar panels, the people or commercial establishments living under the panels will continue to use the power they self-generate. (Note: many of those installations have banks of batteries to help smooth out fluctuations in power production.)

So far you have provided no evidence that power generation from existing wind and solar plants would come to a screeching, total halt if all subsidies and purchase obligations were to be ended.

And don’t confuse establishing the facts with advocacy. I get the feeling that you are seeing my attempt to do the former as motivated by the latter.

Money plays a big part in green ventures.

No disagreement there.

Comment by Subsidy Eye




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