March 9, 2008

RALEIGH – North Carolina needs a “Coast Law” to protect residents from wind turbines that ruin local landscapes, harm wildlife, and pose potential health risks, all while providing an unreliable source of electricity. That’s the key conclusion of a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Daren Bakst discussing this Spotlight report.

“The legislature should make a new ‘Coast Law’ a top priority,” said report author Daren Bakst, JLF Legal and Regulatory Policy Analyst. “That type of law would prohibit construction of industrial wind turbines in coastal areas. Local communities should not be burdened with fighting proposed wind power plants that will harm their communities.”

Existing state law prevents industrial wind turbine construction in the state’s mountains, Bakst said. “Since the mountains and the coast are the only sections of North Carolina under threat from possible wind turbine construction, existing state law and a new ‘Coast Law’ could work together to help protect North Carolinians from an alternative electricity source that does much more harm than good.”

Bakst’s report answers basic questions about wind power, starting with the definition of “wind turbine.” “People who’ve never seen these turbines might not realize that we’re talking about massive industrial machines that can be as tall as 500 feet, or about the height of 50-story skyscrapers,” he said. “They should not be confused with cute little Dutch windmills—there is nothing cute about wind turbines.”

A proposed wind power plant has generated headlines in Carteret County in recent weeks, and North Carolina could see more proposals for wind power because of legislation the General Assembly approved last year, Bakst said. “Senate Bill 3 sets minimum renewable energy requirements for utility companies,” he explained. “One of those potential renewable sources is wind power. Unfortunately, lawmakers who endorsed wind power ignored some major drawbacks.”

Wind power is unreliable, Bakst said. “Like the wind itself, wind power is intermittent,” he said. “The wind must be strong enough, but not too strong, to generate power. Often wind provides power when it’s not needed. No one could rely on wind to provide ‘baseload electricity generation,’ which is the regular and consistent electricity needed to meet constant demand. It’s also an electricity source that cannot be called upon to meet excess demand. That means any community using wind power must also rely on more reliable conventional sources, such as coal, nuclear, and gas.”

People who think wind power helps the environment should think again, Bakst said. “The National Academy of Sciences has reported that wind power would not significantly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide,” he said. “Its impact on carbon dioxide emissions would be miniscule. Plus wind power would have a negligible impact on the goal of energy independence.”

While the benefits of wind power are hard to find, the high costs are much easier to see, Bakst said. “Consider the sheer size of wind power plants,” he said. “They take up to 88 times more land than coal plants. A plant generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity would require acreage the size of Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Wilmington combined. Placed in the mountains, it would require 300 miles of ridgeline.”

Wind turbines kill birds and bats, and they cause potential health hazards for people as well, Bakst said. “The noise effects of wind power plants are potentially so severe to people that both the French National Academy of Medicine and the United Kingdom Noise Association recommended against building wind turbines within a mile of residences, at least until further research has been conducted.”

Some advocates tout wind power as a means of creating a “diverse mix” of electricity resources, Bakst said. “They never ask the question: What’s the benefit?” he said. “North Carolina, like all states, has no problem meeting its electricity needs. The state has both low-cost and reliable electricity, and there is no reason absent government intervention for that to change in the long term. If there were more diversity, it should come about as a result of market choices, not government mandates.”

Until the General Assembly offers the new protection of a “Coast Law,” residents should be wary of wind power proposals, Bakst said. “If local communities do have to address wind power plant proposals, they should do careful research into the matter,” he said. “Communities need to consider whether, for little to no benefit, it is worth ruining their landscapes forever, harming wildlife, and using excessive amounts of land to generate very little electricity. They should demand that wind power proponents prove that wind power is in the best interests of the community and the state.”

Daren Bakst’s Spotlight report, “A Wind Power Primer: Emission reduction negligible for land-intensive, unreliable, noisy, ugly, bird-killing turbines,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Bakst at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].