Fact check: Bond bashes wind, mangles facts

The following is an updated version of an earlier post, with added information on birds and on BP Wind Energy.

A recent column in the Denver Post by retired energy executive Mike Bond (who also happens to be an outspoken opponent of a wind farm near his home on the Hawaiian island of Molokai) takes aim at wind power, but the facts are the only casualties.

Many if not all of the numbers in Mr. Bond's piece appear to have been pulled out of thin air, as they are far above or below actual values (in each case to wind's disadvantage).  Some specific factual issues follow:

T. Boone Pickens quote appears fabricated.  Mr. Bond quotes billionaire T. Boone Pickens as saying, "The only thing green about wind power is the money it puts in my pocket."  While the phrase "the only thing green about wind" is a favorite sentence starter of anti-wind individuals and groups around the world, and is attributed by them to Mr. Pickens on a few occasions, a fairly serious Google search fails to turn up any instance in which he is actually directly quoted by a reputable source. Readers who can prove that this is not a fabricated quote are invited to do so.

The cost of the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is far below the number cited by Mr. Bond.  The PTC has leveraged $15.5 billion each year on average over the past five years, at an estimated average annual cost of $1.36 billion, according to the most recent estimate from Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation.

The amount of electricity generated by wind projects is far higher than the numbers cited by Mr. Bond.  U.S. Department of Energy data show average wind projects in the U.S. produce 30% of their nameplate output over the course of a year (capacity factor) (http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/emp/reports/lbnl-4820e.pdf, page 55). That is significantly higher than the average capacity factor for natural gas power plants in the U.S. (22.5 percent) and comparable to the capacity factor for hydroelectric dams (40 percent).

Because it displaces electricity generated from fossil fuels, wind-generated electricity cuts pollution.  The Bentek study Mr. Bond cites has been discredited as a seriously flawed, non-peer-reviewed attack piece by the fossil fuel industry paid for by a fossil fuel industry lobby group. Even Bentek’s own followup study found that in many regions, wind’s emissions savings are as large or larger than the numbers we at AWEA have estimated. DOE data confirms that electric sector pollution has fallen drastically in lock step as states like Colorado have ramped up their wind generation. For example, it shows that electric sector CO2 emissions in Colorado fell 7% between 2006 and 2009, as wind grew from providing 1.7% of Colorado’s electricity to 6.3% of the state’s electricity, even though total electricity consumption remained the same. More than a dozen utility, independent grid operator, and government analyses have looked at the emissions savings of wind, and all have found them to be as large as, or larger than, expected. The reason for this is that wind tends to disproportionately offset dirtier coal generation relative to natural gas generation. It is more accurate to talk about a need to back up fossil and nuclear plants, which fail unexpectedly and instantaneously, than wind projects, whose output changes slowly and predictably.

Wind projects do not lower property values.  See http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/lbnl-2829e.pdf for a detailed study of this issue by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Wind power's impact on birds is modest. Mr. Bond's numbers for bird fatalities at wind farms are wildly inflated.  Contrary to his claims, the wind power industry has modest impacts on birds compared to other forms of energy generation and should be viewed in context with vastly more significant sources of mortality such as buildings, communication towers, or vehicle collisions.  In 2010 the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC), which includes Fish and Wildlife officials and representatives from the wind industry, and conservation community, estimated that approximately three to four birds per megawatt are killed annually. With a current installed capacity of nearly 50,000 megawatts, that comes to 150,000 to 200,000 birds per year. With literally billions of birds collectively killed annually from other human-caused sources such as buildings, power lines, waste water pits, vehicles, domestic cats, etc., wind is responsible for a very small fraction of societal impacts and those impacts are greatly outweighed by the benefits to environment derived from wind energy. The NWCC fact sheet is available at https://www.nationalwind.org/assets/publications/Birds_and_Bats_Fact_Sheet_.pdf  Further, we do more to study, monitor, and mitigate for the impacts we do have than any other sector.  Studies comparing the impacts of different energy sources consistently find wind power’s impact among the lowest—not surprising given that it requires no mining or drilling for fuel, uses virtually no water, and creates no air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases.

While BP Wind Energy is a large developer and owner/operator of U.S. wind farms, its market share is significantly overstated.  One very clear indication of just how fast and loose Mr. Bond plays with facts: he claims that BP (the British oil and gas company, which has no connection whatsoever with T. Boone Pickens, whom Mr. Bond incorrectly associates this "fact" with) owns 7 of 10 U.S. wind projects (70 percent).  In fact, according to AWEA's annual wind market report for 2011, BP actually owned just 2.5 percent of U.S. wind farms, or 1/28 of what Mr. Bond claims.

Related articles:

American Wind Wildlife Institute releases white paper on eagles and wind power, May 25, 2012
Already following federal bird guidelines, wind co. says, March 29, 2012
Fact check: Bryce missteps on wind and birds, March 8, 2012
Colorado collaboration: Wind companies, conservation groups agree on wildlife best practices, February 6, 2012
The Fish & Wildlife Eagle Permit Rule: Our perspective, January 10, 2012
Wind power's impact on birds: modest, December 15, 2011
Bird fatalities at Laurel Mountain substation, November 9, 2011
Birds and wind: Bad news leads, good news in weeds, August 29, 2011
Fact check: Fox News off base on bird collisions, August 19, 2011
News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines, June 6, 2011
WINDPOWER report: Whooping cranes may avoid wind farms, more research ahead, May 25, 2011
Wind developer launches intensive avian monitoring program, May 23, 2011
AWEA files comments on "unworkable" U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines, May 19, 2011
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation, April 20, 2011
Wind industry backs research on bat concerns including White-Nose Syndrome, April 1, 2011
Wind turbine bird threat modest, January 18, 2011
Editorial: How serious is threat to birds?, January 5, 2011
Wind energy and birds: No double standard, September 9, 2009
Wind-wildlife group names first president, February 24, 2009

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