Portsmouth High Turbine: A Treasonous Monster

By FRANK CARINI

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The continuing mechanical problems with the 1.5-megawatt wind turbine at the high school have angered and frustrated Town Council members and taxpayers. That’s understandable. The gearbox issue also has been a source of merriment and “I told you sos” from renewable energy antagonists. Their glee is mind-boggling.

Opponents of renewable energy fervently point out deaths and accidents connected to wind turbines. Unfortunately, there have been both. However, they disregard the fact that fossil-fuel energy and nuclear power also contribute their share of death and destruction.

It’s the steep price we pay to live in this society, but that doesn’t mean the dangers from any power source should be ignored. In fact, the only way to actually lower that rising cost is to move beyond coal, oil and gas for a bigger percentage of our energy needs. Renewable energy provides a cleaner and, ultimately, safer option.

The told-you-so energy crowd would have you believe otherwise. Besides ruining picturesque views, there are a host of dangers, they argue, associated with wind turbines. For example, turbines like to throw things, such as whole blades, or at least pieces of them, and ice. They also fall down, and start fires.

Shadow flicker is annoying, and their spinning blades kill birds.

During transport, wind turbine parts or the vehicles carrying them wreak havoc, with reports of a turbine section ramming through a house while being transported to the site where it will inevitably fall down, a hauler knocking a utility pole through a restaurant, and a section of turbine falling off in a tunnel.

Oil rigs, on the other hand, don’t like to throw things. They may occasionally belch out nearly 5 million barrels of fossil fuel into the Gulf of Mexico, but they don’t throw iceballs. They also don’t start fires; they explode.

Coal mines don’t fall down; they collapse. Fossil-fuel pollution causes cancer, and mountaintop removal kills everything.

When fossil fuels are being transported, they seldom get in an accident. The Exxon Valdez was a fender-bender, and it happened in Alaska. Nobody lives there. Closer to home, the North Cape oil spill occurred when the tank barge North Cape and the tug Scandia grounded on Moonstone Beach in South Kingstown, after the tug caught fire. Hey, I thought only wind turbines catch fire?

Anyway, this little mishap only spilled about 830,000 gallons of home heating oil. The Exxon Valdez spilled much more, but at least it didn’t fall down on the job like one of those treacherous turbines.

Tragically, there are dangers with all types of energy production. It’s the price we pay to live a more comfortable life. But for the “Not In My Backyard” crowd and the fossil-fuel apologists, renewable energy is mankind’s greatest threat to capitalism. It’s unpatriotic.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, was outraged when President Obama held BP accountable for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, saying “I think it’s part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”

I wonder what Paul would have said if a wind turbine had thrown an iceball at him? We know the Big Oil-backed politician is against subsidies for wind and solar energy, because they would “distort the marketplace.”

Speaking of social distortion, read the comments left by some readers under our recent coverage of the Portsmouth High School wind turbine. There’s one: “The wind industry is hiding a dirty little secret about gearbox failures.”

For the renewable energy deniers, the same accusations don’t apply if there’s a problem with dirty energy. BP was just protecting trade secrets about its blowout preventer that was supposed to slam the Deepwater Horizon oil well shut. Hey, accidents happen.

Here is part of a comment from another reader who must be delighted that the arms of Satan aren’t spinning at Portsmouth High School. “… it has proven to be all too common since 1982 as wind turbine electric generation has expanded due primarily to many $billions of government subsidies, profiting wealthy investors, for uneconomic projects.”

I would like to ask Stewart Farber if it’s OK for Big Oil to receive government subsidies, profiting wealthy investors, for projects that are environmentally damaging? Since ExxonMobil earned a profit of $41 billion in 2011 and BP made a $25.7 billion profit that same year, accidents and deaths associated with their operations are worth it. Economic profit and financial growth supercede public health and environmental protections.

When renewable energy projects fail — and the Portsmouth High wind turbine is not a failure, perhaps poorly managed — Farber and others who view clean energy as an attack on their portfolios and bank accounts, immediately note the burden placed on taxpayers.

The bankruptcy of solar-cells manufacturer Solyndra is a scandal that cost taxpayers. The BP oil spill was an accident that hurt BP's shareholders.

You seldom hear renewable energy foes complain about the huge burden fossil fuels place on the less fortunate. Cheaper fuel is better than cleaner fuel, as long as no one is fracking in my backyard, blasting off mountaintops in my county or shipping LNG through the waters where I go sailing.

Place that burden on struggling farmers in western Pennsylvania, the poor living in Appalachia and the places where I don’t go cruising.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.