Tuesday, December 28, 2004

An Ill Wind?

The years since George W. Bush took office have seen a remarkable increase in the development of wind farms. When Bush was governor of Texas, that state led the nation in new wind farms. It may not be a coincidence that at that time, the nation's largest producer of wind turbines was Enron Wind, which bought out a company called Zond Energy Systems.

Enron Wind was not included in Enron's bankruptcy claim. It was eventually sold to GE, which now handles turbine manufacturing, marketing, and the like under the name GE Energy. Oddly enough, GE Energy's website says that it was originally called "Zond Systems"; the Enron years are apparently not worth mentioning.

GE Energy's CEO is a man named John Rice; he seems to be quite cozy with Jeb Bush, and downright devoted to George W. Bush and the RNC.

It's possibly a coincidence that GE Energy just got a lucrative contract to build a huge wind farm for our new ally Pakistan. What's not in doubt, however, is that GE's legendary generosity to the GOP has paid off handsomely in Afghanistan and Iraq. And that its orders for turbines in the wake of Bush's wind-power tax credit total an impressive 1.3 billion dollars.

What's wrong with this, if it gets us away from fossil fuels? Like hydroelectric power, wind power is great in theory, but it has to be very carefully planned and regulated so that the negative effects don't outweigh the benefits. My concern is that just as with the orgy of dam-building in the middle of the twentieth century, we may approach a point where the delusion of growth for growth's sake drives decision-making on wind farms, and the financial goals of developers and politicians trump sensible siting guidelines.

In this scenario, tax credits would go not to companies that are committed to green technology or sustainability, but to energy giants with government connections, which have positioned themselves as the go-to people for wind power (usually through buyouts or takeovers, rather than in-house innovation). There's also an unsettling potential for shady land-lease deals; currently, landowners are paid $2,000 - $3,000 per turbine by the lessee. On some sites in Texas, this brings in almost $400,000 per year for lessors; that's a lot of money in anyone's English, and the temptation to relax siting restrictions will be accordingly great (particularly if the landowner just happens to be someone with political connections).

1 comment:

KM said...

Unlike hydroelectric, the electricity from wind is very unreliable. So the folly of ignoring the impacts is even worse.