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Wente wrong on wind

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I like absurdist comedies as much as the next person; but I usually avoid Margaret Wente’s columns. This week, though, she wrote an anti-wind turbine article and its foul wind blew my way. The article essentially says wind power is a bad idea because it provides intermittent power, can’t provide all the power that is needed and that wind turbines depend on the public purse (“that soft whooshing sound you hear is your friendly green government, vacuuming money out of your pockets.”)

Let's start with the last point, as it is the most laughable. Wente is concerned that an energy provision project uses tax dollars? As opposed to the free ride we get with any other energy project like, say, nuclear power plants? Take a look at your hydro bill and note that “debt retirement charge” next time you think nuclear doesn’t cost you big. Or read the report by Greenpeace on how nuclear plants can run 300 per cent over budget.

Greenpeace too green for you? Try this article from the Calgary Herald, “Huge Cost Overruns Mark Nuclear Industry.” Some of this is public and some of this is private building costs, but it always costs taxes, plenty of subsidies to go around and somehow they just grow and grow with those nuclear plants. Talk about a green thumb. Hell, with nuclear power plants you have to establish a no-fly zone and protect against terrorism – that’s on your government tab and, last time I checked, not a problem with the old wind farm.

That alternative energy like wind is somehow unique in taking tax money is the kind of bizarre claim the Republicans make every now and then about the American train system – Amtrak. Why should the government subsidize it, they ask, if Amtrak can’t compete? Compete like who? The auto makers don’t build the roads, or clean them, or enforce the laws on them (but they still need a bit of help, eh?), and I haven’t been to any airport that didn’t cost some big tax bucks. Public infrastructure costs public money.

And in that light, news flash, energy costs money. What's more, the government should be investing in energy infrastructure, clean(er) energy, especially emerging technologies. Yes, wind is an intermittent power, as is solar, but the whole point is that we need to establish distributed energy supply systems (many different sources of energy from all over – micro to macro) drawing on different sources which will make the energy grid more reliable in the long run. And more work is needed for energy storage.

“But they cost more”! Well, a more complete cost accounting would look at things like construction, security, disposal (what’s the bill for protecting nuclear waste for thousands of years?) as well as the costs of the production/extraction (oops, oil sands cost might be over 35 per cent more) and even the economic costs of using the energy (such as the affects of poor air quality on health care). Of course an even more complete cost would look at the environmental toll of a particular technology on the whole ecosystem.

These investments and incentives - the government subsidies that Wente decries for wind power in places like Germany - have helped to create over 250,000 green jobs there and large numbers elsewhere.

Despite the evidence, Wente's comedy of errors on green energy is sadly still too prevelant (but check out this article on those very myths.)

So, no, Ms. Wente, the biggest problem with wind isn’t “that it doesn’t always blow.” But your argument does.

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