(The title is an homage to one of the worst movies of all time.)
Joe Benning does not like utility-scale wind. Not even a little tiny bit. The Caledonia Republican is one of the more vocal members of the anti-wind cadre in the Senate, and he’s a co-sponsor of S.30, the late unlamented wind moratorium bill, as well as the retooled S.30, which is on its way to the Senate floor without the moratorium.
But even though the retooling was entirely the work of the bill’s sponsors, it still sticks in Benning’s craw. He vented his frustration the old-fashioned way — in an opinion piece published last Thursday in the Mitchell Family Organ. (Paywalled, sorry*.) A piece that’s so unhinged and over-the-top, it’s almost funny. How funny? Let me count the ways…
(UPDATE 3/13: Benning’s piece has just been posted at VTDigger, where it’s available without paywall. Digger, BTW, has now posted 17 opinion pieces on wind this year; 14 were anti-wind.)
He starts slow with a first paragraph that does nothing more than set the scene. But then it’s blast-off time, with a second paragraph that masterfully compresses all the standard lies and exaggerations of the Windies into a few concise phrases:
How did we get to become so obsessed about developing an electric generating facility that blasts away the tops of iconic mountains, attacks heretofore protected wildlife, imposes known health risks on people living too close, fails to generate enough power to meet predictions, makes us pay far more for power than we have to, makes us give up the right to locally govern ourselves, has a limited working life span of about 20 years, and yet leaves us with concrete pyramids for unknown millennia? Seriously – whose nightmare is this?
Let’s take these in order. First, nobody’s obsessed but you, Joe. Wind advocates see it as one viable part of a sustainable energy mix. Even those detestable folks at VPIRG only want to build four more wind farms in the entire state.
Second, “blasts away the tops of iconic mountains.” Yes, there’s some blasting and some rock removal, but not enough to change the profile of a mountain. As for “iconic mountains,” I think they’re safe, unless you think every ridgeline in Vermont is somehow “iconic.” Nobody’s calling for wind turbines on Camel”s Hump; just for a few more wind farms on appropriate sites.
Third, “attacks heretofore protected wildlife.” A sensible approach to wind-farm siting would protect key wildlife habitats. And that’s what we want: a sensible approach.
Fourth, “known health risks.” Here’s the rub. Windies allege a cornucopia of health impacts including Wind Turbine Syndrome, shadow flicker, subsonic vibrations, and God knows what else. However, study after study shows no actual medical/scientific evidence of any health effects. Three sources: the Sierra Club Canada’s report, “The Real Truth About Wind Energy,” the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s “Wind Turbine Impact Study,” and a review of scientific literature by Public Health Professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Classic ‘Communicated’ Disease.” In the latter, Prof. Chapman points out that there have been at least 17 reviews of the available evidence about wind farms and health, and that each of them has found no evidence that turbines make people ill. The closest thing to an actual “Wind Turbine Syndrome” is that people who don’t like turbines are far more likely to be affected by their proximity.
Fifth, “fails to generate enough power to meet predictions.” Wind energy is a widely-used source of sustainable energy with an established track record of performance. If it was really a failure, nobody would be building turbines. They’re not doing it just to annoy Joe Benning.
Sixth, “makes us pay far more for power than we have to.” Well, if by “have to” you mean we could save money by continuing to burn fossil fuel or letting Vermont Yankee keep on wheezing, then you’re right. The problem with fossil fuels (and with nuclear power) is that the market fails to factor their real costs in pricing. Wind and solar and other renewable sources may be more expensive now because of flaws in the market, but (a) we can’t afford to go on paying the hidden cost of carbon emissions, and (b) the more we develop renewables, the more competitive they will get.
Seventh, “makes us give up the right to locally govern ourselves.” Nope. The energy regulatory structure has been carefully crafted and has been in place for years. There is no brand-new giving up of local rights. And wind supporters want to take local opinions into account. If a community really doesn’t want a wind project, with all its financial benefits (just look at the local tax rates in Lowell or Sheffield, and tell me there aren’t a hundred communities that could use the same kind of help), then it can be built elsewhere.
Eighth, “has a limited working life span of about 20 years,” I will consider with: Ninth, “leaves us with concrete pyramids for unknown millennia.” Completely untrue. Wind farm developers are responsible for decommissioning turbines, removing structures, and even re-landscaping. The money for restoration has to be put in an account before construction begins. Joe Benning is either ignorant of this, or he’s lying.
In the next paragraph, Benning goes nutzoid against wind supporters:
A group of us decided not to be deluded with visions of grandeur about Vermont’s single-handed ability to reverse climate change using this particular nightmare as our tool.
There are so many lies in that sentence, it’s hard to keep count as they go whizzing by. No wind advocate believes that Vermont can single-handedly affect climate change; we simply believe that Vermont is responsible for doing its part. And unfortunately, no sustainable energy technology can “reverse” climate change; all it can do is keep climate change from worsening. Finally, Senator Benning, if you’re going to call wind supporters as “deluded” and wind energy as a “nightmare,” I suggest you’ve abandoned the kind of useful, cogent argument that could actually convince people of your viewpoint.
After congratulating himself for co-sponsoring S.30, he portrays wind advocates as “aghast” over the word “moratorium.” No, not at all. Nobody was “aghast,” and it wasn’t the word “moratorium” that set anyone off. We simply opposed S.30 and didn’t think that a moratorium is needed or wise. We still oppose the revamped S.30, even though it’s been stripped of the dreaded word.
Then, Benning characterizes his opponents as “gripping fiercely to the concept that Vermont should lead the world on addressing climate change.” No, and no. I don’t think Vermont should lead the world; as I said above, I simply think we ought to do our part. The “gripping fiercely” is an unnecessary piece of rhetorical brimstone. If anyone here is “gripping fiercely,” it’s Joe Benning and his extreme opposition to wind energy.
Benning asserts that opponents of S.30 “failed to pause long enough to either read or understand the bill.” Well, again, no. We understand it; we simply oppose it. It’s one of the most popular canards among the Windies: those who support wind power just don’t understand. Our eyes have not been opened to The Truth.
Benning then lets fly with a double howler: “Blogs and public opinion polls followed suit.” Aha! The reason the Castleton poll found two-thirds of Vermonters support wind is that somehow the “poll followed suit.” As if the poll had a mind of its own. And speaking for this blogger, I considered both sides and joined the one with more credibility and better evidence.
And now for another load of hysteria:
Opponents, frightened by that scary word “moratorium,” pulled the covers up over their heads and trembled with fear in the belief Vermont was suddenly on the road to disaster. It would be comical, if it weren’t so sad.
Joe, Joe, Joe. You’re not even trying to convince anyone, you’re just stewing in your own juices. Opponents are not frightened by the word; they just oppose the concept. We see no need for a moratorium because (a) climate change needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, and (b) study after study after study has found no significant problems with appropriately-sited wind farms.
But then, the whole “study” thing is just a red herring anyway. The only people who supported the moratorium are those already convinced that wind is a terrible thing, and they don’t want any of it in Vermont ever at all. If Vermont’s study followed in the footsteps of at least 17 other scientific reviews, it would give wind power a clean bill of health. And no opponent of wind would be convinced in the least.
Next, Benning asserts with no evidence whatsoever that “the winds of public opinion are changing.” Not according to the two Castleton surveys taken ten months apart. The first had wind support at 69%, the second at 67%. That’s within the poll’s margin of error, and does not at all show a drop in support for wind. The second poll simply validated the first. The fact is, two-thirds of Vermonters support ridgeline wind. And two-thirds would support ridgeline wind in their own community. That’s bad news for Joe Benning, so I’m not surprised he’s trying desperately to spin the results.
Finally, after all this ranting against the obsessed, deluded, frightened, trembling activists who torpedoed his beloved moratorium, he suddenly changes gears and declares that we don’t need the moratorium after all, because the new S.30 accomplishes everything he wants. Well, gee, Joe, shouldn’t you be thanking us for “improving” S.30 by forcing you to discard the deadwood of a moratorium?
In a way, I’m glad Joe Benning is so inept at the fine art of persuasion. As long as the anti-wind case is characterized by lies, exaggerations, and overheated rhetoric, wind energy will continue to enjoy broad support among Vermonters.