Joe Benning Goes Nutzoid!!

(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.  

9 thoughts on “Joe Benning Goes Nutzoid!!

  1. “the winds of public opinion are changing.”

    He was obviously so wound-up, it just popped out.  

    ‘Certainly makes wind sound like a force to be reckoned with, doesn’t it… like it might actually be an effective way to generate…oh, say…electricity??

  2. Altamont Pass – arguably the worst sited wind farm ever built, with terrible, old technology that is far less reliable (and much more deadly to birds) than the newer tech, is still in service: 32 years after it first came online.

    After a major lawsuit by CA and the Audubon Society, they are now – thank goodness – in the process of replacing the old, fast-spinning turbines with new, slow-spinning turbines, which will nearly eliminate the issue of raptor and migratory bird injuries and deaths in the pass.

    Even that horror of a wind farm has already exceeded the estimated “lifespan” of its awful turbines by more than 50%, but unlike a nuclear plant that exceeds its design life, a wind tower doesn’t become too brittle to be safe as it ages, it just needs a turbine upgrade, and it can go for another several decades.

    With very, very rare exceptions, wind farms are not abandoned (the exception: farms hit by sudden elimination of the subsidies that were being used to build them).  

    The vast majority of the cost of a windmill is in the emplacement of the tower and its foundations. The towers themselves are designed such that turbines & blades, the components subject to wear, can be swapped out, making upgrading existing wind farms both easy and very, very cheap relative to decommissioning a site.

    With the ease of upgrading, the amount of profit to be gained by re-using an existing site’s infrastructure is exceptional, making deserting existing structures asinine, which is why it simply does not happen with modern wind farms, unless someone does something drastic to the financing during construction. The lesson to learn from this is not that wind farms get abandoned, it’s that messing with the financing of a wind-farm in progress is a great way to cause major problems.

    The initial source of the “14,000 abandoned wind towers” myth that’s making the rounds appears to be a blogger in Hawaii who decided that one abandoned farm in Hawaii (thanks to wind subsidies being yanked, precipitously, surprise!) should be extrapolated to imply that all 14,000 wind turbines ever built in the state of California must therefore also have been abandoned (it’s like magic!).

    For the record, a precipitous subsidy elimination in Florida caused another wind farm to be abandoned. So, that’s two, both from the same cause.

    The primary source that’s currently being cited in most of the links I checked is a climate denial blogger who goes by the name Tory Aardvark. I won’t link, because I don’t want to increase the denier’s search engine rankings, but feel free to look him up. He, in turn, is cited by the Daily Mail, a UK tabloid, known mostly for its celebrity gossip, and such high-quality “news” nuggets as “Saudi Arabia may stop public beheadings… due to a shortage of swordsmen,” and “Help! My man bores me in bed!

    The Daily Mail is then cited by Natural News, a bizarrely popular site dedicated to health misinformation, and one of the primary promoters of the wind turbine syndrome myth.  They also promote the ingestion of blue-green algae, which appears to cause Lou Gehrig’s disease. They also promote the claim that (a) Pepsi is flavored with aborted human fetal cells, and (b) the Obama administration says pumping your soda full of dead fetuses “just business.” Of course, the reality is that the company that provides Pepsi’s flavorings looked at the genome of human fetal kidney cells from the 1970’s and from those data were able to reverse engineer the shapes of various taste receptors, which enabled them to then create a receptor machine that can tell if a flavoring triggers a particular shaped receptor. They used that machine to figure out how to shape flavorings to create the desired taste sensation. All this is just a tad different from pumping bits of aborted fetuses into your soda. With that kind of stellar track record, perhaps Natural News is not the best source of health information, wind information, or really any information.

    Taking it a step further, a group in Maine is now claiming “15,000, maybe more” windmills have been abandoned. Of course, no blog or “news” site can cite the locations of those thousands upon thousands of abandoned turbines, since they don’t exist.  And they all use the same handful of photos, usually one of a wind farm (Tehachapi) that’s actually still running. That particular photo is also taken from an odd angle, using a telephoto lens to drastically foreshorten the image, giving the appearance that there is a mishmash of towers piled right on top of each other on a big rock. Here’s a link to what the farm actually looks like:

    Finally, all of the specious claims use the same quotes from Paul Gipe as “proof” of the claim. Gipe is not amused, because the quotes are (a) taken out of context, and (b) wildly exaggerated via the propagandist’s “big lie” formula.

    So, to wrap up: Vermont’s decommissioning fund requirements will enable any farms built and abandoned to be taken down, and the area restored to as close to pristine as possible, but the chances of those funds ever being needed are very slim – though if we wanted to be really stupid, we could try to make abandonment a self-fulfilling prophecy by cutting any subsidies in the middle of a project being built.

  3. You write: “We still oppose the revamped S.30, even though it’s been stripped of the dreaded word.”

    I’m not sure who “we” is, but it no longer includes me (though I’m open to persuasion).  As I read it, the new draft appears to widen discussion to all power sources and to focus on giving towns veto power (or something very close to it) in PSB considerations of a CPG. It retains the Act 248 process evolved over decades, but incorporates with greater force the town’s role in Act 250 hearings. This at least is a realistic discussion of a contentious planning issue.  (It also prohibits development of State-owned lands).

    This is quite unlike the old draft which singled out wind development, ignored Vermont’s decades-long siting and energy debates, called for a moratorium which really was code for fuggedaboudit, and relied on misinformation and disinformation in the process.

    All of which is a long preface to ask why you oppose the new version.

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