Virginia Wind Pork (published in the Charlottesville “Daily Progress” July 25, 2010

The recent award of $800,000 of taxpayer money by our new Republican administration to James Madison University and its Virginia Center for Wind Energy is a troubling disappointment to this conservative scientist (engineer-physician). Might not this money have been better spent on teachers’ salaries, laboratory equipment, or student stipends?

The commercial manufacturing market for wind turbines is now dominated by the Chinese, world-wide. The push for greater efficiency has resulted in turbine structures 400 feet tall. Large scale turbine projects here in the U.S. result in importing the equipment from China and exporting our tax dollars.
The driving force for these turbine projects seems to be not so much the wind as the very generous tax incentives and write offs available to the promoters of the project. Five-year double declining balance accelerated depreciation, Federal Production Tax Credits, and Investment Tax Credits make wind farms attractive to power companies and unrelated financial firms focused on the lucrative tax write-offs to offset other taxable income. This giveaway of tax largess comes from higher fees charged the ordinary electric customer. The Virginia legislature in April 2007 approved a bill favoring Dominion Virginia Power which included incentives for wind power in terms of rate guarantees.

Wind power is inherently unreliable, intermittent, and destructive of the environment and bio-systems. Infrastructure demands (land area, concrete, and steel) are high in comparison to the net energy derived, and as compared to conventional power plants. The intermittent nature of wind power causes the necessary backup, conventional power plants to operate in a more polluting mode. During summer heat spells, sufficient turbine winds are typically low to absent.

The $800,000 training program at JMU is specified as focusing on small wind turbine safety. Hint, watch out for the blades, and do not look down from heights. Site assessment and installation must be needed as the news release indicates that the current JMU turbine needs to be relocated.

Successful lobbying by the VWEC is being paid for by the public. Engineering talent is being diverted from other potential projects. The answer to Virginia’s energy needs is not blowing in the wind.

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