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Europe’s wind energy failures a bad omen for Vermont

By   /   July 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

IT BLOWS: New problems with wind energy in Denmark and Poland may signal trouble ahead for Vermont's wind energy sector.

IT BLOWS: New problems with wind energy in Denmark and Poland may signal trouble ahead for Vermont’s wind energy sector.

As Vermont continues its quest to source 90 percent of energy from renewables by 2050, fresh problems with Europe’s alternative energy sector may spell trouble for wind energy in the Green Mountain State.

In May, the Danish government cancelled construction of five wind farms because the cost of wind-based electricity was too expensive for consumers. The energy projects, approved in 2012, were cancelled after regulators discovered a sharp spike in the cost of renewables.

According to one analysis, Danes are paying the highest electricity costs in the European Union. As much as 66 percent of Danes’ electric bills goes to paying green taxes and fees. Just 15 percent goes to pay for the electricity generated.

While green taxes on energy are necessary to subsidize renewable energy, the $10.6 billion cost of using power from the five wind farms is far beyond what Danes can pay.

“We can’t accept this, as the private sector and households are paying far too much. Denmark’s renewable policy has turned out to be too expensive,” Denmark’s Climate Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt said in May.

Lars Aagaard, CEO of the Danish Energy Association, warned earlier this year that the high cost of renewables would force Danes to use more energy from traditional energy sources.

“You are taxed six times as much for the electricity that comes into your electric heat pumps to warm up your house than you are of the oil you can pour in your oil-fired boiler. That makes people choose less energy-effective solutions,” he said.

Canceling wind projects over skyrocketing prices is a bad omen for Vermont, which is pursuing an energy portfolio comprised mostly of wind and solar. According to Ryan Yonk, assistant research professor at the department of economics and finance at Utah State University, Vermont’s wind farms could have similarly wrong power cost estimates.

“Because of the layers of subsidies and mandates … figuring out what the true cost would be if the market were actually allowed to work is nearly impossible,” Yonk said.

Yonk, whose research focuses on the costs of energy, said a range of factors make it difficult for policymakers to accurately estimate wind energy costs. For example, limiting power output to windy days forces towns to pay extra money for firing up and shutting down back-up sources like natural gas or coal-based generation. He added that state and federal subsidies also hide the true costs of using power derived from wind turbines.

Siting battles in Poland

Cost of wind power is not the only problem hitting the EU. In June, Poland’s Senate passed mandatory distance requirements between new wind farms and residential housing following an audit by the Polish National Auditor that identified severe failings to protect the public.

That audit, conducted on 70 local authorities, uncovered conflicts of interest, failure to enforce sound levels from wind farms, and a lack of input from local communities on wind energy siting.

The newly proposed standard calls for turbines to be located at least 10 times their total height from the nearest homes or other sensitive areas. The distance requirement, which is awaiting signature from Polish President Andrzej Duda, is essentially the same as a standard proposed in Vermont by state Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans.

Annette Smith, a critic of Vermont’s renewable energy siting, said the siting abuses in Poland are the same ones facing the Green Mountain State.

“The infrasound, the low-frequency noise, the audible noise, and the completely fraudulent developers that will not admit to any problems and take no accountability whatsoever — it’s the same story everywhere,” she said.

According to Smith, Vermont’s leaders are struggling to act responsibly with what amounts to a relatively new energy source. She said the state’s unquestioning support of renewable energy businesses has resulted in “regulatory capture.”

“(Gov. Peter) Shumlin, the Department of Public Service, the Public Service Board, (and) the Agency of Natural Resources have abandoned all due diligence and … just completely have run roughshod over us to enable wind energy.”

Contact Michael Bielawski at [email protected]

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Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog. A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Bielawski has been writing articles for various publications in and around New York City; Seoul, South Korea; and Vermont. He’s a writer for the Hardwick Gazette, keeping track of rising school budgets and rural Vermont issues. He likes to write about energy and the environment, looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home, he’s busy looking after two little boys. During free time, he loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films on Netflix.