The Wall Street Journal stepped up to the proverbial plate last week to take a swing at the Democrats’ Green New Deal policy package which has been the focus of intense speculation and ire over the last few weeks as all and sundry weighed in on the validity of transitioning the United States towards relying solely on renewable energy.
Putting aside for the moment the specifics of the resolutions that were introduced last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the Senate — because, in time, the eventual proposal which is voted on will likely look very different to what is currently being proposed — the underlying premise of the Green New Deal, in the abstract, is that the United States will give up fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
It was this abstract promise of the Green New Deal which the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board attempted to undermine in a February 4 op-ed entitled “A Green New Deal in Profile.”
It’s worth noting, at this point, how the WSJ Editorial Board describes themselves: “We speak for free markets and free people, the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities.”
The unnamed collective Editorial Board, presumably, believes they had come across a foolproof argument against renewable energy as they outlined the experiences of “The Cape Cod town of Falmouth, [Massachusetts]” and claimed that the town’s experience “offered a cold gust of reality” for those looking to “end the use of fossil fuels and rely entirely on renewable energy.”
Unfortunately for the WSJ Editorial Board, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) was having none of their cherry-picked examples and Greg Alvarez, AWEA’s Deputy Director of External Communications, took to their Into the Wind blog to fact check the Wall Street Journal’s assumptions — assumptions which, when you look at it now, belies a significant and unfounded bias.
In short, the WSJ Editorial Board focused solely on two wind turbines (not two wind farms, two wind turbines) installed in Falmouth in 2009 and 2011. Their premise was that because these two wind turbines cost so much and yielded so much trouble, “This green new deal was a bad deal all around.” The bulk of the article, therefore, is made up of an explanation of the issues encountered by the town of Falmouth and the personal experiences of Barry and Diane Funfar, local residents who took the issue to court.
Greg Alvarez, however, rightly points out that two wind turbines do not represent much of anything, being just 0.0035% of 56,000 wind turbines operating in the United States. Further, according to Alvarez, “Not only is the Journal’s sample size woefully small, it chose to focus on perhaps the least representative turbines in the U.S. wind fleet.” Specifically, the two wind turbines in question “were not built following the normal process. The town constructed them without correctly doing its homework on local zoning requirements. It also chose to perform important components of the project’s development itself rather than using professional wind developers.
“As a result, legal challenges ensued and played out in court over a number of years. Ultimately a court ordered the turbines to be shut down because they had not complied with local regulations.
“This is out of the ordinary.”
The reality of the Wall Street Journal’s endeavor into the realm of renewable energy critiquing is that, as Alvarez explains, “Wind developers must carefully determine any potential impacts associated with their projects, and the specific regulatory authorities that have jurisdiction in each instance. The developer should consult with the relevant authorities as early as possible in the development process, and each wind developer has a responsibility to provide appropriate and sound oversight of the regulatory process.
“The Town of Falmouth strayed from this process in significant ways.”
The determined anti-wind critic could likely find a handful of similar situations all around the world of wind turbines and wind farms installed against the wishes of local residents, without proper planning permits and site assessment, and absent the many controls that are now commonplace for wind developers. However, they’ll only find a handful, because over the years the controls and restraints on development — while sometimes overbearing and short-sighted — have traditionally found the necessary balance. This can be seen in the results of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory study published last year which found that the overwhelming majority of people living close to wind turbines do so without complaint — not bad, considering there are over 1.3 million US homes situated within five miles of a wind turbine.
“So ultimately, the Wall Street Journal painted a picture of an industry with a 50-state footprint and investments exceeding $140 billion over the last decade by examining an abnormal 0.0035 percent of the picture,” concluded Alvarez. “It’s no surprise the ed board reaches faulty conclusions.”
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