Outlawing the Wind: Oil Republicans Attempt to Thwart Renewable Energy Development

By Niman, Michael | The Humanist, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Outlawing the Wind: Oil Republicans Attempt to Thwart Renewable Energy Development


Niman, Michael, The Humanist


THERE IS A PLUS SIDE to soaring energy costs--a sort of silver lining to an otherwise bad news year. The Earth Policy Institute reports that wind-generated electricity in many U.S. markets is now cheaper than natural gas-generated electricity. If one of the objectives of the Iraq War was, as BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast argues, to disrupt the flow of oil (he calls it "blood for no oil") and drive up both energy prices and energy industry profits, then this sudden market embrace of alternative energy threatens to derail that evil plan. With the emergence of now cheaper alternatives to fossil fuels, it seems that the free market may temper runaway energy prices while maybe saving us from environmental mayhem. Of course a sane society would have done this on its own a generation ago, so don't count me among the free market idol worshipers.

And don't write the obituary for runaway oil profits quite yet, either. This is the Bush era and nothing is free--not even the market. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that big government has stepped in, Republican style, to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the wind energy industry. That sabotage came in the form of a little-noticed rider inserted by Virginia Republican Senator John Warner into the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act.

Warner's rider requires that the Department of Defense conduct studies to ascertain the impact of new wind generation facilities on military radar. Wind power projects must get Pentagon approval--a bureaucratic step that has so far halted construction on as many as fifteen major wind energy facilities in the Midwest. In March, according to a report issued by the renewable energy industry news service, www.renewableenergyaccess. corn, the Department of Defense in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security issued an interim policy to "contest any establishment of windmill farms within radar line of the National Air Defense and Homeland Security radars."

The billion-dollar question of course is, how disruptive are windmills to radar activity? The answer is simple. Windmills may mimic the radar image of an airplane. But these large airplanes won't be moving anywhere. So radar operators will see stationary aircraft, much like buildings, which is essentially what the windmills are: large building-like objects that, unlike planes, don't move. The European wind industry, which is years ahead of us in most areas, already solved this problem by programming the locations of windmills into radar computers.

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