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It Ain't Easy Being Green

Dan Nebert, who has degrees in Medicine, Biophysics, Environmental Toxicology and Molecular Toxicity and is Professor Emeritus of the Universities of Cincinnati and Oregon State in the US, recently posted a picture on the internet that most-definitely needed explanation! It showed a little yellow thing at the top, which turned out to be a CAT-9 bulldozer. It was in the process of burying a huge pile of windmill blades used for “Green Energy.” Why? Because these blades needed to be disposed of, and there is presently no way to recycle them. Is that how green energy is supposed to work? Perhaps the people who made them were aware of this but if so why would they divulge such information? After all, they are government-subsidised with taxpayer money, just like most electric cars. Also, politicians do not want those huge spent blades visible in their backyard.

Right now the average wind farm in the US contains about 150 turbines. Each wind turbine needs 80 gallons of oil as a lubricant, and we're not talking about vegetable oil here: this is a polyalphaolefin full-synthetic lubricant based on crude oil – 12,000 gallons of it for 150 turbines – and that oil needs to be changed once a year. Professor Nebert estimates that around 3,800 turbines would be needed to power a city the size of New York. That's 304,000 gallons (a US gallon equates to 3.785 litres so 1,150,640 litres in our language) of highly-refined oil per year for just one city. That’s 25+ wind farms.

One would have to calculate every city and town across many nations, large and small, to find the grand total of yearly oil consumption from 'clean' energy. Factor in the large energy-consuming equipment needed to build these wind farms and the equipment required for installation, service, maintenance and eventual removal, and it would appear that wind-powered generators aren't as eco-friendly as we've been led to believe.

Each turbine requires a footprint of 1.5 acres (0.6 hectare) so a wind farm of 150 turbines needs 225 acres – or 135 hectares. Even in Australia, which has smaller and far fewer wind farms than the US, no one really knows the astronomical amount of land we would need to power the entire country. It would have to be clear-cut land too, because trees create barriers and turbulence that interfere with the 30 km/h sustained wind velocity necessary for the turbines to work properly. Add to this the fact that not all areas of Australia receive such sustained winds, so cutting down all those trees would most certainly upset a lot of green-loving tree huggers.

Let's now return to the subject of disposal. The lifespan of a modern, top-quality, highly efficient wind turbine is 20 years. After that, what happens to those gigantic fibre composite blades? They cannot be economically reused, refurbished, reduced, re-purposed or recycled, so it's off to special landfills they go. Those blades are anywhere from 120 feet to over 200 feet long (37 to 61 metres) and there are three per turbine. In the US, that's with only three to seven percent of the nation currently being supplied with intermittent – substitute the word “unreliable” – wind energy. Just imagine if the other 93 percent were on the wind grid! Twenty years from now there'd be all those unusable blades with no place to put themis this really “Green Energy?”

Hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions - of birds are killed each year from wind turbine blade collisions, many of the larger ones such as hawks, falcons and eagles being endangered species. Smaller birds are more agile and appear to be able to dart and dodge out of the way of the spinning blades, whereas the larger soaring birds aren't so lucky. Although the blades don't spin very fast, their tip speed is considerable.

Here's another problem with windmills. The generator and switching equipment operate at high power and voltage. Everything in the windmill nacelle is compact due to the limited space, so there's a danger of arcs and electrical fires. This is prevented by putting all the electrical equipment in a pressure vessel filled with sulphur hexafluoride, a synthetic gas that has dielectric properties which suppress arcs and fires. However, the pressure vessels leak this gas; approximately a pound – or half a kilo – per year. Sulphur hexafluoride has an atmospheric lifetime of 3,200 years and is 22,800 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is yet another item that falls under the 'perhaps we didn't think this through' category.

Very few people would be saying that we don't need to find alternative ways to generate the electricity the world needs, and to do so in a cleaner manner. Solar panels would appear to be a more sensible alternative but again there are negatives, such as the amount of energy required to mine and transport the raw materials and the energy needed for their manufacture, distribution and installation. Solar panels are 100 percent recyclable, but stripping and sorting the materials is a costly exercise and the return on those materials isn't yet large enough to cover those costs. Lithium-ion storage batteries in residential buildings generally have a projected lifespan of ten to twelve years, but some are warranted for only five. There are other issues too – the placement of large solar farms on good agricultural land and the cost and inefficiency of conducting electricity over large distances should those farms be built in arid areas being two that come to mind – but these are rarely mentioned and highlighting the necessity to have a reliable source of baseline electricity in industrial countries by people who do 'think this through' is more often than not discouraged.

We are not suggesting that there is no point trying to find energy efficient products to power the world. But the “green gospel” that is being promoted throughout the world is filled with misinformation and half-truths that make it appear more attractive than it actually is.

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