Monday, 5 September 2011

Wishful (green) thinking

A couple of weeks ago, family business required me, quite against my will and better judgement, to drive over the Cascades to the Eastern Washington town of Moses Lake.  This is a distance equivalent to driving from London to Exeter, though most of it is about as scenic as going through a quarry in a drought.  Thanks to this drought (called "summer" there) the eastern foothills of Stevens Pass, through which we'd driven, were in the vicinity of a raging forest fire that had left the lower pass so choked with smoke that we had no desire to face twice without respirators, so we took a detour to the Snoqualmie Pass to the south.  It's only like deciding to drive back from Dorset to London by way of Birmingham, so what's the difference?

The drive, though monotonous, was at least free of unpleasant events until we crested the hills leading down to the mighty Columbia river.  And there I saw them on the skyline; mile after mile of giant wind turbines costing God knows how many millions of dollars sitting idle in the breeze.  The few that were turning looked like the second hand on an electric clock filmed in slow motion and produced about as much power.

This might as well be an animated GIF for all these move.
This is one of those moments when "gob-smacked" is the only appropriate phrase.  I knew that Washington State was a debted-up, sorry, paid up member of the Left Coast fraternity, but I didn't think that they'd stooped to this level of battiness.  Washington State is blessed with ranges of mountains and powerful rivers that allow it to produce tremendous amounts of lovely electricity via hydroelectric dams–so much power the that state makes a nice profit shipping the surplus south.  It also manges this so cheaply that the local coal mines shut down thirty years ago as uncompetitive.  This is a state that has got it the proverbial made.  And what does it do?  It squanders scarce manpower and money constructing phalanxes of pointless bat-mashers and eagle-slicers that don't even work as advertised and wouldn't be practical even if they did.

To me, wind turbines are the modern equivalent of the Easter Island statues; pointless extravagances that mar the landscape and eat up vital capital that would be better spent on other things.  On a comparative scale of usefulness, blowing the wad on hookers and booze would do more good.  The amazing thing is that governments still borrow hundreds of billions of dollars, pounds, euros and giant yap stone coins to raise these totem poles to Blessed Gaia.  It's the same for most of the modern green agenda.  Having won a remarkable victory in the middle 20th century to convince people to clean up the air and water and stop using giant pandas as skeet shooting pigeons, the movement found itself running smack into the law of diminishing returns.  Worse, it found itself obsolete, marginal and increasingly dominated by Marxists who needed somewhere to go after Communism handed in its cards.  So, it leaped at the unproven hypothesis of global warming, declared it the equivalent of divine revelation and told the proles that they'd better learn to live in the 13th century again if they wanted to survive.  Naturally, the perceived problem and prescribed solution were presented as one and any attempt at doubting the truth of the problem or the practicality of the solution was treated with denunciations of heresy that would have brought a tear to Torquemada's eye.  Certainly Stalin would have appreciated it.

I'd be more willing to give the Environmentalists the benefit of the doubt if their agenda didn't keep banging into reality like a Morris Marina being hit with a piano.  They go about claiming that their ways will create all sorts of "green" jobs, but don't even blink when they're told that those jobs are very few, destroy many more than they create and cost a fortune in borrowed government money.  With a record like that, no wonder Mr Delingpole illustrates his article on the topic with a painting of a unicorn frolicking in a glen.

Then there's the race between Britain and Germany to see who can instigate rolling blackouts first before becoming an energy vassal of nuclear-powered France.  Not that the Americans have anything to be smug about with their shovelling money into solar panel makers who promptly go bankrupt.

And let's not forget electric cars.  As governments mandate and subside these over-sized golf carts on to the roads, it's becoming more and more obvious that the whole scheme is founded upon baseless hopes that somehow electric car technology will leap forward microchip fashion, a wilful blindness to the economics, and the inability to see that these cars are about as "green" as a lead-smelting plant run on charcoal made from California redwoods.

The coolie hat on the rider says volumes about what the Greens think of us.
Never mind.  If that doesn't work out we can always ban all motor vehicles or fall back on "green" bicycles complete with wooden frames sure to split after a week.  It makes about as much sense.

If the West's, for want of a better word, "leaders" insist on taking this attitude toward power in particular and technology in general, then I'd like to talk to them about giving a couple of billion dollars to subsidise my perpetual motion power plants.  They'll be as useful as any wind mill and I guarantee that they'll be 100 percent green.

Just contact me via my Cayman Islands bank.


eon said...

Chris Muir sums it up nicely in today's (090511) strip.

You cannot reason with religious fanatics. Nor with those who see the "secular religion" as a route to absolute power, and forcing everyone to live in a Bronze Age feudal state run by the self-anointed "enlightened elite'".

People who put a higher value on animals and plants than they do other people invariably exempt themselves from the Draconian "extreme measures" they dream of applying to everyone else, as well. Nor do they believe that they will suffer any adverse consequences from their own actions- it's everybody else who will pay. So even an appeal to their sense of self-preservation is of no use. Doubly so for the small but important part of the clique' who dream of erasing humanity from the Earth, before erasing themselves to leave the world "pristine". (The History Channel show "Life After People" was their nihilistic dream made manifest.)

The most likely outcome is that their influence will cause a major collapse of our civilization. At which point they will realize, far too late, that an avalanche doesn't care who it buries. And getting in front of it trying to aim it just gets you plowed under that much faster.

Myself, I'm keeping my Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia (12 volumes, 1955) handy. After our "environmental gurus" have wrecked everything, knowing how to build a septic system for a farm from scratch will probably be more useful than knowing how to WiFi your house.



Ironmistress said...

There is nothing wrong with wind turbines or solar panels. It is just that they do not scale up well. They are excellent devices on small scale application, but they fare poorly in large scale.

That is why we have both a solar panel and a wind turbine at our yacht (I really do prefer GPS and a navigation computer over sextant and slide rule), but not a nuclear reactor.

Trimegistus said...

I have been all over the country and seen wind power farms in a variety of settings.

I have never seen a wind turbine actually turning.

Sergej said...

My company had a Greenliness Initiative a few years ago, employee suggestions for the Greenification of the Workplace solicited. I suggested building a windmill in the campus green space. I thought we could set up a net under the thing, to catch any birds, bats and large insects the blades knocked down, and then we could grill them using the electricity generated. We would Save the Environment by not driving so far for lunch, and get a hot meal---wins all around! Sadly, my idea was not selected; we ended up getting coffee mugs with the company logo instead, so we wouldn't cut down so many trees when we got coffee or something. I still think my idea was better.

Ironmistress said...

Those thingies do actually revolve. It is just that they require quite strong and steady winds to work.

That is no problem here at Shrieking Sixties, but may prove problematic where winds are light.

Here in Finland the usual nickname for wind turbine is "bird-shredder". They cause unneeded casualties for migratory birds.

David said...

Strong, but not too strong. There's a cube function in the power equation, which means that there's a tiny window where the turbine can function. Too little and there's no power, too much and the turbine has to feather or it rips itself apart.

No, "green" power is for small, specialised applications like yachts and satellites. Part of the national grid? No chance.

jayessell said...

Call me a starry eyed dreamer, but I can't believe
that wind turbines are erected ANYWHERE without
first satisfying the math taught in the 3rd grade.

The cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining
wind turbines has to be significantly less than the value of the power DELIVERED during their projected lifespan.

The site would have to have winds within the turbines' generation window for a significant portion of each year.

The contributions of subsidies, tax abatements and carbon credits should not enter the calculation as
they would skew the results.

Is it a good idea or not? Let the numbers decide.

Cthel said...

The problems of intermittent operation are easily overcome - simply elevate the turbine out of the boundary-layer effects. The winds should be almost constant (and gust free) and therefore it would be pretty easy to optimise the turbine blades for the average wind speed.

Of course, to get out of the boundary-layer the turbine towers would have to be over half a mile high, but then every plan has its drawbacks...

eon said...


There was a plan in the 1930s to do what you suggest, by hanging the turbines (tornado/Swedish type) from captive helium balloons.

Unfortunately, the plan was in the pages of Everyday Science & Mechanics magazine, edited by Hugo Gernsback. So you can probably guess about how technically practical it actually was.



Ironmistress said...

If that green bike is good Finnish birch ply, it will be extremely durable. If not, I wouldn't touch that thingy even if I was paid.

I myself would have designed the frame as a rhomboid. Distributes the torsion forces much better.

Bryan said...

Funny, I was just talking with my barber about the huge wind farm in upstate New York. We wondered what people in the future, long after our civilization has passed from the earth, would make of them. We both agreed on the Easter Island Statue idea.