And just like that we’re back to killing whales to light our homes.
by Rob Roper
Before we figured out how to replace whale oil with cheaper, more efficient petroleum, we killed a lot of whales throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in order to light our homes and lubricate our industries, driving most species to the brink of extinction. And now that we are choosing to move away from petroleum to so called “renewables,” it looks like we’re back to killing whales for our energy. Not directly this time, but indirectly, which is perhaps even more tragic.
A new documentary, Thrown to the Wind, details how the underwater sound pollution and increased boat traffic related to the construction of off shore wind turbines is contributing to a massive spike in whale deaths off the coast of New England, New York, and New Jersey. Longer term, the filmmakers worry that there is a danger that the wave effect created by the spinning blades will kill off plankton, the primary food source for the whales, including humpback and the endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which there are only a little more than three hundred left on the planet.
The high-decibel sonar mapping that is currently taking place can disorient the whales causing mothers and calves to separate. Young calves can’t survive long without access to their mother’s milk. In addition to the stress separation causes the animals, the confusion and panic is in some cases driving the whales to wander into boat traffic or poorer feeding grounds.
But what, you ask, does this have to do with us in Vermont way up here in the mountains and so far from the seashore? Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act and resulting Climate Action Plan are forcing us to electrify all sectors of our economy including home heating and transportation with so-called “clean” energy – that is if you consider a bunch of seventy-ton rotting corpses on the beach “clean”. To meet these goals, we need a lot more “renewable” electricity than anybody currently produces. And to that end, Vermont lawmakers were counting on importing a big chunk of that offshore wind electricity when it comes online. So, Vermont’s motto is “kill the whales to save the planet!”
But there is some good news for the whales of late, though it’s not an awakening of compassion for endangered species in the hearts of our so-called environmentalists. It just turns out that offshore wind power sucks.
According to an NBC Boston story on October 3, “With legal deadlines looming on the path to more clean energy, Massachusetts has now lost three-quarters of the offshore wind capacity once in its pipeline after regulators on Friday allowed another developer to back out of contracts for a major installation.” Developers of offshore wind in New Jersey and Maryland are running into similar issues. Across the Pond, the British government apparently got zero bids to build their latest round of offshore wind projects.
The reason for these companies backing out is costs. Planting these massive turbines in the middle of the ocean is a lot more expensive than anyone dared think. A big part of that expense is the inflationary policies of the Biden Administration, which led the developers to declare these projects are “no longer financially viable,” at the price they originally agreed to.
Whales aren’t the only beneficiaries of the dropped offshore wind contracts. Electric rate payers will enjoy a windfall (I think there’s a pun in there somewhere). In breaking their contracts, “SouthCoast Wind [developer] will pay $32.4 million to Eversource [electricity supplier], $27.3 million to National Grid and $591,000 to Unitil under the termination agreements, and the utilities plan to credit payments to ratepayers through contract adjustments.”
This relief may be short term, as the projects will now go out to bid again – but this time at even higher costs to ratepayers/taxpayers. If these wind factories do eventually get built and go online, the cost of the electricity they produce will be astronomical. Looking at the trends, “In June, the International Energy Agency reported that the cost of large-scale solar and wind power jumped by about 20% last year…. LevelTen Energy recently found that the agreed price on power purchase agreements for wind and solar projects more than doubled between 2020 and the second quarter of 2023.” (Robert Bryce, 10/4/23)
All this points to the coming train wreck our lawmakers are setting us up for – shortages of electricity supply because the kind of generation they are willing to allow can’t be built, and sky-high prices because the kind of generation they are willing to allow is crazy expensive (and will be scarce, driving up costs even more).
The lessons here are that wind power is not environmentally friendly, and it is not cost effective. And even if it were, its intermittent, weather-dependent generation isn’t particularly practical. It’s certainly not worth risking the extinction of several species to produce.
Hopefully the continued failure of offshore wind projects is enough to save the whales from the self-proclaimed environmentalists. But I still worry for the five species of endangered bats we have here in Vermont helping to organically control the insect population and pollenate our landscape. It will be harder to keep our politicians from killing them off with ridgeline wind towers in our own back yard. It’s definitely a bizarre way to “save the planet.”
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com