flags and windBy Nancy Rader, Executive Director of the California Wind Energy Association, and Michael B. Gerrard, Columbia Law Professor and Director of the Sabin Center

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ move to ban utility-scale wind turbines and to impose severe restrictions on utility-scale solar in unincorporated areas of the county is not compatible with averting the worst impacts of climate change.

The most detailed state-commissioned assessment of what California must do to meet Governor Brown’s 2030 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels shows that the state will need to add 1,600 megawatts of renewable resources – roughly 12 new utility-scale projects – annually. Most of this, the assessment shows, will need to come from utility-scale wind and solar resources, in addition to rooftop solar, aggressive energy efficiency, a rapid ramp-up in zero-emission vehicles and many other measures.

This is a colossal challenge, but is consistent with the international goal of keeping global average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial conditions. Even a two-degree increase would have very negative consequences to humans as well as other species, with California’s current drought just a sampling of what is to come. The consequences of a greater temperature increase are unthinkable. As Governor Brown said earlier this week, “We have to respond, and if we don’t the world will suffer, we will all suffer. In fact, many people, millions, are suffering already.”

Voters in Los Angeles County recognized the critical need to address climate change when they overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 23 — the 2010 ballot measure that would have suspended California’s landmark global warming law. A very recent PPIC poll shows that strong majorities of Californians believe that a warming climate poses a serious or very serious threat to California’s economy and quality of life and favor policies to tackle the problem. LA County can play an important role in addressing this paramount challenge of our time given that the Antelope Valley region happens to host one of the largest untapped concentrations of high-quality wind resources in all of California. The draft state-federal Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan envisions that LA County, along with six other counties in the region, will each contribute substantially to the achievement of the state’s renewable energy development goals. And yet, even this plan would place off limits some 80 percent of the best wind resources on relatively remote federal lands for reasons that have not been clearly articulated.

With these kinds of categorical wind energy prohibitions – rather than a careful case-by-case assessment of the potential impacts of proposed projects — it is hard to imagine how we will achieve the magnitude of project construction that is needed to meet our climate goals. Even the current system of California and U.S. environmental law, with its multiple delays and veto points, may be incompatible with the scale and pace of the transformation of the energy system that is needed. No one is saying that utility-scale renewable energy should go everywhere, but done responsibly and with local input and safeguards, it does have to go somewhere.

Clearly, some people do not wish to see wind energy development in their communities, even as others welcome wind for keeping their ranches and farms economically viable. But there is no escaping the physical reality that, in order to achieve the dramatic expansion we need in renewable energy to preserve a habitable planet for all, we are going to need a lot of renewable energy projects. This has been compelled by society’s failure to come to grips with the climate problem two decades ago, when scientists were already sounding the alarm and there was still time to act and avoid such choices. At this point, LA County must act consistently with the state’s leadership to tackle global warming, and resist what amounts to “not-in-my-backyard” opposition.

And let’s not forget the many local benefits associated with wind energy development. Wind energy emits no pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, thereby improving LA’s air quality and reducing associated health impacts by displacing fossil-fuel generation and, increasingly, by fueling electric vehicles. Wind energy uses no water to produce electricity; so, by displacing thermal generation, the nearly 6,000 MW of wind energy capacity operating in California today saves 3.4 billion gallons a year of fresh water.  Wind energy is compatible with other land uses, from cattle grazing to wildlife corridors. And wind energy development will create jobs and contribute millions in property taxes to county coffers. The wind industry is already supporting some 2,500 direct jobs in the state, providing $70 million to California counties annually in property taxes, and has brought $11.7 billion in private investment to California, while reducing carbon emissions from the state’s power sector by nearly 17 percent.

We all need energy, and so far there is no way to produce it with zero impacts. But wind is one of the cheapest ways to do it cleanly. Blanket prohibitions on wind cannot be part of a responsible solution to the climate problem.

This article was originally posted in the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) blog, Into the Wind.


  1. WindPower does have some negatives which encourage the NIMBY attitudes.

    Why not concentrate on rooftop solar – no negatives and plusses that include increased roof life too!

    With net metering and peak output when air conditioning loads are highest, the square footage covered would be of mega-utility scale with huge energy and dollar savings!

    Climate relationships would be on the back burner, as they should be, as the El Niño and La Niña effects still dominate the CA climate.

  2. Jessica Wentz is wrong and exactly backwards.

    A Myth Being Foisted on you:

    Fact: Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or more your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:

    Since solar “works” 15% of the time and wind “works” 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don’t have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don’t have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.

    We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would “cost” in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.

    The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled sources with the newest available generation of nuclear; unless you live near Niagara Falls. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.

    MYTHS: The myths being perpetrated by wind turbine marketers are that:
    Wind and solar energy are free and will lower your electric bill
    Wind and solar energy are CO2 free and will reduce the total CO2 produced by electricity generation.
    Californians are paying twice as much for electricity as I am and Germans are paying 4 times as much as I am. The reason is renewables mandates. Illinois has 6 nuclear power plants and we are working hard to keep them. I am paying 7&1/2 cents /kilowatt hour. What are you paying?
    Californians and Germans are making more CO2 per kilowatt hour than Illinoisans. It turns out that even without burning natural gas or coal to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, wind turbines and large scale solar collectors require more concrete and steel per kilowatt hour than nuclear power does.

    FALLACIES: The fallacies in the myth are failure to do the math and failure to do all of the engineering required. The myth is easy to propagate among most people because there is quite a lot of math to do and there is a lot of engineering to learn. University electrical engineering departments offer electrical engineering degrees with specialization in power transmission [electric grids]. That is only part of the engineering that needs to be done to figure the whole thing out.

    References are too extensive to list here. The fact that nuclear is safer than wind has to go in a separate paper.

    From http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2014/20140221_DraftOpinion.pdf

    The following words are entirely the words of James Hansen, the recently retired head of NASA-GISS:

    “People who entreat the government to solve global warming but offer support only for renewable energies will be rewarded with the certainty that the U.S. and most of the world will be fracked-over, the dirtiest fossil fuels will be mined, mountaintop removal and mechanized long-wall coal mining will continue, the Arctic, Amazon and other pristine public lands will be violated, and the deepest oceans will be ploughed for fossil fuels. Politicians are not going to let the lights go out or stop economic growth. Don’t blame Obama or other politicians. If we give them no viable option, we will be fracked and mined to death, and have no one to blame but ourselves.
    The asymmetry finally hit me over the head when a renewable energy advocate told me that the main purpose of renewable portfolio standards (RPS) was to “kill nuclear”. I had naively thought that the purpose was simply to kick-start renewables. Instead, I was told, because utilities were required to accept intermittent renewable energies, nuclear power would become less economic, because it works best if it runs flat out. What to do when the wind is not blowing? The answer was: have a gas plant ready as back-up. In other words, replace carbon free nuclear power with a dual system, renewables plus gas. With this approach CO2 emissions will increase and it is certain that fracking will continue and expand into larger regions.
    If we care about climate, a “carbon-free portfolio standard” would make more sense than RPS. However, the best approach is a rising carbon fee that allows efficiency, renewables, nuclear power, and carbon capture to compete fairly.”

  3. Wow. I haven’t read a reference to the word Nimby in years. The best places for wind turbine energy generation is along the beaches at the ocean. The wind blows most consistently along coastlines. I’d like to know why the beaches aren’t covered with them across the world. Sarcasm.

    Turbines are natural gas fired. They don’t start by themselves. Natural gase = methane. Methane = greenhouse gases.

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