By Mark Redsten, Executive Director
For the past few weeks, a debate over the safety of wind farms has created headlines in Wisconsin, taking over the discussion about our energy future. With important decisions on the horizon, now is a good time to step back and look thoroughly at our total energy picture.
Our energy must come from somewhere. It can come from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas, from nuclear plants, or from renewable sources like wind and solar power.
There are benefits and drawbacks to every system of energy production.
Despite having no fossil fuels of our own, 81 percent of Wisconsin’s energy comes from coal, petroleum and natural gas. As a result, we spend over $12 billion every year to purchase out-of-state fossil fuels. Our addiction to fossil fuels drains our economy while polluting our air and water.
And it doesn’t stop there. The health impacts of burning fossil fuels are widespread and well documented. The list of pollutants from coal plants is long: Mercury can lead to lower IQs and reduced memory in children, soot particles cause lung damage, nitrogen oxides lead to smog, sulfur dioxide causes acid rain, and more.
A 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences found that burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion in health costs annually and leads to nearly 20,000 premature deaths every year.
Here in Wisconsin, nearly one in 10 children suffers from asthma, which is worsened by power plant pollution.
While it does not emit the dangerous air pollution of coal plants, nuclear energy is extremely expensive to produce. New nuclear plants are unlikely in Wisconsin given their high expense and safety concerns following the events at Fukushima in March, 2011.
In contrast, wind energy emits no pollutants, is inexpensive to produce, and can create thousands of jobs right here in Wisconsin. The Highland Wind Project proposed for St. Croix County alone would create an estimated 200 jobs.
We all want our energy to come from safe sources. So when we heard reports that residents were blaming health problems on low frequency sound from wind turbines, Clean Wisconsin brought in acoustic experts to investigate.
After testing three homes near the Shirley Wind Farm, scientists were unable to identify any connection between the low frequency sound from wind turbines and the health complaints of residents.
In the words of David Hessler, the lead investigator in the report, “the levels of low frequency noise from the project are quite low and nothing was found that would suggest a problem.”
While there is a vocal minority of residents who oppose the construction of more wind farms in Wisconsin, the vast majority of residents would like to see more wind farms built. A January 2012 poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found that 85 percent of Wisconsin voters would like to increase the use of wind power to meet our state’s future energy needs.
When put in the context of all our energy choices, it’s easy to see that wind energy is the cleanest, safest choice for Wisconsin. By moving toward more renewable wind energy, we can create thousands of jobs, keep billions of dollars flowing within our own economy, help reduce pollution, and improve the health of Wisconsin families.
In the coming months, the Public Service Commission will decide whether to approve or reject a proposal to construct the Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County. Approving this project is the right decision for Wisconsin.