Scientific Proof? Try Economics!

Guest Post by Michael Chambers (guest posts are moderated, but not approved or endorsed by the CCA Steering Committee)
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Larry LeBlanc wants scientific proof that the industrial wind turbines proposed by his company, Whalerock LLC, will not adversely impact the abutters to his property before he considers whether or not to withdraw his application for a Special Use Permit. From what I have observed at the previous two Zoning Board meetings, Mr. LeBlanc paid for some questionable science to support his application. His legal advisor, Mr. Nick Gorham, has tried to orchestrate testimony by LeBlanc’s “experts” to convince the Zoning Board members of the legitimacy of their reports and findings. It is evident that not many people are buying the predictive models when the actual data collected do not support the models. Let’s hope the Zoning Board members don’t get hoodwinked by predictive modeling offered as science.

The health and welfare of the residents of Charlestown seems to be the focus of the arguments to this point in the hearings. While I believe that the abutters and certain residents within a half mile of the turbines will experience various maladies traceable to turbines, there is another science that will show immediate and long range effects detrimental to almost all the residents of Charlestown. That science is Economics. The Whalerock Project will benefit only one resident of this town – Larry LeBlanc. The rest of us will have to dig deeper into our savings to pay for the cost of electricity in the future if the turbines are allowed to be constructed and operated.

Economics – the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities – may not be one of the hard sciences, but a social science. Yet it is a scientific endeavor and therefore fits into Mr. LeBlanc’s challenge to the town officials and to his “neighbors.” The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the cost of wind generated electricity is more than three times the cost of power from natural gas, Rhode Island’s predominant source of electric power. Rhode Island is also one of twenty nine states that have Renewable Portfolio Standards laws requiring utilities to buy an increasing share of electricity from renewable resources. Added to that, the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated from wind. Also, government incentives pay 30 to 50 percent of the cost of wind installation. So the consumer pays twice for wind generated electricity. First their taxes fund the generous subsidies the governments give to wind power developers. Second, the increased cost of electricity from wind generators will be borne by the consumer and will one day make electricity unaffordable to low income users.

These economic arguments should convince Mr. LeBlanc that his proposed project will adversely affect his “neighbors” – but many people think that Mr. LeBlanc’s risk/reward analysis does not extend to his neighbors. Obviously, Mr. LeBlanc wasn’t including the science of economics into his grandstand speech of June 5.