Tilting at windmills: When life makes you lemonade, Kate Galbraith and the NY Times give you lemons

Convoys of turbine parts for windmills slow traffic and attract attention in coastal towns like Searsport, Me., on their way to western Maine” — the caption from the absurd NYT piece, “Slow, Costly and Often Dangerous Road to Wind Power.”

So here’s the news.

  1. We’re now the #1 producer of wind power in the world.
  2. Wind power is one of the few sectors of the economy still generating new construction and new jobs in this deep recession.
  3. Even better, a growing fraction of wind manufacturing is taking place in this country.

The NYT, however, manages to find nothing but lemons in clean energy, while making the tastiest lemonade out of the dirtiest of fossil fuels:

  1. Back in October, reporter Clifford Krauss wrote an essentially wrong-headed and one-sided story, “Alternative Energy Suddenly Faces Headwinds” (see “Global recession? Must be time for the media’s alternative-energy backlash.”
  2. Then, in November, Jad Mouawad wrote a staggeringly one-sided pro-oil piece with minimal discussion of oil’s myriad negative impacts — the word “spill” never appears.  It actually quoted one expert whining that ExxonMobil is “the most misunderstood company in the world” (see NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled “Green is for Sissies”).
  3. Then, in March, Matt Wald blows the “Alternative and Renewable Energy” story, quotes only industry sources, ignores efficiency and huge cost of inaction.

Finally we have Kate Galbraith’s piece, which basically contradicts Krauss’s story and which in any other newspaper would be the lamest story they ever wrote on clean energy.

If the NYT‘s coverage of energy hadn’t been so atrociously one-sided, this story of the travails of getting huge wind turbines trucked through small towns would be an interesting sidebar to the real story of the explosive growth in domestic manufacturing of wind turbine parts.

So let me ignore most of her story and excerpt the real news:

As demand for clean energy grows….

Last year 24 states opened, expanded or announced turbine manufacturing plants, according to the American Wind Energy Association. By value, about half of turbine parts are now manufactured in the United States, said Mr. Dunlop of the wind association….

The vast majority of turbine parts travel by truck, but in Texas and elsewhere, some wind companies are looking to move more turbine parts by train to save money. General Electric, a big turbine maker, says rail transport can be up to 50 percent cheaper over long distances, and the rail company Union Pacific saw its wind-related shipments more than double last year.

So as we ship less coal by train, we can ship more turbine blades.  How is that for a win-win?

As the NYT desperately searches for any bad news it can publish about clean energy, perhaps it’s time for them to change their motto from “all the news that’s fit to print” to “every silver lining has a cloud.”

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18 Responses to Tilting at windmills: When life makes you lemonade, Kate Galbraith and the NY Times give you lemons

  1. pete best says:

    Just how many wind turbines is the USA prepared to put up I wonder ? As I understand it the USA requires 29,000 TWh of energy provision of which electricity demand is 3,900 TWh (UK is 410) per annum. Each 2 MW wind turbine produces around 5 GWh of energy per year so 200 of them = 1 TWh so the USA requires 200 x 3,900 = 780,000. I know its not an exact translation as the USA has coal, gas and nuclear too but its a lot by anyone standards especially if you are to factor in the fact that the USA uses 12,000 TWh a year of oil which would need to be factored in as transport needs electrification. Its just an awesome endeavour and I hear no real numbers for the USA.

    I agree that Gas, CSP, Wind, geothermal and hydro can all be in the mix and nuclear to but how many wind turbines are going to be required and how many of them can you erect per week/month. It would need to be thousands and that a massive ask.

  2. Dean says:

    There is an enormous amount of wind energy produced just to the east of me in the Columbia Basin and I see the trucks heading up Interstate 84. I always wonder why it wouldn’t be cheaper to barge them up the Columbia River.

    Our local weekly newspaper just announced the construction of what it said would be one of the largest windfarms in the world, something like 26 miles along a ridgeline. But it will all be sold to California. 0% of my electricity comes from wind according to my municipal utility. Of course 86% comes from hydro (2% from coal).

    As to the NYT, I have never understood why people considered it to be a quality newspaper. Their coverage on so many issues shows a huge bias. this is not an isolated example.

  3. Pete says:

    Okay Pete, let’s look at that. First, let’s assume that we’re going to get 20% of our current electricity from wind and meet all load growth through EE. “If we can’t get 100% from a resource then let’s not do it” was the basis of the Hoffert/Caldeira study, as I recall — not a solid argument. Nobody’s talking about 100% wind.

    Wind generation has been growing by about 33% per year from 1998-2008. It went from 0.4% of electricity generated in 2005 to 1.3% (52 TWh) in 2008, surpassing petroleum, wood, waste, and geothermal. If we are conservative and cut the growth rate in half, to 16.5%, wind still reaches 20% of current generation by 2026.

    In terms of installations, assuming 5 GWh per turbine as you do, that’s about 10,000 2-MW-turbine-equivalents we have now, and we’d need another 2,000 turbines in 2010, escalating over time. So 40 per week to start. We did much more than that in 2008 (added 17.6 TWh, or about 3500 2-MW turbines).

  4. pete best says:

    Pete, 40 a week is 160 a month which is 2000 a year which aint bad. If we assume a growth of 5% per annum then in 10 years its 25,000 and in the next 10 another 50,000 so its looking goog but it still only makes a small percentage for another 75,0000 of them in 20 years.

    Big ask so lets get up 5 MW or even 10 MW variants making 12.5 to 25 GWh per annum per turbine.

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    ExxonMobil and The New York Times

    Joe, I agree that there’s a big problem in media coverage, and (very much) including The New York Times.

    Do the media REALLY know that this thing is REAL? Aside from a couple of their columnists, and an occasional editorial, it hardly seems so. The news coverage itself is dismal, from all sorts of standpoints. And, the low and worrisome degrees of public understanding and sense of urgency are proof of the problem.

    One of the most stark, and easily demonstrable, parts of the problem is the fact that The New York Times hardly says a peep about ExxonMobil. To call it “kid gloves” is putting the matter mildly. And, there’s no excuse. They’ve been doing it for too long, and it is plainly apparent and a matter of record at this point.

    It’s shocking.

    And, I’ve written to Clark Hoyt (Public Editor) and made followup calls to his office. No response.



  6. Rick says:

    I wonder what the break even time is for a typical turbine.

    (Manufacturing energy plus transport energy compared to turbine output)

    The Times story said $100,000 – $150,000 transport costs if I remember right. How long does it take to get even that investment back?

  7. Patrick says:

    For years Bronwyn C. of WFMU has been berating the New York Times for its generally terrible coverage. Not being a regular reader of the paper I didn’t know what she based her opinion on. This article is sufficient to allow me to join her in disdain. Thanks Joe for bringing this to our attention.

  8. Will says:

    I read that piece and I literally thought it was a joke. It’s like the whole world is absolutely insane. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here, and we’ve got a planet clearly on the brink, my family thinks I’m crazy for being a climate activist, the media is asleep, public support for action is dropping, the president is tip-toeing around the issue (still he deserves major credit for what he’s done), China/India are blocking progress (can’t blame them as an American…thanks Bush)…Joe is right…we need to drop at least one of the sapiens from homo sapiens sapiens.

  9. This is not the first time she has concern-trolled green energy at supposedly Green, Inc. I wonder why they didn’t call it Brown, Inc.

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    What a disappointment.

    They can’t do a “dog bites man” story–it’s not news.

    They can’t do a “man bites dog” story–it didn’t happen.

    So they’re reduced to doing a “dog finds biting man is strangely unsatisfying” story.

    At least they haven’t sunk to the Washington Post’s level (yet).

  11. Lane says:

    Hey, everyone: lighten up. It’s not an anti-wind piece. It’s telling an unknown side of the story, rather than cheerleading. It’s called reporting; if she wrote 1,000 words on how great wind is, it wouldn’t run because this, while true, is not news. It’s a somewhat light, but somewhat serious color piece about one of the drawbacks of wind power. And at the blog, you can see that she goes on by looking at the notion of manufacturing parts nearer the wind farms themselves. In other words, the piece is in no way anti-wind-power.

    Kate is a friend, but even if she weren’t, I’d have to say that none of you here have found anything wrong with the story except that if you were her, you’d have written about something else. Fine. But the story stands, and was interesting to me.

    [JR: I await her story on accidents involving fuel trucks.

    Who cares about the blog? It has maybe 1% of the readers. I have found a great deal wrong with the story. First, by itself, it misses the forest for the trees, heck it misses the trees for the bark. There are an infinite amount of facts that don’t manage to find their way into the precious space of the newspaper of record. That is where journalistic and editorial judgment decide what is “news” — what the public urgently needs to know to make informed decisions.

    Second, as part of the overall thrust of the NYT coverage, it is grossly one-sided and misleading. I suppose if the NYT had better coverage of the overall clean energy issue, this would just be a largely ignorable and irrelevant story. But they don’t.]

  12. Will says:

    Lane, you call that news? The transportation of the turbines is causing bad traffic in a few towns and the trucks had some accidents. How many truck carrying anything else had accidents in the same time span? This is in no way news, and the headline “Slow, Costly and Often Dangerous Road to Wind Power” is extremely misleading. The millions of americans who graze headlines are going to think its a negative piece about the affordability/saftey of wind generation…not the transporting of the turbines. Rediculous.

  13. Mike#22 says:

    The Washington Post bites George Will today (again):

    “George F. Will once again ignored scientific evidence when he claimed that there has been no global warming over the past decade”

  14. Rick Covert says:

    Its interesting that the railroads are getting a good share of the transport of turbine blades. In Jeff Goodell’s book, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, he writes that the rail freight haulers have a big stake in keeping coal as America’s number one source of energy because they are the primary means of transporting that extracted coal to the utility companies power plants. Perhaps with business from hauling turbine blades could shift that business away from hauling coal and into wind turbine blades.

  15. Anna Haynes says:

    re Jeff H’s “I’ve written to Clark Hoyt (Public Editor) and made followup calls to his office. No response.” – same here, on two subjects.

    1. Just last week, I wrote ( asking that Hoyt weigh in on the (4) stories involving deforestation-by-beetle that have run since last fall, all of which ignored or severely downplayed the most likely (climate) cause – and on the route by which the recent (3) ones made their way into the paper, via an apparent end-run by the National desk around the Environment (“SWAT team”) pod;

    2. And before that, I asked him, and one reporter, and one editor, whether any policies/guidelines were in place at the Times for journalists or editors to notify anyone, of any attempts – directly or indirectly – to influence their output via coercion. (i.e. via the stick, not the carrot)

    Short answer: Nobody said there were any such policies.
    (But nobody said there weren’t, either: I got one silence, one explicit refusal to communicate, and (by my reading) one implication that it was a ludicrous question.)

  16. Cyril R. says:

    Reading these newspaper articles really makes me sad. I think newspapers write more controversial pieces recently because they are havig a difficult time to survive with all the competition from information sources like the Internet etc. They’re begging for attention, although I’m not sure if writing silly pieces like this will attract more readers…

    There is another factor here: OECD citizens are (stereo)typically spoilt. Spoilt with luxury, cheap and easy energy sources and materials. Thus, even the slightest inconvenience posed by new but clean energy sources such as wind, will result in a river of complaints. Many people just don’t make reasoned choices, they’re often penny wise pound foolish.

    I believe the solution is mostly in education. Mitigating energy and climate illiteracy will go a long way to improving energy policy in any modern democracy. Most journalists don’t know the difference between a kiloWatt and a kiloWatt-hour, even fewer understand basic climate science like the Gas Laws etc. If the journalists don’t get it, how is the public at large suppose to make informed choices? Rather an important question in a democracy I’d say.

    OK, gonna stop the rant now. Keep up the good posts Joe!

  17. Owen says:

    “Dangerous” does not appear in the headline of the story “Uranium Contamination Haunts Navajo Country” despite recent warnings of “potentially dangerous levels of uranium” contamination and stating that “many miners died from radiation related illnesses.”

    Another article by Kate Galbraith “Assessing the Value of Small Wind Turbines” with the caption “Turbines at Logan International Airport in Boston produced fewer kilowatt hours than anticipated in May and June.” A later paragraph states “These tiny turbines generate so little electricity that some energy experts are not sure the economics will ever make sense.”

  18. RIcha says:

    Energy, however produced and consumed, has very real human consequences. It doesn’t matter if its wind, nuclear, hydro, solar, natural gas or coal. To argue about scale, I think, misses the point. The death of a rig worker in Wyoming or the impact of ozone on an asthmatic or the extinction of a species (with its cascading effects) are stories, each of which relate a toll. I am glad to learn of every little and large effect of energy production so that I can try to the best of my ability to be a responsible and grateful consumer. Need I add, there are people fighting over energy and that is a toll almost too much to bear.