Does Wind Power Cause Pollution?

April 21 2010, 9:53 AM

Things have been going fairly well for the old natural-gas industry lately. Recently, Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill supported by an array of interests---Democrats and some key Republicans---that essentially lowers the amount of coal that will be burned at power plants, instead favoring natural gas. Now, the natural-gas industry appears poised to ask for even more support from the legislature. A new report published by the industry claims that when power plants resort to wind energy, they pollute more (via the Denver Business Journal). But don't blame the wind energy; blame the systems. The report, "How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market," completed by Evergreen-based consulting company Bentek Energy for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States oil-and-gas trade group, found that when wind picks up---generally at night---utilities must use it in order to comply with the state's aggressive renewable-energy standards. But changing operations at plants to adjust to incoming wind causes them to run less efficiently, interfering, for instance, with emissions-control equipment, increasing pollution from the plants.

Critics say the report is flawed, with the American Wind Energy Association calling the numbers "misleading." Meanwhile, does Colorado's high country seem a little less glistening these days? All the dust that has blown north and onto the mountains from the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners region has dulled the snow's sparkle. Because it is darker, the dust attracts the sun's heat, causing snow to melt faster. It's the result from years of "disturbance of the fragile desert topsoil," writes The Denver Post.