Part II – Exposing the Staggering Corruption and Hidden Costs of “Sustainable” Wind Energy

In News & Media by Laura Taylor

Many who care about the future of this planet are searching for alternatives to our current fossil fuel energy dependency. Bold new approaches have been proposed by the Biden administration, including accelerating offshore wind energy development at a massive scale to create new jobs using so-called “Green Technology.”

However, there has been an incredible failure of the media and those in positions of power to illustrate the true costs and deep corruption embedded in the use of wind and solar energy, specifically wind turbines. These costs range from unthinkable economic losses, immoral human labor usage, and an actual carbon footprint that far surpasses any potential “sustainable” wind energy impact. From dependency on China’s rare earth metals to reliance on forced labor, the wind energy industry is unjust and deeply unsustainable.

Other energy alternatives are feasible and deployable, but the public must understand the interrelated web of corruption that lies behind “clean” wind turbines. There are social, industrial, technological, human, cultural, economic, and political factors at play that make this issue complex and interwoven. When looking at the pieces out of context, it doesn’t look like there is a problem. No one is connecting the dots.

Last week, we gave background as to what wind turbines are and how they generate energy. To summarize, solar and wind energy are not feasible replacements for fossil fuels because they’re low-performing, high-cost, intermittent energy sources that need to be supplemented by nonrenewable sources like fossil fuels, and because the manufacture of solar panels and windmills is environmentally destructive.

Not only is energy production on a mass scale using wind energy simply implausible due to the limited energy output, land usage, and nonrecyclable waste creation, but there are a number of other factors at play that bring the level of global harm up to an inconceivable level.

We also discussed the hidden costs of China’s rare earth supply chain. There is now a total dependency on China’s supply chain (controlling about 90%of the market worldwide) for these energy-intensive raw materials, which are key critical components to our technology and communications sector, military defense, medical, biomedical, life support functions, and of course wind turbines. In the last two decades, China has come to dominate global rare earth production by investing in mining and processing without enforcing adequate environmental safeguards. “Few other countries are willing to copy China’s low-cost, high-pollution version of rare-earth processing,” reports LA Times.

There is an extraordinary environmental price being paid by the entire planet for the mining, refinement using pollution-heavy diesel factories, and shipment of rare earth metals and parts which create wind turbines and solar panels. The carbon footprint of a single wind turbine factors out to be 300–500x the life of the cleanliness of it, polluting the planet at multiples of carbon debt beyond which it will ever be able to get out of. Calling them “clean” is a woeful irony.

Health hazard … pipes coming from a rare-earth smelting plant spew into a tailings dam on the outskirts of Baotou in China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters via The Guardian

The Human Cost

Not only is the environmental cost of wind energy staggering, but even more upsetting is the human impact. For those who care about the future of our planet, we should be keeping an even closer eye on the people in it, and their humanitarian protection worldwide.

The wind energy supply chain is harmful to laborers on far-reaching corners of the world, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to China. Let’s start at the source.

As numerous reports in the past decade have concluded, there are severe human rights issues and abuses relating to rare earth mining sites. Cobalt, a key rare earth component, has been the subject of investigations by Amnesty International and many others. More than 70% of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and 15 to 30 percent of the Congolese cobalt is produced by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM.) “Child labor, fatal accidents, and violent clashes between artisanal miners and security personnel of large mining firms are recurrent.”

Children as young as seven are working in perilous conditions to mine this cobalt that ends up in phones, computers, cars, and of course wind turbines and solar panels. Human rights abuses include 12 hours a day of laboring “with no protective clothing, and with many experiencing significant health problems as a result…carrying back-breaking loads and work[ing] in intense heat for between one or two hours a day without face mask or gloves. Several children said they had been beaten by security guards employed by mining companies and forced to pay ‘fines’ by unauthorized mines police sent by state officials to extort money and intimidate workers.”

The human rights groups say they traced the supply chain from these mining sites to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), one of the largest mineral processors in the DRC and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).

Miners working in areas from which CDM buys cobalt face the risk of long-term health damage and a high risk of fatal accidents. The death toll is unknown as many accidents go unrecorded and bodies are left buried in the rubble.

In the report This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt, it is stated “The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today’s global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line. We found that traders are buying cobalt without asking questions about how and where it was mined.”

These examples are just one entry point into the humanitarian crisis surrounding rare earth mining and processing. Now let’s follow the supply chain to China.

According to a report by Earth.org, the mining of rare-earth metals also occurs in large part in southeastern China, in provinces like Jiangxi and Fujian, as well as Inner Mongolia and as west as Sichuan.

A report by The Guardian spotlights the pollution from these rare earths in the town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, the largest Chinese source of these strategic elements.

Amnesty International notes, “Processing rare earths is a dirty business. Their ore is often laced with radioactive materials such as thorium, and separating the wheat from the chaff requires huge amounts of carcinogenic toxins — sulfates, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid. Processing one ton of rare earths produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste; Baotou’s rare earths enterprises produce 10m tons of wastewater per year. They’re pumped into tailings dams, like the one by Wang’s village, 12km west of the city center.”

“Residents of what was now known as the ‘rare-earth capital of the world’ were inhaling solvent vapour, particularly sulphuric acid, as well as coal dust, clearly visible in the air between houses. Now the soil and groundwater are saturated with toxic substances.”

The LA Times continues, “In mineral-rich regions of China, poisoned water and soil have caused abnormal disease rates in “cancer villages” from which impoverished residents cannot afford to move. Crops and animals have died around a crusty lake of radioactive black sludge formed from mining waste near a major mining site in Baotou. It’s so large that it is visible by satellite.”

If we are to utilize these rare earths to continue our dependency on the technologies that require them, we must think intentionally about ways to judiciously limit their use. Wind turbines are a huge consumer of rare earths, and cannot morally be justified under the guise of “Clean energy.”

As Kenneth W. Welch Jr., inventor, a board member of Diamond Infrastructure Development Inc. shares, “For every wind tower, some 3–300 people are working in inhumane conditions to produce minerals for those machines. Now multiply that by 10,000 turbines at the level currently being proposed by the U.S. Government. It’s obscene.”

Major manufacturers who turn a blind eye to these human costs are able to reap the financial benefits “because of the relatively low cost of supplies.” Let’s take a look at what those financial costs actually are.

Corruption in the Circle of Subsidies and Debt

Joe Biden has proposed to commit another $2 trillion to subsidies for renewable energy reported by Bloomberg Green. These subsidies come on top of tax credits, mandates, and other subsidies and investment in clean technologies.

Government subsidies and incentives already include Federal programs that provide direct cash outlays to producers or consumers of energy, Tax expenditures that reduce the tax liability of firms or individuals who take specified actions that affect energy production, distribution, transmission, consumption, or conservation, Loans and loan guarantees that provide financial support for energy technologies by guaranteeing the repayment of loans obtained in the private debt market or by lending money directly to energy market participants, and other forms of support.

To state it plainly, government energy subsidies are hiding the actual cost of wind turbines. Solar and wind energy are cheap only because of massive government subsidies. Many governments grant consumers and businesses subsidies for using sustainably sourced power. These monetary incentives lower the end cost of adopting renewable energy sources.

In reality, solar and wind facilities suffer from a very high capacity cost per megawatt, low reliability, and deficient capacity factors, which result in low avoided emissions and low avoided energy cost per dollar invested. In other words, the actual price point for implementing these technologies is more expensive and burdens taxpayers.

There are also a variety of “Hidden, physics-based costs that are rarely acknowledged in utility or government accounting. For example, when large quantities of power are rapidly, repeatedly, and unpredictably cycled up and down, the challenge and costs associated with “balancing” a grid (i.e., keeping it from failing) are greatly increased. OECD analysts estimate that at least some of those “invisible” costs imposed on the grid add 20%–50% to the cost of grid kilowatt-hours.”

As we just learned, inhumane and toxic systems are utilized in the creation of these materials. If we were to source materials responsibly rather than these wasteful systems without employee coverage, health insurance, fair rates, etc. price premiums would go up. Take cell phones for example — if the materials required for a cell phone were mined responsibly, we would be looking at around $3,000 for the price of a phone.

We asked engineer and energy expert Georg Engelmann, C.E.O. of Diamond Infrastructure Development, Inc. to further elaborate.

“If it costs $1,000 to create a windmill using cheap and forced international labor — for us to create a windmill in the U.S. without inhumane labor conditions, the cost would go through the roof, to something like $10,000. To make the deal sound good, our government pays subsidies to act as if we aren’t aware of the labor conditions abroad. We are subsidizing the difference of $9,000 to allow that unjust labor to take place under the premise that it only costs $1,000. That price doesn’t even include the additional costs that should be factored in based on the next 20 years of maintenance prices that are folded into many wind energy contracts.”

In The Hill’s report, “Eliminating Renewable Energy Subsidies is Key to Increasing Prosperity,” it states “While wind and solar generation of electricity has rapidly grown over the last 20 years, it hasn’t happened by itself. The DOE study points to economists who cite ‘state-level RPS and Federal tax credits for [renewable energy] as examples of wholesale market impacts and distortions.’

“These distortions have affected taxpayers and consumers for years. While the costs are hard to calculate, a study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation estimated that the costs of renewable energy subsidies in Texas alone were more than $13 billion from 2006 to 2015. A newly released U.S. Department of Energy report on electricity markets and reliability makes it clear that renewable energy subsidies are contributing significantly to the increasing cost — and the decreasing reliability — of the national electric grid.”

The report continues, “As much as the subsidies cost directly, they may be dwarfed by the costs of compensating for the unreliability imposed on the electric grid by renewable energy. Much of this cost comes from the requirement to have backup generation in place for when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining.” In fact, this “backup” generation runs nearly 70% of the time.

In order to pay the subsidies for these renewable energy projects, there is now a total debt of $42 billion and growing, according to one analyst, with a payoff not seen until 2041 without a change in policy.

Forbes asks, “How much money can the U.S. sink into such profligate spending before the law of diminishing returns starts to take over?”

Under the current pricing failure, neither individual consumers nor companies in the supply chain pay for the associated costs of rare earths extraction and processing. Scarcity values are also noted as absent from price calculations.

“China has been offering renewable subsidies since at least 2006, typically in the form of a promised payout for electricity generated over 20 years. The rates were higher than those for coal plants, and gave developers and banks confidence their investments in wind and solar installations would pay off. Such early subsidies, also a major feature in markets like Germany, helped create the demand solar panels and wind turbines that allowed manufacturers to build their economies of scale. Thanks to that virtuous cycle, wind and solar power is now cheaper than fossil fuel plants in many parts of the world.” This situation is temporary and awaits its day of reckoning, and we are yet to bear witness to its full implications.

Taxpayers are being offered a better price on electricity because of implementing these clean un-green technologies, when in fact we are padding the price point to the utility. The funding on both sides of the supply chain is all coming out of taxpayer dollars or loans from China for taxpayer shortfalls, which in effect go straight back to China on both ends of the process.

Let’s take a closer look. The end recipient of the profit stream is the one who made the hardware in the first place. China. And what happens when the U.S. can’t afford these parts and must go into debt to borrow more money to afford them? Borrow from China and pay it back with interest.

In effect, the United States is being lent money to pay for a product too expensive to actually buy. We would be looking for different alternatives if we had to actually buy them at their true price point. These cannot be sanctioned under the premise of creating profit and jobs for the United States; that is a farce. The vicious cycle continues unless we commit to intervene and stop it.

Next week, we will conclude our exposé with Part III by offering a solution to the challenges posed in this report. Another, truly clean and sustainable form of energy is possible and deployable — dam-free hydropower, tidal & current systems, along with wave energy converters.

 

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News Via: La Fenêtre Magazine

 

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