Community Comment:

Unless public forces issue,

wind power won't succeed

From the days of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, down through the annals of the world's great civilizations, the wind has been used to power sailing ships, pump water, grind grain, ventilate buildings and, during the past century, produce electrical power for commercial purposes.

Throughout most of our collective adult lifetimes — and particularly since the oil embargo of 1973-74 — we have heard from futurists, social commentators and political leaders about the promise of wind and solar power to electrify our homes and businesses and provide an endless supply of renewable electrical power that was supposed to be cheap and efficient and have a low impact on the environment.

During this nearly 35-year conversation, it has been very difficult for the average person to discern fact from fiction, myth from reality. The mere fact that we do not after all this time have a coherent, long-term national energy policy is an indictment of our political system and the short-sightedness of this country's energy producers.

Enter T. Boone Pickens, an energy billionaire with 45 years of experience in the oil and gas fields of West Texas and Oklahoma. He is wagering more than $3 billion of his own money on producing wind power arrays throughout the central corridor of the United States. His energy plan calls for the use of wind power to supply 20 percent of our national electricity needs, then converting our cars to use natural gas as a "bridge technology" to hydrogen fuel cells, advanced hybrid technology or electric automobiles of the future.

The details of the Pickens Plan can be found on the Internet at or will be explained in detail during a $56 million television advertising campaign that rivals the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain.

While the pros and cons of the extraordinary Pickens Plan remain to be debated throughout the campaign, there is one startling truth revealed in Pickens' message — the hemorrhaging of more than $700 billion a year to foreign countries for oil. This enormous transfer of wealth stands to, over the next 10 years, wipe out the entire middle class of this nation.

No candidate for public office has admitted this grim reality to the American public in realistic terms, nor have any of them described in detail what life will be like in this country if we sit by and do nothing.

As for the immediate future of wind and solar power, much depends on the extension of renewable energy investment tax credits that Congress must renew before the end of the year if they are to remain in effect. (Rep. Brad Ellsworth, do you have Nancy Pelosi's phone number?).

But beyond that, advocates of wind and solar power are calling for state and federal Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards that would mandate that 15 percent of the energy produced by utilities in this country come from renewable sources by 2020.

To date, some 25 states and the District of Columbia have adopted such standards or goals. Indiana is not one of them.

Predictably, industry officials throw sand in the face of the American public, characterizing a national portfolio standard as a regulatory burden that is too costly for producers and will ultimately function as a huge tax increase on energy consumers.

The myth being promoted by utility officials in this state and elsewhere is that wind power is not "dispatchable," meaning utility controllers cannot turn the wind on and off at will, and therefore it is not reliable for the baseload power needs of their customers.

Instead of making serious equity investments in it even as a supplemental source of power, many utilities that have invested heavily in coal would prefer to continue burning natural gas for electricity production to supplement their coal-fired baseload plants — that is, provided natural gas remains cheap.

Another part of the problem is a regulatory turf battle. Utilities are using their considerable resources to influence state and federal regulators to create disincentives to the average person or a group of people who would like to invest in wind generators and put the electricity out on the grid and be compensated for it.

Here in Indiana, a watered-down system of "net metering" gives great power to utilities, severely limits the capacity of independent power systems and imposes huge insurance requirements.

The system is so bad that the national Network for New Energy Choices, in a report called "Freeing the Grid 2007," gave Indiana a grade of D in its national rating of all 50 states — finding our system to be among the least consumer-friendly regulatory mechanisms in the country.

Whether Pickens and his army are able to influence the incoming presidential administration and the energy industry as a whole to take dramatic action remains a $700 billion-per-year question.

However, the bottom line is this: If federal and state politicians and utility executives do not hear an outcry from the public demanding wind, solar, geothermal and advanced research into alternative power sources, very little will happen.

David Coker is an Evansville freelance writer.



For the past several years, taxpayers in Evansville and Vanderburgh County have become outraged over a number of public works projects proposed by city and county officials. It is time for taxpayers to organize.

Some viewed talk of spending nearly $50 million for a new county jail proposed for property adjacent to Highway 41 North a bit over the top. Others questioned the millions being spent for a new headquarters for Central Library downtown across the street from the recently renovated $40 million Centre, another project for which there was no political constituency. They also well remember the nearly 8,500 signatures collected on a remonstrance petition in opposition to the proposed county-wide Victory theater bond issue -- a project which was later rammed through by then-Mayor Frank F. McDonald, II despite the intense public opposition expressed throughout this community.

But here in the new century, while some of the names and faces have changed, the behavior of the power establishment in this community remains very much the same.

Taxpayers are now being asked to approve a proposed $70 million bond referendum being proposed by the administration of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) and are watching in amazement as the highly unpopular $24 million downtown baseball stadium is being rammed through by Mayor Russell Lloyd, Jr. and his cohorts.

A brief look at the aggregate spending figures for local city, county and school corporation operations over the past several years shows why local taxpayers are outraged and asking serious questions about what we can be done to stop the insanity downtown.

From city budget documents cordially unearthed by reference librarians at Central Library, several hours of study reveals that municipal spending in Evansville has risen from some $15.4 million in fiscal 1973 to over $142.6 million in 2001, roughly a 922 per cent increase in dollar terms over 28 years (note: all reported figures are not adjusted for inflation). Similar figures gleaned from numerous handbooks of School Statistical Reports from the Farm Bureau Local Affairs Committee in Indianapolis and the school corporation show a similar growth trend. EVSC spending from 1979 to 2001 rose from $40.5 million to over $133.9 million, representing a 320 per cent spending increase in 22 years. This means that with the additional $70 million in tax levy proposed in the School Corporation’s referendum, EVSC budget authority could easily exceed $200 million by fiscal 2010.

Finally, thanks to the good offices of Terry Lukeman, County Council Secretary, I was able to learn that county spending increases, while more modest than the city and the school corporation, also rose from some $15.2 million in 1972 to $75.6 million in fiscal 2002, a 490 per cent increase over the 30 year period.

It is hard to imagine any local corporation or business which has experienced anything like this enormous growth in their net profits after taxes.

It also demonstrates why Vanderburgh county has lost its competitive advantage to other counties with respect to ongoing economic development efforts.

If pressed, local decision-makers will probably attest that some of these increases were forced upon local units of government by unfunded federal mandates and that some of the spending represents state and federal money returned to local government in the form of grants.

Still, in all, the money was obtained from somewhere -- ultimately taxpayers.

What is perhaps even more important is the effective burden these enormous spending increases are placing upon a shrinking tax base.

With the help of employees of the Area Plan Commission, I was able to find city and county census data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the 30 year period from 1970 until 2000, the county increased in population from 168,772 to 171,922 representing an increase of some 3,150 residents. However, during the same period the population of the City of Evansville showed a dramatic decrease of from 138,764 to 121,582 -- a loss of 17,182 residents (this statistic was deleted from the original story).

From these data it is easy to understand why people like Pigeon Township Trustee Paul Hatfield are outraged over yet another Tax Increment Financing district in his township and taxpayers across the city screaming foul ball regarding the Mayor’s baseball stadium plan. Over time, a larger and larger tax burden is being carried by a dramatically shrinking city population.

With all of these facts plus the looming property tax reassessment in mind, a small group of concerned citizens are calling for the creation of a Vanderburgh County Taxpayer’s Association in an effort to require our local elected and appointed officials to halt this outrageous spending and make them more politically accountable. Our first meeting in this organizational effort will be Thursday March 6th at old McCutchanville School at 7:00 p.m.

All Vanderburgh County citizens who are either taxpayers or registered voters are urged to attend.

(David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer. His email address is