Wayne Maceyka, W. Newton, MA:
First, as someone who does not live near Michigan or Nebraska,
it's difficult for me to accept the comments about the aesthetic
effects of wind turbines. This appears to be another case of accepting
less environmentally impactful sources of power only if they do
not affect "me". Some folks call it NIMBY (Not In MY Backyard).
While people have a right to defend their immediate surroundings
from the encroachment of "eyesores," it's important to
recognize the hidden costs of other technologies. Just because the
"oil wells would have been hidden by the trees," as someone
commented, does not mean it's a better solution. Why shouldn't we
see what creates our power? As a society, we seem to prefer to hide
the elements of our created environment that are unpleasant; landfills,
prisons, scrapyards, manufacturing, etc. We don't want to see where
our garbage goes, or where the meat is raised and killed for our
use, or where the foreign laborers make our clothing. Accepting
that wind turbines may not look perfect, but meet some of our energy
needs, is one step toward moving forward.
With regard to the comment about bird kills and windmills, I agree
that they are an unfortunate side affect of some early wind farms.
As the technology improves and moves forward, this will be reduced
by more accurate siting and research. What I also believe is that
the total environmental effects of various power generation methods
have not been accurately catalogued and quantified. What about the
fish that die from hydro-electric dams? How many animals perish
from industrial processes related to oil, coal, and gas? What about
the effects of nuclear in the long term?
In Massachusetts, we are in the midst of a battle over what could
be the largest wind turbine "farm" in the world. Cape
Wind (www.capewind.org) has proposed a 170-tower offshore wind farm
off the coast of Cape Cod between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
Island. In a recent NPR broadcast of "The
Connection", Cape Wind's president James Gordon argued
with Robert Kennedy, Jr., a representative
of communities on the shores of Cape Cod, about the visual effects
of the farm. Again, the argument (and comments from some callers)
boiled down to the NIMBY effect. Social Inertia and fear of change
is another factor that must be addressed. There will be initial
resistance, but with effort and accurate studies, I hope a satisfactory
decision will be made.
Michael Melius Hermosa, SD: We greens complain that humans
always adopt technologies without much forethought. If that happens
with wind energy, the criticism will apply to us, too.
Generating electricity with wind is cleaner, emissions-wise,
than doing so with nukes and coal, but that doesn't make it green.
Wind-driven power plants require an extensive land base with service
roads--or water base, as coastal areas are also proposed for wind
Traditional "Big Energy" players are becoming heavily
invested in wind energy. You'd think these facts would set off alarm
bells -- that there'd be loud calls for a national policy-writing
process, environmental reviews, and strict regulation. Instead,
it's as if environmentalists are looking the other way, blessing
the industry with their silence.
Consider public lands. The Forest Service and the Bureau of
Land Management are mandated to facilitate energy development on
their lands. This includes wind. National Audubon has drafted a
policy recommending that Forest Service lands be off-limits to wind-energy
development. But is anyone actually trying to get that into law?
What will protect these lands from wind power developers, especially
if they're off on some plain, in Nevada or the Dakotas, say? Remoteness
may protect many areas--places close to the grid will be developed
first. But wind speed is also a prime consideration for wind developers,
and public lands with wind, near the grid, might be awfully tempting.
Will traditional environmental review processes be enough to prevent
Proponents of wind-driven power plants need to face this question:
how much land will you need? (And shoreline?) Where will you stop?
Richard Boothe, San Luis Obispo, CA: In the Power
Lunch forum, David Freeman stated that the problem with wind power
is that it doesn't work on hot days, which he claimed were hot precisely
because the wind was not blowing. That may be true locally, but
it certainly isn't statewide - much less nationwide. On a given
summer day in California, for example, when it's 100 degrees inland,
there's a 15-20 m.p.h. trade wind blowing along the coast that could
power enough wind turbines to cool inland homes. While I do agree
with his contention that we should use windpower to create hydrogen
- for use when the wind is not blowing, or for cars - I think it's
necessary to look beyond state boundries and consider the amount
of wind power that could be available for national distribution.
Another factor we must consider, in respect to cooling homes and
businesses, is the fact that current air-conditioning technology
is absurdly out-of-date and too inneficient for hot climates; it
should be replaced by absorption-cycle A.C. (used in both large
buildings and old-fashioned natural gas-powered ice-boxes) - and
powered with solar heat instead of fossil fuel. It would be simple
and economical, in sunny climates, to integrate such cooling with
solar H20 heating, as both could share a common collector and heat-exchanger.
This would eliminate both the energy costs associated with A.C.,
and the use of fossil fuels to provide that energy. This solution
would be especially appropriate for a place like Phoenix, which
relies on highly polluting coal-burning power plants located in
the Four Corners area to the north, which is spoiling air-quality
there and producing acid-rain in the southern Rockies. It would
also work throughout most of the southwest and Florida, and may
be suitable for even hot overcast days in other areas, with proper
Neville S. Long, Orinda, CA: The cover picture of
Sierra's July/August energy issue would have been more
accurate if you had shown several of the thousands of dead raptors
and other birds that are killed each year by "so called"
environmentally friendly wind farms.
This is another example of unintended consequences. Isn't it
time that you started to work for their elimination rather than
encouraging the development of more?"
Staff: It's true that early wind farms -- especially the
large facility at Altamont Pass, California -- killed large
numbers of birds. While the problem has not been eliminated,
it has been greatly reduced. Key modifications have included
siting turbines away from customary flight paths, designing
the supporting structures so as to discourage nesting, and slowing
rotor speeds so that birds can see them. Nevertheless, opponents
of alternative energy such as the Cato Institute continue to
attack windmills as bird killers, despite the fact that even
the Audubon Society supports well-sited wind turbines.
For further information, see "Do
Windmills Eat Birds?" by David Case.
Richard Weiss, St. Ignace, Michigan: After reading
the August issue about alternate energy sources, I have come
to the conclusion that your writers do not do a very thorough
job looking at both sides of the issue. Last fall while driving
down a narrow road in Nebraska I came upon over 100 wind turbines
growing out of the vast prairie. I thought it was cool: cheap,
Also, last fall the village of Mackinaw City, Michigan,
decided to have placed inside the city limits two 265-foot towers
with three-bladed windturbines atop. Now when you drive south
on the Mackinac Bridge, what used to be a scenic view of trees
behind the restored historic Fort Michilimackinac on the beautiful
Straits of Mackinac now has these ugly huge wind turbines to
ruin the view. This is tantamount to putting wind turbines onto
El Capitan, Mount Rushmore or the rim of the Grand Canyon. At
least oil wells would have been hidden by the trees. Just because
it might save fossil fuels does not mean that wind turbines
should be placed just anywhere.
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