Wind Farms: Beauty or the Beast

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I took this photo of the wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA

I’ve heard the two windiest spots on our planet are the Coachella Valley of California and South Africa. The wind in California has prompted the installation of thousands of windmills in the Coachella Valley, which generate electricity for nearby Palm Springs and areas spreading toward the Los Angeles basin.

Standing majestically, like some invasive alien lifeform or uniform militia, the windmills have now become the major landmark of the Palm Springs region. Assembled in the desert like something out of a Pink Floyd movie, with towers as high as 150 feet and turbines as wide as the wings of a 747, the windmills are striking.

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The American Wind Energy Association calculates there is enough available land in the Midwest or in just 100 square miles of Nevada’s windiest regions, to house enough wind farms to supply the energy needed to power the United States. The U.S. has been slow to move into wind power, although it is now picking up significantly. In the early years of development, windmills were simply too expensive to produce, install, and maintain. However, over the last ten years, the expense of windmill power has dropped over 80%. Following in the footsteps of progressive countries, such as Denmark, where over 10% of energy is windmill generated, the U.S. has finally been increasing wind energy production.

There are three main arguments against wind farms:
-the environmental impact of the windmills
-energy used to produce and store energy
-the usual NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome.

As far as the environmental impact goes, massive turbines can disrupt local ecosystems and wildlife. For example, flight patterns of migratory birds have been altered and birds have died due to collisions. A solution to this is that wind farmers and scientists are working together to avoid placing windmills along flight and migration paths, while also working to avoid endangered plant and animal territory.

The production of the windmills is not without the depletion of non-renewable resources. The storage of the energy harnessed requires battery use, which means toxic waste. The windmills can be massive, which requires large transportation services as well as the use of raw materials to build them.

As for NIMBY, the windmills can cause a fair amount of noise pollution. Besides noise, some people consider windmill farms eyesores. Some people think these problems can be avoided through decentralization of power generation. By going ‘off the grid’ and building homes in windy areas, people can have their own windmills right in their back yard. (RITBY?) Excess energy can be sold to local utilities, which makes the turbines a good long-term investment.

In this time of climate crisis, utility companies need to be willing to participate in a metering program in order for this to happen and right now, the U.S. still has a far way to go before this works as well as it could. Energy utilities generally only pay 35-40% of the retail rate (due to government energy subsidies.) This could be interpreted as a way to dissuade individuals from pursuing this type of self-sufficiency. Wind certainly seems to be a better option, in comparison to coal, oil or nuclear energy.

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About Kimberly Jordan Allen

14 Comments

  1. I was at a concert last November where there was an anti-nuclear activist who gave a quick talk about energy. One of the things he said was that the technology exists to put wind farms a mile off the eastern seaboard, and that it would supply enough energy for the entire east coast. He said it takes care of a majority of the NIMBY and bird issues. I never did look into things to verify any of it, but it sounded interesting to me.

    I’ve also wondered why all parking garages aren’t roofed with solar panels. I seem to recall the Navy did that with a parking garage in San Diego. Seems like it would be a great solution for spaces that are already, essentially, dead zones in terms of environment and being eye-sores.

    Any thoughts on either or both of these?

  2. From what I understand about alternative energy, it is all about what works in your site. So in some cases wind is the best way to go, some cases solar, some geothermal and some microhydro (or a combination of two or more). What’s important is finding places where each is most useful (solar for Cali or Arizona, geothermal or hydro in Vermont, etc.) Alternative energy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

    And as an aside, I’ve always found wind farms to be very pretty- while the natural landscape is the most lovely, I think that a field of windmills, even if they do make some kind of sound, is infinitely preferable to a belching coal plant (which pollutes the air locally as well as contributes to global warming).

  3. I also think they’re really beautiful….we have tons here in Texas and I think it’s a pretty site…that’s how we get our energy – wind power – it’s such a better alternative to coal and other sources. But like you say Starre, it really is what works best for different areas – wind farms wouldn’t work in many areas like they do in Texas…so it’s just choosing the best option for that particular area.

  4. From what I’ve read, there is work being done in looking at storing wind energy in forms other than traditional battery. A company here in MA, General Compression, is building prototypes of “batteries” that store the compressed air and release it as needed. So you get energy as a constant, not just when the wind is blowing.

    I’m happy to say that our governor, Deval Patrick, is a proponent of legislation that allows the zoning for off-shore wind farms, which can definitely circumvent a lot of the NIMBY and bird-related issues.

  5. I remember my first sighting of those particular wind turbines almost 9 years ago when I moved to 29 Palms, about an hour from those windmills. I had never seen so many of them together. Just a few wind turbines here and there on the road trip from Texas to Southern California.

    There is sooooo much space around that area that there should be more windmills. Hopefully more will be installed.

  6. Dear Deb-

    The wind speeds off the east coast are good in some areas- areas where real estate is also good. The contradiction is a enough to throw a serious wrench into any plan to put wind power in water.

    See the NIMBY folks who have opposed the cape wind project for 8 years.

    I’m glad the author of this article said that wind power “can” be noisy. because it is not necessary noisy. I have only seen two wind turbine installations and they were both very very very quiet. I need to go searching for a noisy one to believe that they can be noisy.

  7. * necessarily

  8. It’s a breathtaking view to see so many of them lined up like that. Was watching Dirty Jobs when they cleaned one. Really cool.

  9. I for one think they are beautiful, especially considering the pros for the environment. And I’m hard pressed to believe the cons outweight the good when it comes to greener energy production.

    I’m in Canada and windpower is slowly making an appearance. Geothermal is big in some areas but I’ll have to read more on some of the other alternatives.

    Thanks for the info and great blog!

    April

  10. Been looking at your views on windfarms! I live in Wales in the U.K.
    My husband and I have a strange plan to one day make an eco house -well actually an eco-windmill !!
    Just wondered if anyone knew if it has done before??
    We have some old one’s in Norfolk in England that are being restored but that’s just to provide electricity.
    Any thoughts?? let me know!
    Thanks
    Sophie

  11. I also think wind turbines are beautiful and I recently drove through a huge wind farm in upstate New York – the sun was shining and it was snowing, the whole experience was magical!

    That being said, I’m a Vermonter and spent my senior year in college trying to get to the bottom of NIMBYism and understand the anti-wind power sentiments of my fellow Vermonters. I went to Sheffield,VT where there is a huge debate over the proposal for 16 1-megawatt turbines to go up and I got to interview some of the most vocal leaders of the anti-wind groups. Birds and noise were on their list of arguments, but the most convincing one for me was clear-cutting. For each turbine, the company would have to totally clear-cut 1 acre of beautiful VT forest!

    Echoing what Starre said, I truly think that wind power is not always the appropriate renewable energy source for a given region. In the case of Northeastern VT, they’d argue that a biomass burner fueled by waste wood is the way to go. And despite loving wind power, I’d have to agree.

  12. Nice post. Looks like wind power is really starting to get some serious consideration in Australia now.

  13. Ok I don’t think you know anything about “wind mills”… First of all they are not called wind mills, they are called wind turbines, these pictures are also not of palm springs, that location is on the other side of the mountains. Another fact that you fail to see is that these turbines are very close together which was a failure on the engineers part. They are very ineffective when placed close together, aka the first ones slow down the wind for the other behind it. Another fact is you said a hundred square miles, I’m sure you didn’t major in math so I will help you out, 100 square miles is 10X10 miles, that means ten miles by ten miles, which is very small, did you mean 100 by 100 square miles, which is 10,000 miles, a much bigger number. If we did do that it would also not power the united states, some days there is no wind, others there is so much wind the turbines will turn off for safety purposes. I don’t think you understand what you are talking about at all, but you just read from other magazines where other liberal writers go crazy and put down their feeling. So I think you should keep writing don’t think of me as crude, just write a book instead on something else you might have more back-round with, like doing drugs and making money off spreading fear and false hope. P.S. Nuclear Energy produces major amounts of energy with very little nuclear radiation, you should be writing how we should start recycling nuclear waste which is possible than wind power which is great, if you do it right but can only do so much… Much love

  14. Renee Rhodes says:

    Wow!! slow down Richard! You are so angry at the poor girl who wrote the column. I am also quite annoyed at people who write down anything that comes out of their little brain and then send it over the internet to hundreds of ‘believers’. But Richard, c’mon… it sounds like the poor girl is on our side(or Planet Earth’s side) and even if she was a poor math student and misspoke…. at least they are starting a conversation about clean energy. If you were referring to the wind turbines around Palm Springs, well yeah… they were around since the early 1980′s (I know you saw them in ‘Less Than Zero’-1987)….obviously new technology has been introduced and improvements have been made to wind power. We know sooo much more now than we did 30 yrs ago. I live in Vegas and haven’t researched Nuclear energy enough to make any claims to it’s viability. But I know that the Yucca Mountain facility was a hot topic here for many years. I guess the NIMBY(Not In My Backyard) people live in Nevada too! I think that Yucca Mtn is a superb facility for storing Nuclear waste, and it’s shameful that we spent around $90+Billion dollars on the construction, only to be vetoed during the last voting process.(however, it would make a great bomb shelter- you never know, it may come in handy one day) The problem with Nuclear energy is transportation. While most people of Nevada weren’t necessarily ‘for’ the use of the facility… the strongest opposition came from people living near transit lines, they just don’t trust the antiquated railway system that would be used to transport the waste. I don’t blame people for being afraid even after being told over and over that every safeguard will be in place. (I saw an interview with a BP exec BEFORE the oil platform was built and he said in absolution that they would be able to handle a disaster much greater than the one that is occurring now) Well I don’t need to say anymore about public trust when it comes to dangerous chemicals or waste.
    Please Richard, every time I turn on the computer, all I see is stupid propaganda about how a wind farm would spoil the view!!! Are you kidding me??? the view? There is room for many different types of clean energy to take root. Don’t hate the people who might like wind farms, just because you like Nuclear….we are on the same side!!And we have a President who can pronounce the word ‘nuclear’ correctly! The people who need to wake up are the ones who ‘try to do their part for the environment’ by recycling the cans and bottles only after a big party. It would be embarrassing if a neighbor saw them throw away sooo many cans in the regular trash…because they want EVERYONE to know that they ‘are doing their part’. These are usually the same people who veto wind farms because it causes ‘vertigo’ when looking up and may cause a wreck if installed along a highway. No one cried VERTIGO when they were building the new bridge over Hoover Dam, check this out for vertigo(http://www.doobybrain.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/hoover-dam-bridge.jpg) I hate stupid people with stupid comments like that! I want to throw them over the bridge so they will see what vertigo really feels like. I bet if the same argument was going on in the Gulf right now, the wind farms would have an overwhelming victory. But we humans are stupid… A HUMAN is smart, but as a whole- humans are really stupid. KEEP BEING PISSED OFF, RICHARD! MORE PEOPLE NEED TO BE PISSED OFF…. BE CRUDE! I don’t hesitate to speak out loudly…EVER! Just try to remember who is on what side… Don’t scare away potential Save the Earth converts, teach them that being environmentally conscious is now cool. Take care Richard… I can’t believe I just spent all this time commenting on a 2month old blog, but needed to get it off my chest! Renee’

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