Whither Wind?

A journey through the heated debate over wind farms


Yep, these suckers are really big! Blades 165 feet long mounted on towers hundreds of feet high take full advantage of upper level wind currents, allowing us to displace a portion of our fossil fuel consumption.


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It was a place I had often visited in memory but feared might no longer exist. Orange slabs of calcified sandstone teetered overhead, while before me, purple buttes and burnt mesas stretched over the desert floor. In the distance I could make out southeast Utah’s three snowcapped ranges — the Henrys, the Abajos, and 80 miles to the east, the La Sals, shimmering in the blue horizon.

No cars, no roads, no buildings. Two crows floating on the late-winter thermals. Otherwise, stillness.

Edward Abbey’s country. But my country, too. Almost 40 years after Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire, 35 since I first came to love this Colorado River plateau, I was back with my two sons, who were 11 and 8. We had spent four sun-filled days clambering across slickrock in Arches National Park and crawling through the slot canyons of the San Rafael Reef. Now, perched on a precipice above Goblin Valley, stoked on endorphins and elated by the beauty before me, I had what might seem a strange, irrelevant thought: I didn’t want windmills here.

Not that any windmills are planned for this Connecticut-sized expanse — the winds are too fickle. But wind energy is never far from my mind these days. As Earth’s climate begins to warp under the accumulating effluent from fossil fuels, the increasing viability of commercial-scale wind power is one of the few encouraging developments.

Encouraging to me, at least. As it turns out, there is much disagreement over where big windmills belong, and whether they belong at all.

Why Wind Farms?

Fighting fossil fuels, and machines powered by them, has been my life’s work. As an energy analyst, I can tell you that the science on global warming is terrifyingly clear: To have even a shot at fending off climate catastrophe, the world must reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent within the next few decades. If poor countries are to have any room to develop, the United States — the biggest emitter by far — needs to cut back by 75 percent.

Although automobiles, with their appetite for petroleum, may seem like the main culprit, the No. 1 climate change agent in the United States is actually electricity. The most recent inventory of U.S. greenhouse gases found that power generation was responsible for a whopping 38 percent of CO2 emissions. Yet the electricity sector may also be the least complicated to make carbon free. Approximately three-fourths of U.S. electricity is generated by burning coal, oil or natural gas. Accordingly, switching that same portion of U.S. electricity generation to nonpolluting sources such as wind turbines, while simultaneously ensuring that our ever-expanding arrays of lights, computers and appliances are increasingly energy efficient, would eliminate 38 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions and bring us halfway to the goal of cutting emissions by 75 percent.

To achieve that power switch entirely through wind power would require 400,000 windmills rated at 2.5 megawatts each, by my calculations. To be sure, this is a hypothetical figure, since it ignores such real-world issues as limits on power transmission and the intermittence of wind, but it’s a useful benchmark just the same.

What would WIND FARMS entail?

To begin, I want to be clear that the turbines I’m talking about are huge, with blades up to 165 feet long mounted on towers rising several hundred feet. Household wind machines such as the 100-foot-high Bergey 10-kilowatt BWC Excel with 11-foot blades, the mainstay of the residential and small business wind turbine market, may embody democratic self-reliance and other “small is beautiful” virtues, but we can’t look to them to make a real dent in the big energy picture.

What dictates the supersizing of windmills are two basic laws of wind physics: A wind turbine’s energy potential is proportional to the square of the length of the blades, and to the cube of the speed at which the blades spin. I’ll spare you the math, but the difference in blade lengths, the greater wind speeds higher off the ground, and the sophisticated controls available on industrial-scale turbines all add up to a market-clinching 500-fold advantage in electricity output for a giant General Electric or Vestas wind machine.

How much land do these industrial turbines require? The answer turns on what “require” means. An industry guideline is that to maintain adequate exposure to the wind, each big turbine needs space around it of about 60 acres. Since 640 acres make a square mile, those 400,000 turbines would need 37,500 square miles, or roughly all the land in Indiana or Maine.

On the other hand, the land actually occupied by the turbines — their “footprint” — would be far, far smaller. For example, each 3.6-megawatt Cape Wind turbine proposed for Nantucket Sound will rest on a platform roughly 22 feet in diameter, implying a surface area of 380 square feet — the size of a typical one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Scaling that up by 400,000 suggests that just six square miles of land — less than the area of a single big Wyoming strip mine — could house the bases for all of the windmills needed to banish coal, oil and gas from the U.S. electricity sector.

Of course, erecting and maintaining wind turbines also can necessitate clearing land: Ridgeline installations often require a fair amount of deforestation, and then there’s the associated clearing for access roads, maintenance facilities, and the like. But there are also now a great many turbines situated on farmland, where the fields around their bases are still actively farmed. Depending, then, on both the particular terrain and how the question is understood, the land area said to be needed for wind power can vary across almost four orders of magnitude.

WIND POWER: A Fractious Debate

Similar divergences of opinion are heard about every aspect of wind power. Big wind farms kill thousands of birds and bats ... or hardly any, in comparison to avian mortality from other tall structures such as skyscrapers. Industrial wind machines are soft as a whisper from a thousand feet away, and even up close their sound level would rate as “quiet” on standard noise charts ... or they can sound like “the shrieking sound of a wild animal,” according to one unhappy neighbor of an upstate New York wind farm.

Some of the bad press is warranted. The first giant wind farm, comprising 6,000 small, fast-spinning turbines placed directly in Northern California’s principal raptor flyway, Altamont Pass, in the early 1980s rightly inspired the epithet “Cuisinarts for birds.” The longer blades on newer turbines rotate more slowly and thus kill far fewer birds, but bat kills are being reported at wind farms in the Appalachian Mountains; as many as 2,000 bats were hacked to death at one 44-turbine installation in West Virginia. And as with any machine, some of the nearly 10,000 industrial-grade windmills now operating in the United States may groan or shriek when something goes wrong.

At the same time, however, there is an apocalyptic quality to much anti-wind advocacy that seems wildly disproportionate to the actual harm, particularly in the overall context of not just other sources of energy but modern industry in general. New York state opponents of wind farms call their Web site “Save Upstate New York.” In Massachusetts, a group called Green Berkshires argues that wind turbines “are enormously destructive to the environment,” but does not perform the obvious comparison to the destructiveness of fossil fuel-based power. Although the intensely controversial Cape Wind project “poses an imminent threat to navigation and raises many serious maritime safety issues,” according to the anti-wind Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the alliance was strangely silent when an oil barge bound for the region’s electric power plant spilled 98,000 gallons of its deadly, gluey cargo into Buzzards Bay in 2003.

Of course rhetoric is standard fare in advocacy, particularly the environmental variety with its salvationist mentality — environmentalists always like to feel they are “saving” this valley or that species. You can spend hours sifting through the anti-wind Web sites and find no mention at all of the climate crisis, let alone wind power’s potential to help avert it.

In fact, many wind power opponents deny that wind power displaces much, if any, fossil fuel burning. This notion is mistaken. It is true that since wind is variable, individual wind turbines can’t be counted on to produce on demand, so the power grid can’t necessarily retire fossil fuel generators at the same rate as it takes on windmills. The coal- and oil-fired generators will still need to be there, waiting for a windless day. But when the wind blows, those generators can spin down. That’s how the grid works; it allocates electrons.

What about the need to keep a few power stations burning fuel so they can instantaneously ramp up and counterbalance fluctuations in wind energy output? The grid requires this ballast, known as spinning reserve, in any event both because demand is always changing and because power plants of any type are subject to unforeseen breakdowns. The additional variability due to wind generation is slight — wind speeds don’t suddenly drop from strong to calm, at least not for every turbine in a wind farm and certainly not for every wind farm on the grid.

With very few exceptions, then, wind output can be counted on to displace fossil fuel burning one for one. No less than other nonpolluting technologies such as bicycles or photovoltaics, wind power is truly an anti-fossil fuel.

What Windmills Signify

I made my first wind farm visits in the fall of 2005, to the 20-windmill Fenner Windpower Project and the seven-windmill Madison Windpower Project, both located in Madison County, N.Y. It was windy, though not unusually so, according to the locals. All 27 turbines were spinning, presumably at their full 1.5-megawatt ratings. For every hour in full use, each windmill was keeping a couple of barrels of oil, or an entire half-ton of coal, in the ground. Of course wind turbines don’t generate full power all the time because the wind doesn’t blow at a constant speed. The Madison County turbines have an average annual output rate of 28 percent, meaning that over the course of a year, they generate between one-fourth and one-third of the electricity they would produce if they always ran at full capacity. But that still means an average 2,500 hours per year of full output for each turbine. Multiply those hours by the 27 turbines at Fenner and Madison, and a good 160,000 barrels of oil or 40,000 tons of coal were being kept underground by the two wind farms each year.

The windmills, spinning at 15 revolutions per minute — that’s one revolution every four seconds — were clean and elegant in a way that no oil derrick or coal dragline could ever be. The nonlinear arrangement of the Fenner turbines situated them comfortably among the traditional farmhouses, paths and roads, while at Madison, a grassy hillside site, the windmills were more prominent but still unaggressive. The windmills didn’t seem like a violation of the landscape. The turning vanes called to mind a natural force — the wind — in a way that a cell phone or microwave tower, for example, most certainly does not.

They were also relatively quiet. My sound readings, taken at distances ranging from 100 to 2,000 feet from the tower base, topped out at 64 decibels and went as low as 45 — the approximate noise range for a small-town residential cul-de-sac.

Thinking back on that November day, I’ve come to realize that a windmill, like any large structure, is a signifier. Cell phone towers signify the intrusion of quotidian life — the reminder to stop at the 7-Eleven, the unfinished business at the office. The windmills I saw in upstate New York signified, for me, not just displacement of destructive fossil fuels, but acceptance of the conditions of inhabiting the Earth.

What about the argument that the potential energy produced by wind turbines could be saved instead through energy-efficiency measures? Examples include swapping out incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents, replacing inefficient kitchen appliances and extinguishing “vampire” loads by plugging watt-sucking electronic devices into on-off power strips. If this notion sounds familiar, it’s because it has been raised in virtually every power plant dispute since the 1970s. But the ground has shifted, now that we have such overwhelming proof that we’re standing on the threshold of catastrophic climate change.

Those power plant debates of yore weren’t about fuels and certainly not about global warming, but about whether to top off the grid with new supply or energy saved through conservation. The energy arena of old was local and incremental. The new one is global and all-out. With Earth’s climate, and the world as we know and love it, now imperiled, topping off the regional grid pales in comparison to the task at hand. In the new, ineluctable struggle to rescue the climate from fossil fuels, efficiency and “renewables” (solar, biomass and wind) must all be pushed to the max.

A New Ethic for WIND POWER Siting

Part of the problem with wind power, I suspect, is that it’s hard to weigh the effects of any one wind farm against the greater problem of climate change. It’s much easier to comprehend the immediate impact of wind farm development than the less tangible losses from a warming Earth.

Intruding the unmistakable human hand on any landscape for wind power is, of course, a loss in local terms, and no small one. The inevitable access roads for erecting and serving the turbines can be damaging ecologically as well as symbolically. In contrast, you will feel few benefits of the wind farm in a tangible way. If the thousands of tons of coal a year that your wind farm will replace were being mined a mile from your house, it might be a little easier to take.

If Congress enacted an energy policy that harnessed the spectrum of cost-effective energy efficiency together with renewable energy, thereby ensuring that fossil fuel use shrank starting today, a windmill’s contribution to climate protection might actually register, providing psychic reparation for an altered viewshed. If carbon fuels were taxed for their damage to the climate, wind power’s profit margins would widen. And surrounding communities could extract bigger tax revenues from wind farms, which could go to a new high school, or land acquired for a nature preserve.

It’s very human to ask, “Why me? Why my ridgelinee, my seascape, my viewshed?” These questions have been difficult to answer; there has been no framework — local or national — to guide wind farm siting by ranking potential wind power locales for their ecological and community suitability. That’s a gap that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is trying to bridge, using its home state of Massachusetts as a model.

According to AMC research director Kenneth Kimball, who heads the project, Massachusetts has 96 linear miles of “Class 4” ridgelines, where wind speeds average 14 mph or more, the threshold for profitability with current technology. Assuming each mile can support seven to nine large turbines of roughly 2 megawatts each, the state’s uplands could theoretically host 1,500 megawatts of wind power. (Coastal areas such as Nantucket Sound weren’t included in the survey.)

Kimball’s team sorted all 96 miles into four classes of governance — Appalachian Trail corridor or similar lands where development is prohibited; other federal or state conservation lands; Massachusetts open space lands; and private holdings. Then they overlaid these with ratings denoting conflicts with recreational, scenic and ecological values. The resulting matrix suggests the following rankings of wind power suitability:

1. Unsuitable: Lands where development is prohibited (Appalachian Trail corridors, for example) or “high conflict” areas: 24 miles (25 percent)
2. Less than ideal: Federal or state conservation lands rated “medium conflict”: 21 miles (22 percent)
3. Conditionally favorable: Conservation or open space lands rated “low conflict,” or open space or private lands rated “medium conflict”: 27 miles (28 percent)
4. Most favorable: Unrestricted private land and “low conflict” areas: 24 miles (25 percent)

Category 4 lands are obvious places to look to for wind farm development. Category 3 lands could also be considered, says the AMC, if wind farms were found to improve regional air quality, were developed under a state plan rather than piecemeal, and were bonded to assure eventual decommissioning. If these conditions were met, then categories 3 and 4, comprising approximately 50 miles of Massachusetts ridgelines, could host 400 wind turbines capable of supplying nearly 4 percent of the state’s annual electricity — without grossly endangering wildlife or threatening scenic, recreational or ecological values.

Whether that 4 percent is a little or a lot depends on where you stand and, equally, on where we stand as a society. You could call the 400 turbines mere tokenism against our fuel-besotted way of life, and considering them in isolation, you’d be right. But you could also say this: Go ahead and halve the state’s power usage, as could be done even with present-day technology, and “nearly 4 percent” doubles to 7 percent to 8 percent. Add the Cape Wind project and other offshore wind farms that might follow, and wind power’s statewide share might reach 20 percent, the level in Denmark.

Moreover, the windier and emptier Great Plains states could reach 100 percent wind power or higher, even with a suitability framework like the AMC’s, thereby becoming net exporters of clean energy. But even at 20 percent, Massachusetts would be doing its part to displace a portion of the 75 percent of U.S. electricity generated by fossil fuels. If you spread the turbines needed to achieve that goal across all 50 states, you’d be looking to produce roughly 800 megawatt-hours of wind output per square mile — just about what Massachusetts would be generating in the above scenario.

So goes my notion, anyway. You could call it wind farms as signifiers, with their value transcending energy-share percentages to reach the realm of symbols and images. That is where we who love nature and obsess about the environment have lost the high ground, and where Homo americanus has been acting out his (and her) disastrous desires — opting for the “manly” SUV over the prim Prius, the macho powerboat over the meandering canoe, the stylish halogen lamp over the dorky compact fluorescent.

Throughout his illustrious career, wilderness champion David Brower called upon Americans to “determine that an untrammeled wildness shall remain here to testify that this generation had love for the next.” Now that all wild things and all places are threatened by global warming, that task is more complex.

Could a windmill’s ability to “derive maximum benefit out of the site-specific gift nature is providing — wind and open space,” in the words of aesthetician Yuriko Saito, help Americans bridge the divide between pristine landscapes and sustainable ones? Could windmills help Americans subscribe to the “higher order of beauty” that environmental educator David Orr defines as something that “causes no ugliness somewhere else or at some later time”? Could acceptance of wind farms be our generation’s way of avowing our love for the next?

I believe so. Or want to.

— Adapted from a longer article of the same name, which originally appeared in Orion Magazine — a publication that combines creative ideas and practical solutions to reconnect human culture with the natural world. For more information on Orion, call (888) 909-6568 or visit www.orionmagazine.org .

Charles Komanoff is director of Koma­noff Energy Associ­ates. He has written extensively about energy, economics and the environment, as well as pedestrian and bicyclist rights in New York City. His Web site is www.komanoff.net .

6/24/2010 2:42:02 PM

I dont know who is defining that windmills are quiet from 1000 feet. but they should get there hearing checked. these big industrial windmills are as loud as jet aircraft taking off, which is not a problem when they are miles out in farmland but if they place them near neighborhoods people get ringing in there ears and hearing loss after living there for a while. even at 1000 feet the sound can still be too loud to be exposed to all the time. and at certin times of the day the flicker from the blades passing threw the sunlight can make peoples houses have strobe like effects. I say build tons of them, but not where anyone lives.

1/16/2008 1:00:18 PM

In response to Virginia's comments on wind turbines in the Dec 07/Jan 08 issue, page 13: 1. I would rather see non-polluting windmills than traditional pollution belching generating plants. 2. If built on farm land, all but a small area surrounding the tower can still be farmed. This can provide additional income for the farmer. 3. With the new larger wind turbines, they spin much slower and birds can avoid the blades and are not "instantly butchered". Also with the use of tubular towers shown vice the older lattice towers, the birds are not attracted to rest on the towers.

1/12/2008 2:59:57 AM

Living in the metropolitan Twin Cities, I normally wouldn't see a wind generator farm but a few years ago on a trip to Colorado, I noticed one just west of 35W in Iowa. I was entranced by them. Fortunately, I wasn't driving. Graceful and elegant with the slowly turning blades, I watched them until we were out of sight of them. Slighty awed also because of their size. I really was fascinated by the sight of them. Obviously, I don't get out much. I do have concerns about where a large commercial farm is. While simple and elegant in design, they certainly don't lend much to a rural vista. I also worry about the disruption of flight patterns and injury or death to birds. That being said, at least wind power is clean so poisons are not spewed into the air affecting both mammal(us) and fowl. All in all, we need power. There are trade-offs, limitations, unacceptable options and creative new ideas. Windpower is one option. It may still be an option ten years from now generated in a totally different way with new technology. We must just keep working.

1/6/2008 10:41:03 PM

I would rather have wind generators in the scenery than the cooling tower of an atomic power plant. or the smoke stacks of oil powered generators. As for power lines how do you expect to get the end product, electricity, to the consumer? If you think underground, ever hear about earthquakes? We are currently in a transition from dependence on one product for all our energy needs to a future where we should not let any one or two resourses be the sourse of all our energy needs.

1/3/2008 4:08:43 PM

I just finished a trip through the panhandle of Texas (Amarillo, Lubbock) and there are many windmill farms out there. The farmers pass under neith them. What is the problem? I think there should be more and disconnect the coal fired plants.

12/31/2007 12:38:37 PM

Ugly? I would think that windmills looks a whole lot nicer than a big black smokestack or dark skys. In fact, windmills will cut down on polution thus saving the grand vistas and beautiful scenery

12/31/2007 9:40:15 AM

US Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Mortality Fact Sheet. See link http://www.fws.gov/birds/mortality-fact-sheet.pdf Cats kill and est. 39 million birds each year. Building collisions 97 million to 976 million each year. Radio towers kill and est. 4 to 5 million each year. Interestingly, during inclimit weather migratory bids will circle the towers lighting colliding into the guywires. At the time of the research, 2002, wind turbines killed and est 33,000 birds each year.

12/29/2007 8:53:18 PM

One huge 382 foot high wind mill nicked named 'the Zepher' was recently installed at a ski resort with sight of my home. I find my self looking daily to see if it is turning and it ususally is. I do not see it as ungly at all. I want one in my own back yard! i am tired of hight electric bills. I am weary of imported oil at $3.25 per gallon and rising. I find myself increasingly thinking green and would actually like a 'energy free' home, meaning no energy bills! And If I could find a reasonably energy alternative to gasoline, I would invest it! And it IS possible! Many homes here already are! And as oil keeps goping up, those who dare will coe up with alternatives. Think positive! I wish to be one of these doers and hate negative thinking except for the catalyst it is for POSITIVE thinking. If we all do our part, maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference. I like that idea! Let's go for it!

12/29/2007 2:57:09 PM

I don't like the looks of wind farms as much a the next person but we the next generation(s) are going to need all the energy they can get. Here's a video by Prof. Richard Smalley illistrating the HUGH challenge facing the first half of the 21st century to meet its energy needs: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4626573768558163231 Even with conservation in fist world nations, as third world nations develope their energy needs increase. Natural gas in North America has peaked, world oil production may be peaking now: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20060710/default_full_mac.htm But we have hundreds of years of coal to burn, right? No. 1991 we had 500 years (with the caveat) at the then current rate of use. The use of coal has been growing at an exponential rate of 2.86% per year. At that annualized rate the US supply of coal could be used up in 70 years such is the power of expnential growth. Will we stay at 3% annualize growth rate in the use of coal? Not if plug-in hybrids and electric cars go into the marketplace. That rate will go much higher. See the next two links explaining exponential growth: http://www.webpotential.com/ambiente/exponential_growth.htm http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5051121482067161853 Ethanol from corn? To replace 30% of the gasoline used in the US with ethanol would take as much water as flows over Niagra Falls each year, according to Toyota's advanced fuels manager: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPB6uHm2p_Q Will wind farms make up the difference in the growing demand for energy, espically as fossil fuels deplete? They won't even come close. If someone has a better solution, I and the late Prof. Smalley would like to know what that is. BTW I am an independent oil producer.

12/28/2007 6:21:16 PM

The warning cry regarding our environmental abuses and the over-use of natural resources went out long ago. Theodore Roosevelt saw it all coming. At the turn of the 20th century, the red flag was already up! How is it possible that we can justify the long commutes to work, the "weekending" at second homes, the glut of merchandise purchased and thrown into landfills and still say with conviction that wind turbines are an eye-sore! HELLLLOOOOOOO!! For right now, it's a good solution to an accelerated problem. If the nay sayers do not like this answer to our planetary problems, can they please offer another viable solution?

12/25/2007 10:57:40 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how well people like the above critics of wind turbines can convince themselves of ideas based in falsehoods and bad attitudes about something as pure and incontrovertible as the use of wind energy as a significant part of a solution to our energy addiction. I have one suggestion for them: Open your eyes, your mind, and get some therapy.

12/25/2007 6:16:22 AM

Ref: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. This writer obviously likes feeding the corporate pig (oil). I personally cannot see any reason for not using the land under the mills and lastly I guess that birds do not fly close to the house in Taylors, South Carolina. The whole situation looks VERY GREEN to me. Mother Earth keep up the good work. Robert P. McFarland Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

12/23/2007 1:30:41 PM

Just as stars are light in a dark place, so wind turbines are a glimmer of hope on a fading horizon. That's my 2-cents' worth!

12/23/2007 9:47:59 AM

When I hear people decrying the ugliness and destruction of wildlife and habitats that they claim will inevitably occur when wind power is used, I wonder where these people were when wildlife and habitats were destroyed building coal-burning plants, or draining and filling in wetlands to build shopping malls or cheap housing for as high a profit as possible for the developers. One of our neighbors has been using wind power on his farm for many years. He bought the windmill himself and assembled it and keeps it running year after year. He took a big hit financially just to install it and probably is much less "wealthy" as a result, but as he will tell you, wealth is not necessarily measured in dollars and cents: sometimes it is the peace of mind and satisfaction in knowing you have done the right thing to keep from adding to the destruction of environment using fossil fuels. Meanwhile, his little wind turbine hums along, making hardly any background noise, while his sheep graze around it and the birds and bats just avoid it when it is running. When I see it, I smile, knowing his family is sustained comfortably, but not extravagantly, by the power generated, and have learned to adjust to the times when the wind is calm. Two years ago my husband and I saw a wind turbine array in Nova Scotia on a blustery day. Yes, the turbines made some noise, but no greater than the wind itself buffeting the landscape, and once again, the birds-from large seabirds to much smaller land and shore bird- were navigating around the structure without any difficulty, and there was no pile of animal carnage around the turbines. Perhaps some people find the possibility of these large structures aesthetically displeasing, but to me the image of a coal or nuclear plant to generate electricity is deeply troubling on many levels, and the likely inevitability of an environment that is being heated to a temperature that is making most plant and animal life as

12/22/2007 2:48:03 PM

I think that wind turbines are amoung Man's most beautiful creations, even though I have never actually seen a wind farm. Recently it was reported that one is being planned for the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean not that far north of Palm Beach County, where I live. I was excited to hear the news, and look forward to the opportunity to some day see it. I will be taking my camera along with me to be sure. Yet asthetics aside I must admit that I have reservations about wind farms. And I find the comparison of wind turbines to power lines an interesting one, because how do you get the power from the wind farm to the user without power lines? In my own utopian vision of the perfect world, we have all learned to live on far less power, and have found ways to generate it on our own property. The ideal is to be disconnected from the grid, not to be connected to a greener grid.

12/19/2007 10:12:40 AM

I find wind turbines visually pleasing. It calls too mind kintetic art where movement is part of what you see. Yes I can appreciate that wind turbines lower our carbon foot print but that is not my deciding factor on the visiual impact. I also recoginize that we continue to lose more of the natural landscape to urban sprawl than will ever be effected by wind turbines.

12/18/2007 6:57:19 AM

Whether or not one agrees with the wind farms or not, I think most of us would agree, that the American life style has to change. We are the worlds' leading consumers. I think the debates are useful, as they serve to highlight one of our most important freedoms. That of speech and of course thought. Now, we also must add to this the freedom to choose, and whether or not we're going to be "responsible" consumers... or not. Instead of arguing with each other, we should work together, to find the least harmful, most beneficial solution to a world problem. Let us be the leaders of tomorrow, and let us lead by example.

12/16/2007 4:15:08 PM

I live in northeastern pa where we have two wind farms located high on the western edge of the pocono mountains. I find it ironic that this area which was home to the anthrcite coal fields is now home to wind farms. The coal was used to fuel the power plants in the northeast and the wind farms are doing the same with no pollution. At first there was opposition but after they were up and running no one complained. It does matter where they are located. I believe they should be part of a national plan to provide power for our future. The best benefit of the windmills is that my children can actually see what the future source of electricity will be.

12/11/2007 7:30:58 PM

Even though wind are not the only solution to the energy crisis, the ones who dont want them either ar e too pig headed or have screwed enough people out of their money that the coul care less about anything but themselves and its time to take the money from the crooked rich and re-distribute it

12/11/2007 5:09:44 PM

To Whom it may concern: During May of this year, my wife and I had the honor and privilege to attend the wedding of a former exchange student, in Hamburg, Germany. We saw many wind generators, both operating and non-operating. Yes, it would have been nice too see the landscape without them. However, it was much nicer to breath the air, be able to see things clearer, and our cloths stayed much cleaner, than mine did when I was there, in the U.S. Army during 1965-66. As for complaints about the noise of the generators. it is certainly less offensive to me than traffic noise, even when I was standing on the base of one near Herten. People must choose their poison: either a little noise, a slight obstruction to their view, or danger of radiation leaks, steam clouds being released, smoke stacks (taller that any wind generator I have seen) belching literally tons of black smoke, carbon-dioxide, sulfur-dioxide,and mercury vapors, and I do not know what other toxins. As for me and my wife, we will take the wind generators,if they are sufficiently cost effective. At least we will until photo- vol tic equipment becomes far more efficient.

roger dobronyi_1
12/8/2007 3:05:48 PM

I've been reading these comments and it is really interesting at how short- sighted people are. First they are talking as if they merely have a choice such as, should I wear the red hat or the blue? Folks, think- no oil! Because we are running out! The prices will climb until only the rich can afford it. Some folks think energy production has to be ALL solar or ALL wind or ALL wave action, and they badmouth any other system. How stupid can you get? All this exclusivity is only succeeeding in slowing down any movement in any direction as this dissention confuses the marketplace. We need energy- producing systems that do not use non-renewable resources and do not produce carbon dioxide as a by-product. We should plan on utilizing all systems that do not burn any fuel and cause CO2 production. We need to start getting used to life being a little different. I have heard some people's feeble excuse for not using the new fluorescent bulbs as they are funny looking! Give me a break! They are a light producing device that saves you 75% of the power you would spend on a regular bulb and they save approximately $30. over their lifetime for God's sake. Electric cars that are powered from wind-solar-wave electricity generation, that are only allowed to be manufactured in this country, will go a long way towards freeing us from foreign oil, reducing the CO2 emissions and putting America back to work! That's a win-win-win proposition! Stop the naysaying and let's get to work!

12/8/2007 12:32:15 AM

I think that a working windmill is simply a thing of beauty.I live in southern Alberta where there is quite a few wind farms including the largest one in Canada.The land under the windmills is used as it has been for several generations,cattle ranching.

12/7/2007 2:42:50 PM

I Live in TEXAS.Where we can sale a natural resource like WIND. Our economy was hurt in the late 80's due to the oil! Ihave recentaily just finished working on my company's 4th wind tourbine project.I dont understand @ the uneducated people in this world, that has an oppinion that dont know what there talking about! They need to visit a windmill sight and then talk there trash.They create alot of jobs,They are a natural resource,from there natural force, you can take one 1.5 tourbine,that puts out 2500 mw hrs. per year.if you have 27 of these tourbines it will save 160.000 barrels of oil or 40.000 tons of coal per year we could keep underground. Spinning at 15 revolutions every 4 seconds.And provide 24.000 Houses with electricity per year.Not to mention how distructive fossil fuels are to our enviroment.and what about our ozone layer? We come up with better ways to live longer some people need to accept changes because it changes around us every day.it's time to wake up for our children of the future! Please study the good verses the bad before you have an oppinion! From someone who has in Texas.Thank you for reading my comment.

12/7/2007 1:09:27 PM

Thanks to Jarred for asking the question “What is the carbon footprint of a wind turbine?” Talk about corporate “Greenwashing” The wind industry is guilty of perpetrating a huge scam on the public. The actual land usage footprint of each turbine or a wind factory consisting of hundreds of turbines is HUGE for the small amount of electricity it actually adds to, or should I say displaces from, the grid. They waste too much precious space. We need to conserve our open spaces. The wind industry is steam rolling over communities before people even have time to evaluate the full impact. I hope the public wakes up before we destroy the beauty of this country. (Visual pollution is not regarded as an important concern). Anti-wind proponents NEED to be hysterical. They are fighting a well-funded industry and a rush to a feel-good solution that will make very little impact on our energy problems or on climate change. A TOTAL WASTE. A SCAM

12/6/2007 10:30:44 PM

I have been working in the wind industry for 4 years, and I found it to be sad what some people were writing in and saying. If you don't know what your talking about you should go to the different Companies like Vestas, GE,or Siemans and on these companies web site they will provide the narrow minded with GOOD information. In my 4 years I've never saw a meltdown or a coal pile that burned out of control or strychnine wash into the streams and cause massive fish and wild life kills, But I have to admit that I have saw ONE bat dead from chasing a bug into the path of a blade ; no other fatalities. The gearboxes hold 95 gallons of oil and there is a catch tray that will prevent a oil spill. The new turbine produce 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts which is 1500 watts to 2500 watts. The 1.5's will produce enough power for about 350 to 400 homes depending on the time of year. They need 15 mph winds to start making power and after that the wind can die down to 6 mph and still put out full power. They pitch there blades to kept the RPM's it needs to stay at full power. The turbine turns into the wind when the wind changes direction. These are not the old dumb wind mills of the past. They have come along way. I say to those who don't want them in their back yards, TURN OFF ALL YOUR ELECTRICITY and see how long that lasts. We have to do something now!!! We can't wait another 30 years!!!!! By the way, which is how long some of the wind turbines have been running in Palm Springs, Ca., and believe it or not they produce power. Did you know that Denmark gets 85% of its power from wind. I read that in Popular Science. You wouldn't want a Coal plant or a Nuke plant right next to your house would you? So why be a hater of the wind turbines.We should all support them!!!!

12/5/2007 7:29:27 PM

NIMBY's = Not in My Back Yard. Neighbors to windfarms scream and yell because of jealouly, pure and simple. They usually are of the poorer economic end of the spectrum, hence living in an area with the resemblence of a wind tunnel. They see the farmers hosting the sites making money, they see the developers risking millions to put in a green renewable project to make money while protecting the earth, and when they find out they can't Extort money out of what they view as the "Big Corporations" wallah, jealously, annoyance and the creation of NIMBY's. I am sure every NIMBY would love to see the planet a green clean place, yet when it comes to a small sacrifice to protect the environment, i.e. installing pollution free windmills, poof their morals are gone. Instead, they delve into a game of Fear Mongering, Lies, Slanted truths, statistics taken out of context, and try their darndest to stop a project. Now if they were to get a check, and I have seen this first had, best supporters of the world, they want the project to go in so they can get $$. Funny how that works. It is a pure and simple fact that Wind Energy is supported at EVERY level of government, supported BY THE PUBLIC at levels in excess of 80%, yet the silent majority of SUPPORTERS are always drowned out by the very vocal MINORITY. To the NIMBY's of the world, I say, sit down and be quiet. Just as you exercise your right for free speech, exercise your right to move to a NON-Windy area. In CA aswell as other states, something close to 98% of the state is not developable for wind, I am sure you can find a home that won't have a view of what you consider an ugly (what I consider a beautiful masterpiece of engineering, technology and man-kinds quest to protect the earth) wind turbine. SUPPORT WIND!

12/4/2007 9:29:51 PM

As someone who has a 'wind farm' in my area, not only is it an eye-sore, but it has torn up the paved county road to my community. I live just south of the wind farm at Beaumont, Ks. I would like to know what the carbon footprint is of just one of those wind turbines (there are a hundred of them)? I know it took 5 (five) overweight/overlength tracker-trailers to bring in just ONE of the wind turbines and that doesn't count: cement trucks, heavy earth moving equipment, rebar by the semi-truck load, gravel trucks. Now they want to haul in a hundred more! And to top everything off, the power IS NOT for Kansas, it is for Springfield and Joplin, Missouri.

12/3/2007 11:31:53 AM

Renewable wind energy is not only self sustaining but it is a majestic site to see these windmills slowly turning on the mountaintop. I have bee around them in california (altamont pass) and the allegheny ridge in west central pennsylvania and I love them . There has been opposition to these in pennsylvania by many folks, including the Sierra Club which particularly bothers me. The main opposition seems to be the damage to forest areas where these are placed. I disagree heartedly because, at least here in the pennsylvania area we have way more damage to forests and nature lands by ATV riders than any other method. They not only destroy nature land but also seem to have the opinion that they can ride on and destroy private land also. They do so using the valuable oil products that we are fighting for in the Middle East. We should be working to rationing fuel for these ATV's to help reduce our oil dependency along with expanding out renewable windmaill options.

12/2/2007 10:52:19 AM

I live in northwest Oklahoma where the wind industry is moving in and amassing large blocks of pristine prairie for the wind farms. I have researched the wind industry very thoughly. Here is the low down. This industry is heavily subsidized by the tax payers and the companies recieve huge tax breaks, so this is all about profit. We are losing millions of acres of precious land in America to mega-mulit national corporations. This industry is not federally regulated and most states have no regulations. Here is Oklahoma this unregluated industry is going to destroy precious wildlife habitat. It is the death knell for the Lesser Prairie Chicken since all planned farms are in their small but vitally important habitat. The shame and the sham is there is pitifully small amounts of energy supplied by these turbines and massive amounts of distruction of our beautiful country. These corportation have done an outstanding job of pulling the wool over our eyes. They have paved the way with millions of dollars placed in the right places to make them look environmentally friendly. They have spent millions of dollars publicizeing themselves. We are looking a wholesale distruction of millions of acres purely for the profit of these mainly forieng corporatons Sue Selman

12/2/2007 8:05:03 AM

Don't do it! Go solar! I grew up with big powerlines in my back yard, yes they are ugly. Wind turbine are only slightly better looking. If we just put solar panels on our roofs we wouldn't need either one of them. The new technology can now be built into the building and roofing material making it almost invisible to the eye. I'd much prefer to see rolling hills without either power lines or wind turbines. Besides if you have a big wind farm how does it get to the distribution grid??? through the power lines! So how much sense does that make?

12/1/2007 11:13:19 AM

I live in Southern California. Believe me, I have thought long and hard about alternative energy. Solar energy is OK, but in the absence of putting panels on roofs, which isn't always possible or feasable, then what? About seventy miles north of here is a windmill farm. When it was put in, people were having fits over it. They said it would kill birds, it would disturb wildlife, and it would be an eyesore. Let me tell you something, for those of you who have never seen a wind farm. Every time I have to go north, I try to pass by that area, so I can see those rows and rows of windmills, generating electricity without polluting anyting. I see goats grazing underneath them sometimes, and once even a deer. I am particularaly amused by the sight of BIRD NESTS on the tops of the supports for the windmills. So, far from killing hundreds of birds, there are now many more nesting sites for birds, and the local fauna don't seem to be disturbed in the slightest. So that (snaps fingers) for people who think they know what they're talking about. Come out here to Los Angeles, and I'll show you a thing or three you won't expect!

11/30/2007 10:15:19 PM

I live in Ohio, look at all the smoke stacks spitting out who knows what into the air. Coal has got to go, I wonder if some of these people that hate windmills have ever seen a strip mine or seen the hiil top blown off to get at the coal. Wind and solar will save the planet and if we're lucky us too, if it's not to late. When I can afford it I will have my own wind turbine and if everybody could do the same, we could get rid of the smoke stacks one at a time...

11/28/2007 9:04:51 PM

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3893254167410595527 Here is another alternative of solar and wind power that you don't hear much of!! The ground under it is still usable just like the ground under standard wind turbines contrary to what some believe

11/28/2007 9:03:04 PM

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3893254167410595527 Here is another alternative of solar and wind power that you don't hear much of!! The ground under it is still usable just like the ground under standard wind turbines contrary to what some believe

11/27/2007 3:52:22 PM

I can equate watching a wind turbine on a hillside to watching a sailboat on the lake off my back porch. Our property adjoins the Maple Ridge Wind Project in upstate NY in the poorest county. I was raised in New York City a few blocks from the elevated trains. So I see the landscape with wind turbines as a thing of beauty and I can compare the noise to wind blowing through the pine trees.I also see the local farmers who were barely making ends meet pocketing $6000 per turbine situated on their property. The project has also resulted in tax payments to the local town, county and school. I have worked in a coal fired power plant and a Nuclear Power Plant. Wind energy provides the best view. The bottom line is I do not want to live with out electricity.

11/27/2007 12:23:45 PM

Thank you, thank you to all of the above writers who have pointed out the hype, misinformation and negative aspects of wind factories. The manic march to blanket the world with wind factories is frightening. I am baffled by the stance of some of the best known environmental groups when it comes to industrial wind development. Does it have anything to do with where some of their big donations are coming from?

11/27/2007 12:22:24 PM

Thank you, thank you to all of the above writers who have pointed out the hype, misinformation and negative aspects of wind factories. The manic march to blanket the world with wind factories is frightening. I am baffled by the stance of some of the best known environmental groups when it comes to industrial wind development. Does it have anything to do with where some of their big donations are coming from?

11/26/2007 8:03:48 AM

The bat mortality from industrial scale wind turbines located on eastern ridges is an environmental crises occurring behind closed doors. Once the industry recognized the severity of the bat kills, it closed its facilities to further research, thus preventing the discovery of possible solutions. At present no proven solutions exist. Bats are the primary predators of night flying insects. By keeping insect populations in control, they make it possible to farm without pesticides, protect forests, and increase our enjoyment nature. These small mammals produce only one to three pups per year and so are especially vulnerable to the high mortality. The continued existence of migrating bats is threatened by the proliferation of wind turbines. Merlin Tuttle, the head of Bat Conservation International, has said, "If the approximately 900 turbines currently proposed for wooded ridge tops within a 70-mile radius of our study sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are built, those turbines alone could kill more than 50,000 bats a year, Given bats' low reproductive rates, kills of such magnitude cold put entire species at risk." The life span of these turbines is 20 years so the mortality in this relatively small area could be a million bats. While descrecrating the beauty of our last large stretches of wildlands is immeasurably sad, killing off entire species goes to the very heart of why wind turbine development on eastern ridges is immoral.

11/26/2007 12:46:51 AM

Poor Mr. Carnes. He thinks that industrial wind turbines are beautiful and that, "no matter what we do there must be some sacrifices." He is entitled to his opinion on beauty but if people are going to make sacrifices in the name of cleaner energy, they should make them in support of a technology that actually works. Industrial wind turbines in the eastern US drain away our tax dollars, increase utility rates and have significant negative impacts on wildlife and the environment, all while producing negligible amounts of low-quality electric power and having little or no impact on climate change. Industrial wind is a sham and a delusion. Perhaps its most dangerous feature is that it lulls a gullible public into the false sense that, because we are erecting wind turbines, something useful is being done to combat climate change.

11/25/2007 7:35:34 PM

Reference: Virginia Robin of Taylors, South Carolina in her letter in the Dec 2007 MEN disliked commercial wind plants. She talked about butchering birdsDid she never have a pretty pin wheel as a child and discover the beauty of wind? The US Air force and commercial organizations have studied bird and how they move freely through helicopter rotar blades in motion and wind turbine blades with no damageor death. It is true that bats will go for a moving object and can be killed. MEN readers should put up more bat homes. No matter what we do there must be some sacrifices. To me the wind plants are a thing of beauty. I use to live at Mojave, California where the big wind plants cover the lanndscape. Cheers, Robert Carnes, Asheboro, NC

11/25/2007 5:18:38 PM

I think windmills are wonderful! Especially here in the eastern mountains of the U.S., where thousands are about to be built along the ridgetops. Yes, they are going to be great! Well, except for the fact that they will produce zero dispatchable capacity, will require the construction and running of more fossil-fuel plants to provide the necessary back-up when the winds blow either too slow or too fast (and wouldn't you know it, the times when the wind blows the least just happen to correspond to the times when we need electricity the most - darn!), require huge amounts of concrete, metals and composites (all manufactured through very environmentally unfriendly processes), require hundreds of miles of additional transmission lines and interconnects all over the countryside, cause the clearcutting of thousands of acres of ridgetop forests, building of roads, erosion and destruction of habitat and streams, consume billions of taxpayer subsidies and pit neighbor against neighbor in constant strife and lawsuits. Oh, and let's not forget how our once-beautiful, wild and peaceful mountains will soon be transformed into an industrial hell, with thousands of huge, thrashing windmills visible as far as the eye can see atop the highest ridges,stobe lights flashing, blade noise echoing through the hills and valleys and the destruction of millions of birds and bats, including many hawks, eagles and migratory songbirds. Oh, and let's not forget that they will provide great cover for big energy and its supporters to present a greenwashed facade by investing in them and blanketing the media with fraudulent ads. Yes, the perfect energy source! Thank you, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and your friends at the AWEA and NREL. You have done a great service to the Country!

11/25/2007 1:34:44 PM

Go to any area where the developers reported the locals being in favor of the industrial turbines. Go there three years after they are installed and all of the people who have benefited are long gone, along with any desire to maintain these huge industrial machines. Listen to the noise the generators make above what used to exist. Ask the local community again if they are in favor of the industrial generators. Act surprised if they are not. By the way, the supposed low level of noise at 45 dBA is UNFIT FOR HUMAN HABITATION according to the world health organization. At 64, OSH recommends hearing protection if constant occupation is required. Does this sound noisy to you? I have not even mentioned the lack of USABLE power since they generate just when the power is excess, the 200 mph tip speed that necessitates the developers in Searsburg turning them OFF during PR tours. Or the fact that they would be unfeasible if not for huge subsidies, or that the developers inevitably sells after installation, or that there is no recourse if they do not perform as advertised. Industrial turbine generators are not the answer.

11/25/2007 12:34:56 PM

Of course what wind energy has behind it is well heeled mega-corporations. These are the same corporations who argued for years that global warming did not exist. Sounds familiar? Like the tobacco companies running nicotine addiction programs? Big business has not been slow to turn a profit on wind energy devices, with $B's from Congress to support these otherwise uneconomic systems. So what could those $B's have been spent on instead? Reducing dependency on oil and coal? This is the huge tradegy that is unfolding in our life times. The failure to fund real research into sustainable alternative systems and then deployment of those said systems. If I were the power company executives I'd want to ensure that wind power was top funded alternative too - because its completely non-threatening to the current status-quo. Congress should immediately cancel all funding subsidy to wind projects and power generation - and then we'd truly see the real value exposed as corporations dump these assets enmass. New startups can then be funded who truly offer real sustainable power generation.

11/25/2007 10:02:46 AM

The above weblink provided by Rosa Goldman accesses a beautifully written and hard-hitting response to Komanoff's "spin" in support of the ENRONesque wind industry. Kudos to its author. Komanoff continues to ignore the evidence which refutes his repeated claim that the Madison wind turbines operate with an annual capacity factor of 28%. The Madison, NY wind energy facility is actually operating at under 20% capacity factor (the combined average for 2005 and 2006, according to the US DOE's Energy Information Administration 906/920 database - which posts on the web spreadsheets containing the monthly generation reported by the turbines' owner). Komanoff choses to ignore this fact - which indicates the Madison wind turbines are poorly sited. The national average capacity factor of recently installed wind plants is now about 30%, and a few "wind farms" are achieving a capacity factor of 40% or even higher (meaning they produce a lot more electricity in a year per MW of installed capacity than Madison's turbines). However, these facilities are located in the Mid-West - where the wind resources are far superior to those found in New England or elsewhere in the eastern US. None of the "wind farms" so far installed in the eastern US have operated with an average annual capacity factor of more than 32% - and nearly all are under 28%. Komanoff's providing obviously false information about the operational effectiveness of the wind turbines at the Madison "wind farm" doesn't reflect well upon his work as an Energy Consultant. It appears he doesn't let facts get in the way of a good argument.

11/25/2007 9:59:49 AM

I'm pretty sure we are going to have to make some inconceivably big adjustments in the way we live if humanity, to say nothing of the flora and fauna, are going to get through the constantly arriving future without extremely onerous costs. It's impossible to think we are going to find one solution to our need for energy. We will find and try many methods, and that is exactly what we should do. Of course, the fastest and least difficult way to have the energy we think we need is to conserve, conserve, conserve. Use less of everything. One of the things that makes it so obvious that we use and waste so much is the growth of the storage rental industry! We just have so much STUFF. Voluntary Simplicity is one system out there. A simpler life is so much easier. We happen to be low income--believe me, that makes it all so much easier! And for those who think the windmills are ugly, have you seen the other style, the spherical ones that I call dancers? They may be slightly less efficient, but they are so pretty, and they may be easier on my friends, the birds. We are happy to be part of the Mother Earth community. Cordial best regards to everyone.

11/25/2007 9:49:14 AM

The writer is ridiculous when he states that wind turbines can keep oil in the ground. or prevent emissions. Even more ludicrous is his assertion that the blades on modern turbines turn slowly. The tips reach speeds over 200 mph and are killing thousands of birds and bats. Articles like this are wishful thinking, not researched journalism. I won't be reading Mother Earth again.

3/7/2007 7:57:05 AM

Charles Komanoff is two with nature. See the response to the original article in Orion at http://kirbymtn.blogspot.com/2006/09/charles-komanoff-is-two-with-nature.html

3/6/2007 8:39:09 PM

After extensive evaluation of the various alternative energy technologies, including those not yet available commercially, such as wave (both electrical and hydroelectric) and geothermal "hot rock" and heat pump, I have arrived at the conclusion that wind power is far and away the worst method for producing electricity. I laugh when this author remarks that wind turbines use large blades because of these various wind force principles, when it should be obvious to everyone that the reason one needs a gigantic blade is bacause wind is such a meager source of energy and an enormous amount of it needs be gathered to amount to anything. Those amounts, interestingly enough, are totally misrepresented by the exaggerated nameplate capacities stamped on the turbines. Wind is simply too inefficient a method of making electricity, as compared to all of the other technologies, thus is intrinsically expensive by itself and because of its unreliability, which basically requires that it be duplicated by a reliable source. Because wind power cannot be counted in the portfolio required for peak demand, additional demand will always require building more power plants. During peak demand, wind is virtually nonexistent in most regions. That has enormous implications that are ignored and avoided by wind advocates, who persist in cranking out bogus cost estimates that must have been calculated by a master of voodoo economics. Wind advocates continuously lie about the technology, its capabilities and its total unreliability. Just one sqaure mile of seapump wave machines, for example, has the capability of producing as much output as 3,020 wind turbines, and producing that power on demand, which means a value for their output at least twice that of the wind generated electricity, and is much cheaper, probably less than half as expensive. Such wave machines are extremely simple, reliable and cheap, with no internal electrical parts. Unlike the 60 ton