Whither Wind?

A journey through the heated debate over wind farms

| February/March 2007

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.

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.

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