Wind, Wind, Blow Away

Wind has been powering mankind for thousands of years.  Gentle and clean, a warm breeze embraces and provides clean electricity.  But the wind is whipping into an icy storm of dissent when people and turbines are forced to live next to each other day-in and day-out.

Wind energy is an essential component of renewable energy policy.  Transitioning from a fossil fuel world energy system requires solutions from more than one green energy stable.  Hydro, solar, and wind are the trinity of sustainable energy.  A simplified view presents all three as producing no waste or other externality.  Nonetheless, wind receives a great deal of scrutiny when zoning regulations are discussed.

Solar, wind, and hydro are meeting increased resistance by local citizens when looking for installation sites.  The outcry against damming rivers and flooding land to create hydro-power systems is well established.  The outcry against the visual and aesthetic impact of wind turbines may be summed up as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Even those that find a wind turbine a thing of beauty would not suggest dotting the vistas of National Parks with them would they?  The rumblings against wind go deeper than what can be seen.

The rumblings are not against wind power but where the wind power, or more specifically, the turbines, are located and determining how close to people is too close.  The U.S. state of Illinois recently started a campaign to attract wind energy to the state.  The campaign was in response to Wisconsin state discussion to extend the setback for wind turbines from 1,250 feet (~380 meters) to 1,800 feet (~550 meters).  Maybe distance isn’t the only variable.

Distance alleviates the light flicker effect created by shadows cast from moving blades.  Distance reduces the volume of some sound.  During periods of high wind the sound a turbine emits has been compared to a jet airplane about to take off, but it never takes off.  Research is needed into the type of sound emitted from turbines as people report sensitivity at volumes below that of accepted levels for highways in urban areas.

Perhaps wind farm sanctuaries will be needed to protect the human population and buffer the wind turbines out of sight and earshot.  Adding the cost of massive land purchases to the price of renewable energy makes it more expensive than the incumbent.  Then again, the incumbent has virtually free reign to charge the air with carbon and flood the ocean with oil.  Isn’t that the real price to compare?

Photo Credit: Mat Walker