The next problem is a tad more obvious: dependability. Wind doesn’t blow when it’s convenient for the power companies. No, it tends to gust and halt on its own accord. So, one day you may be able to power a small city, the next day you’ll be struggling to power an electric toothbrush. Furthermore, these windmills are being shunted right on to the electrical grid, so there is no actual storage of the energy they farm. There are no huge arrays of batteries that can capture and store the energy being produced, so if the wind is blowing but they don’t need the power, the windmill either tosses out what it generated, or it is just plain shut down. Plus you also run into problems if there is too MUCH wind blowing as well. In this instance, you’re likely to blow out sections of the power grid, and put people in the dark…an environmentalist’s dream. To the people who manage power generation, windmills are more like a frickin’ nightmare.
But, Ok, let’s say there are actually solutions to the aforementioned problems. This still doesn’t fix the fact that wind power is far less efficient than your average power plant – large wind farms generating something like a third of the power that your average coal plant can produce. There are reasons for this. First, there’s the inconsistency of the wind (noted above). Second, there are inefficiencies in the turbine generators, and the windmills are not “instant on” as some might think. They take time to spin-up, to spin-down, need a minimum amount of wind to produce energy, and have the potential to pop the circuit on the electrical grid if too much wind is blowing (also noted above). Third – and I think that this is probably the most important point – there is only so much energy you can squeeze out of one cubic foot of wind (if there is such a measurement), which is why you need a MASSIVE wind farm to power a small city. Don’t believe me?
Hydroelectric power has been around for some time. This involves damming up a river, creating a lake behind a concrete structure, and then driving turbines with the pressure of the water that’s been built up – a very old concept. For the most part, this is a fairly reliable system that produces a goodly amount of energy. It can generate relatively instantaneous power when the demand is required, and because of that it is far more manageable. You can pull a lot of power from water. Why? Because water is far denser than wind, and thus takes a lot of energy to move in the first place. Wind, however, takes very little energy to create. That’s why, with the amount of sunlight the earth takes in each year, it doesn’t look like the surface has been sandblasted clean…because there’s relatively little power driving the wind.
You can test this all on your own. First, flap your hand in the air to produce a small breeze. Then, try moving your hand in a tub of water to produce a small wave. Creating a small breeze is relatively easy when compared to making a small wave.
Yep, a real limitless source of power all right. But wait, there’s more.
Up here in the northern states we have this thing called “Winter”. In winter, theoretically, we get this stuff called “snow”. This “snow”, made up of tiny frozen particles of water, when it strikes an object moving at a high velocity, tends to melt and then re-solidify. When this happens, it produces this stuff called “ice”. Yes, “ice” is the same stuff that people in southern states put in their sweet tea to make it cold. Now us northerners have these things called “freezes” and “thaws”. Snow compacts and turns into ice on our cars when it gets cold out (that’s the “freeze” portion), and then when it gets warm (that’s the “thaw”) these ice sheets will slide off our cars when we drive them, often into the windshields of other cars where it sometimes harmlessly smashes into small bits.
This collision of car and ice often happens at low altitude, and at speeds below 80 miles per hour. Now imagine this same thing happening with a 200-foot propeller blade, moving at a speed of something like 150 miles per hour, flinging stuff as dense as a 2×4 into the air over 400 feet up.
Let’s also not forget to mention the amount of maintenance that’s required on the windmill blades to scrape off all the dead bugs, birds, and bats that had an unfortunate experience with trying to cross in the path of the blades. Even with slowing down the speed at which the blades move, they’re still going at a nice one-hundred mile per hour clip. It doesn’t seem so fast when you’re viewing from a distance, but up close those things move pretty quick. I recommend that you not play “tag” with them while they’re moving.
But I think there is a more important piece to this worrisome little puzzle that I’m pretty sure no one has looked into yet. Wind, over distance and time, is a very powerful and essential environmental force. Heat from the sun is the driver for wind. Surface currents on the ocean are driven by wind, and wind itself is what delivers rain across the country, albeit very high up in the atmosphere. Lower to the ground, wind is used to dissipate heat reflection from the surface of the earth. Solar rays shine down from the upper atmosphere, and are reflected upwards into the upper atmosphere where it is trapped by greenhouse gasses (and reflected downward again). However, wind pushes that reflection from the surface of the earth, diffusing it…spreading it around, so to speak.
What’ll be the effect on the environment when we start wholesale farming wind power? Does anyone have a clue what’ll happen? Does anyone think you can simply pull energy out of the environment (which is what wind farming does) without any consequences? Some might say that thus far, there are no environmental consequences to wind power. No one is running around about how wind farms are destroying the earth. However, the current number of windmills and wind farms in this nation is relatively low (along with being a relatively inconsequential source for energy). Multiply this by a factor of 10 (which is what Americans are good at: doing stuff on a grand scale), and who knows what kind of environmental impact that’ll have.
Right now, when we burn coal and oil, that energy is latent, and unused. A majority of the energy is expended in the cars we drive and the electricity we use. Using wind power, however, is literally sucking active energy from the environment. So, the potential exists that by trying to not “harm” the environment (which is a crock in the first place), we may end up damaging it more than we know.
Finally – and this is the kicker – environmental groups are now going out of their way to block the development of wind farms? Is it because of the Spotted Owls the blades of the windmill kill each year? Well, that’s one reason. Is it the amount of oil (lubricant for the generator) that those towers leak every year, and contaminate the ground water? Yep, that’s another.
The real reason?
Ever seen pictures of them putting in a wind farm? They clear-cut MASSIVE amounts of land, tear up the earth, and cause all sorts of environmental chaos with each mammoth windmill they erect; something akin to putting up a skyscraper with each tower. Not to mention how those monstrous structures – which look like something out of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds – destroy the “pristine” beauty of the America’s glorious landscape. The barren ground they leave behind is enough to make your average environmentalist crap out a full-size cow.
Not surprisingly, former oil man T. Boone Pickens is investing into a multi-billion dollar wind farm down in the plains of Texas. In addition having a come-to-Jesus moment with his social conscience, there is undoubtedly a profit motive behind his conversion. No doubt it has much to do with the huge amounts of government money and tax-breaks he can get for being “environmentally conscious” (a term that almost makes me want to puke given the people it’s typically attributed to). Undoubtedly, he was demonized by the nut-job environmentalists for being a “filthy”, “evil” oil man. Now they can continue their crusade against him for profiteering while raping the landscape all at the same time. Some call this a “win-win” situation.
I hope he wasn’t expecting that he was going to get people to like him because of his newfound environmentalism. I personally wish he’d go back to raping the planet by drilling for more oil.
Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws, New York Times, Nov. 23, 2007A Problem With Wind Power, Eric Rosenbloom, Sep. 2006
Wind Energy Pioneer Facing Federal Fraud Charges, WCCO, Sep. 2007
Greg Jaunich, a pioneer of Minnesota’s wind-energy industry, has been charged by federal authorities for allegedly defrauding Xcel Energy and the state of Minnesota by overstating the amount of power being produced by wind generators he operated.