Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blowing Wind

West of Salina, Kansas
Every time I make a little trek west on I-70 from Manhattan to Denver, I become more and more impressed by the rapid expansion of efforts to harvest wind energy, and simultaneously more and more amazed that anyone or any organization could be opposed to them.  There are two stretches of wind farms on the route, one west of Salina Kansas stretching 20 miles long and another near Burlington Colorado.  Along a highway of inner America where the landscape is charitably described as stark, where the population is scant, and where the per-acre profit for dry-land farm income and ranching is minimal, I can't imagine a better place to build an industry based on the value of what is above the land, rather than what is beneath it.

ProfessorRoush is part of a generation who were told as children that by now, in the second decade of the 21st century, the world would be completely out of oil.  I admit that I feel it is a testimony to science and human ingenuity that there are now believed to be more oil reserves (and ways to get at them) than were ever dreamed of in the 1970's.  On my most recent trip to Colorado, a radio program celebrated that the United States is again the world's largest producer of oil this year, surpassing even Saudia Arabia.  I'm surely not alone, however, when I say that record oil production is not a positive event for the Earth in the long term.  I say leave it all in the ground. 

Oil is nice. Natural gas and coal are nice. They're known, dependable entities, somewhat like the skanky relatives we'd like to pretend not to know.  But they're not renewable.  Whether it is this decade or this century, they will run out. Even a global warming skeptic, like myself, can admit that we'd be better off if we didn't use fossil fuels in any form.  And the answer is right in front of us, clean, free for the taking and equally profitable right now. Wind. Wind blowing across land whose best use as a Buffalo Commons was once proposed by some meddling Easterners. Wind driven by the energy of the sun across the vast grass prairies, almost free for the taking. I complain about the difficulties of gardening against the wind in Kansas constantly, but I applaud any effort to use that wind for the better. 

The future, stretching into the distance.....

I'm astonished, sometimes, at the opposition to wind energy, but then, I also recognize that "all politics are local", and that most of the groups in opposition just don't want the turbine towers in their back yards.    Heck, I'll take them in mine.   Riley County has several "experimental" turbines of varying heights that are already visible from our home. I think they're haunting and beautiful, clean and statuesque.  Concerns about effects of wind turbines on wildlife and people have either been proven unfounded or have been minimized by design changes.  Wind farms are a source of local jobs and an extra income source for ranchers who can still farm and graze cattle beneath them.   On a per-kilowatt basis, taking into account initial capital costs, maintenance, fuel, and operation, and excluding tax incentives, wind energy is already cheaper than "clean" coal, nuclear, and solar technologies (according to the US Department of Energy), equal to conventional coal and geothermal sources, and only slightly more expensive than hydroelectric power.  Other sources list it as being among the cheapest of all sources of electricity generation.  And it will only get cheaper as the technology develops, and better as we learn to store the generated energy for use when the wind doesn't blow. Take that, oil wells.

I'll fully admit that my aesthetic tastes are often questioned, but I think these clean, white towers are the picturesque equal of the Parthenon or the Taj Mahal.  And they're the best outcome that modern technology can give to the 7th Generation and to the Earth.  I dare you to convince me otherwise.

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