Friday, August 31, 2007

Alternatives

Last weekend I drove over to Burlington, Vermont to run some errands. It was a great day for a drive - just a few clouds, mostly sunshine.

On this side of Ellenburg New York I was able to see one of the most stunning sights I have ever beheld. Tall, slender and graceful, soaring a couple of hundred feet into the air, a number of nearly completed wind turbines. Rather than engineering marvels they actually appeared as works of art leaping from the ridge line. As I entered Ellenburg village I soon spotted the sign for the office of the Marble River Wind Farm.

I have been reading and hearing accounts in the news, both locally as well as in North-Eastern Vermont of the uproar proposed wind farms can cause. Concerns of noise, spoiled views and such are the mainstay of the naysayers. I wonder how many of them have ever even seen one, from a distance or up close?

I did not find the turbines that obtrusive. Their neutral gray color caused them to blend into the background. It was only after looking closely that I even noticed units that were further away. They were not operating so I could not hear the noise impact they will make (though I plan to go over as soon as they start up to see, or should I say hear, for myself).

From the research I have done over the last week it does not sound like the noise will really be an issue. At the slow speeds that these units operate and with the efficient design of the turbine blades they will be magnitudes quieter than thier cousins of a decade or two ago. My guess is that neighboring land owners (only after they have turned off thier TVs, Internet, iPods and then also turned off their SUVs) will only notice the noise on only the quietest, stillest days. Even then, my guess is that what they can hear will soon blend in with the background noise they already contend with on a day to day basis.

I think that the main thread of the naysayers is that they are members of the NIMBY club. While they may talk the green talk in the open they do not want to have it be a real part of their local environment. Secretly I think that as long as the Coal, Oil, Gas and Nuclear plants are located somewhere where they cannot see them, thier industrial ugliness and their polution, that out of sight is out of mind.

I would like to see a wind farm in my back yard. I think that they represent one of the energy sources of the future that we will start needing to depend upon as the petroleum reserves start to fail and the rising cost (financial) of the fossil fuels makes them prohibitive to use.

We need to face it, the alternative fuel selections are thin. Most viable hydro sources have already been tapped. So, we cannot look into that direction to magically solve our future woes. That leaves us with nuclear, solar and wind power as our major widespread energy sources.

In this lattitude solar on the commercial level is really not feasible (though at the homeowner level I think that it has a future).

I think that Nuclear power will again become popular down the road, especially when the safety fear is assuaged by realization that modern reactor technology is much safer than that used in our country which is decades old.

Now wind is available in the majority of locations. Aside from the pollution generated as a by product of manufacture, once the turbine is in use there will be no emissions, no green house gasses. None of the negatives that we currently have with the fossil fuels. This really seems to be the direction we need to be going. And, due to the longevity expected from each turbine (a ~$2MM up front cost per unit) they should prove to be cost effective to operate which should relate to being a cost effective solution for the consumer.

Transportation

The only place where wind does not seem to offer a solution is in the transportation sector. Or maybe I am wrong.

The two most promising alternatives for fueling our cars are electric (battery) or hydrogen (either fuel cell or internal combustion) based. Batteries and hydrogen have one thing in common - they are only storage mediums for energy. Batteries still need to be charged. Hydrogen still needs to be generated (through electrolysis).

On second thought, wind can power our transportation sector.

Patience

I think that time is on wind's side. When gas prices hit double or triple current levels and our electric bills grow by the same magnitude due to increased generation costs and when the goods and services that we purchase cost more from the impact of these, then (and probably only then) will the naysayers (not looking back) state 'why didn't we implement wind sooner'.

Copyright (c) 2007, Gary Novosel

4 comments:

Mary said...

I just saw them today and was amazed at their height and "wing-span". We drove down a road to see them up close and thought they were pretty neat and , of course, when we got home I had to look up Marble River Wind Farm on the net. I'm still not sure how big the blades are...do you know??? I like the idea of a wind farm!
Mary in VT

Gary in Massena said...

Mary -

A little research revealed that they are not Marble River's towers. They actually are in Noble Power's (www.noblepower.com) Noble Clinton windpark.

I have no idea how long the blades are but they are indeed impressive, aren't they?

Mary said...

Gary...I looked up NoblePower.com and Horizonwind.com and both sites say they are building a wind park/farm in Ellenburg: Noble Ellenburg Windpark and Marble River Windfarm. Are there two of these facilities or am I a bit confused? Mary

Gary in Massena said...

There are actually multiple wind projects in the works right now in this neck of the woods. If you look at a topo map you will see why.

There is a significant East-West running ridge across this area that provides a great opportunity to capture the wind blowing down off of the Canadian shield.

There are also a large number of large scale transmission lines in the area just ready to be tapped into.