The air went out of the sails of the “Wind Power Forum” for a bit because we hope to make it Web based and have some technical tinkering to do to prepare The Smoky Mountain News’ Web site.
To whet your appetite and perhaps inspire wind-power proponents to respond, I will give you a glimpse from the most complete response (answering all the reader-inspired questions) we have received to date.
The response is from Eric Rosenbloom, a science editor and writer living in Vermont. Rosenbloom has been studying large-scale wind energy for four years and since 2006 has been president of National Wind Watch. He also maintains his own Web site, featuring the essay “A Problem With Wind Power,” at www.aweo.org.
Here are a few of the 13 questions with Rosenbloom’s responses:
• What are the criteria used to distinguish between small, medium and large-scale windfarms?
No windfarm is small, because by definition it is made up of 350 to 500-foot high machines, whether three or 300 of them.
Individual turbines are classed by their use as well as by size: to supply a single home or farm (small), a cluster of homes (medium), or the grid (large).
• Is there an average or “ball park” figure when it comes to measuring how much land is required for a windfarm?
Most industry sources, including the AWEA [American Wind Energy Association] assume 60 acres per installed, or rated, megawatt.
• Is there a problem to be addressed regarding what many people describe as the intermittent (only works when the wind blows) nature of wind power?
Yes. That is the primary problem. (The second technical problem is the huge machinery and space required to extract meaningful amounts of the kinetic energy from wind.)
• Is this problem being addressed? How?
In Denmark, most of the wind production is exported to Sweden, where it pumps hydro. Even without pumped hydro capability, hydro generation can be easily switched on and off in response to fluctuating wind production. Newer natural gas plants (as well as diesel plants) can also switch on and off quickly, but at a cost of increased fuel consumption and extra wear and tear. Other thermal plants are more likely to simply be switched to spinning standby, continuing to burn fuel but not generating electricity, because it takes too long to heat them back up again.
Any storage system introduces another layer of inefficiency, further reducing the amount of electricity derived from the wind as well as adding to wind’s own environmental footprint.
• What impact will wind power have on greenhouse emissions? On other forms of pollution?
• Some local governments have been prompted to come up with ordinances regarding the siting of wind turbines. Are these types of ordinances needed? If so, what should their primary focus be?
They are needed to protect communities from heedless development driven by state and federal support. As in Wisconsin, local ordinances should primarily address health and safety issues to ensure adequate setbacks and noise limits. Furthermore, as is the purpose of zoning, they should protect the rural character and wild lands of a community, including expectations of quiet and unimpeded views.
The original 13 questions can be found at www.smokymountainnews.com/issues/04_08/04_30_08/out_naturalist.html
— The Naturalist’s Corner, By Don Hendershot
June 11, 2008