On April 25, The Hays Daily News ran a fairly extensive news story on the proposed development of the industrial wind power generation plant west and southwest of Hays. That article stated that about 80 local families have expressed their opposition so far, but it did not say much about why there is this opposition.
Let me try to explain very briefly some of the multiple sources of opposition. But please understand that this is an extremely brief explanation of each. More information is available at a public meeting being held tonight in the Fox Pavilion, starting at 7 p.m. and sponsored by the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition. (Full disclosure: I am a member of this group.)
I would say that the opposition can be divided into three groups, and these groups often overlap.
The first and largest group, I think, is the group of those who favor the development of wind power but who object to building these wind turbines so close to existing homes. Because there is so much available space in western Kansas and because there are risks or drawbacks to construction of wind turbines near where people live, to many of us it seems like the best thing to do is build wind turbine operations in less populated areas and compensate those who would live dangerously close so that they can move.
I will explain these risks and drawbacks in a just a minute.
A second group of people have concerns that go even deeper. There are some who point out that wind power is not actually as helpful to the environment, as “green,” as it may look on first glance. They point out, among other things, that even though wind turbines are better than coal-fired power plants because the turbines produce no carbon after they have been built, there is a lot of carbon produced in the construction of the wind turbines and towers. In fact, it takes the wind turbines about seven years of operation just to make up for the greenhouse gases produced in building them.
Since a turbine probably has a lifespan of about 30 years, that means that about one quarter of its life is must making up for the additional carbon produced in getting it built in the first place.
And, of course, there are other aspects of the environment that also suffer or may suffer from the wind turbines. The flow of groundwater may be affected; wildlife may be harmed.
A third group of people may or may not favor the industrial wind power development, but they are quite upset by the seemingly underhanded way in which this has come about. After the Hays Daily News reported more than a year ago that the project was apparently dead, other actions favorable to the development of the industrial wind generation project went forward without the knowledge of the general public.
So there are people concerned about what they think may be collusion and corruption.
But let’s go back to the first group and the reasons some have for holding that there are risks and drawbacks to the development of industrial wind.
For me personally, the biggest concern is the noise and its effect on health. Doctors whose patients live within a mile or so of the wind turbines report that the noises – including some “noise” so low that our ears do not actually pick it up though the vibrations strike us – produce a much higher incidence than normal of the following things: sleep problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, interference with learning and ringing in one’s ears.
Our nothing-special vacuum cleaner – an ordinary Eureka – makes a sound that comes in at about 25 or 26 decibels when one is 10 feet away from it. I sure would not want to sleep with this vacuum cleaner running in the far corner of our bedroom. Yet the sound measured more than a half-mile from the 20 wind turbines outside of Meyersdale, Pa., came in at about 50 decibels in the audible range and about 65 decibels when you add the low frequency noise. Since CPV is proposing putting turbines less than a half-mile from residences, we can expect the outside noise to be pretty uncomfortable. I can understand where the headaches will be coming from.
These health risks occur when the turbines are working the way they are designed to work.
Then there are also dangers that come from times when the turbines do not work the way they are supposed to, from accidents and natural occurrences, for example. At other installations, ice sometimes develops on the blades and gets thrown off. Though Ms. Krista Jo Gordon of CPV Wind Hays says that her turbines will have technology that senses ice build up on the turbine blades, it does so by noting an imbalance. Thus, when we get a freezing drizzle, the kind that coats twigs and branches equally with a coating of ice, the ice may very well build up equally on the blades. This would not be detected by the type of sensor Ms. Gordon described. So those of us who live near these installations could still possibly be struck by hunks of ice thrown by the blades.
Tonight I expect that people will probably have a dozen more things to bring up: aesthetics, property values (predicted to decline by 30 percent), interference with communications, the impact on roads and land during construction, taking down the towers at the end of their life, the unenforceability of the commitment of CPV to make a payment to the county in place of taxes, the possible illegality of that type of payment (it can look like a bribe).
So there are lots of reasons that 80 families are objecting to the development of the industrial wind power generation facility so close to our homes. One can favor the development of wind power generation but believe that this project is not a good one.
Paul Faber has been teaching philosophy at Fort Hays State University for 20 years.
2 May 2007
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