In 2005, the United States installed more new wind energy capacity than any other country in the world.
That brought the total national wind energy capacity to 9,149 MW, or enough electricity to power 2.3 million average households, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Wind energy has gained a foothold in the U.S. and its advocates espouse its benefits: it doesn’t pollute the land or water, it doesn’t create any waste products and it doesn’t produce any greenhouse gases.
“The benefits are almost too numerous to count,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin. “It doesn’t deplete, it’s clean, and almost all of the cost of generating electric wind power is tied up in the capital equipment, which means we have a pretty good idea of production costs over the life span of the project because the fuel is free.
“It’s also ideally suited for agricultural settings because it leaves a very small footprint, and farmers can receive supplemental revenue” through the lease agreements, Vickerman added.
But opponents aren’t convinced that the problems wind energy solves are worse than those they cause, and opposition has dogged wind farms in many places where they’ve been built.
The opponents claim that the turbines damage quality of life for nearby residents with the noise the machines generate and the “shadow flicker” caused by the long, sweeping shadows of the turning rotor blades.
They also pose safety hazards, and are unsightly blights upon the largely rural landscapes where they’re constructed.
“The rotor blades cut through a vertical air space of one to two acres with a tip speed of 150 to 200 mph,” said Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch. “Birds and bats, and possibly beneficial insects such as butterflies, are killed in substantial numbers. This toll is not mitigated by a greater benefit – our observation is that no significant or even measurable reduction of carbon emissions is caused by wind turbines on the grid.”
Wind turbine advocates refute the opposition’s claims, often using studies to back their positions. Yet opponents lob studies supporting their positions right back.
The confusion has led some to proceed cautiously on developing a position on wind turbines, like the 1,600-member Door Property Owners.
“Even though we’ve had it on our agenda for a number of meetings we still have not been able to come up with any position,” on wind turbines, said Rich Dirks, DPO president.
Their discussions have covered the whole spectrum of pros and cons, Dirks said, with aesthetics and reduced property values being the biggest concerns.
“It’s on the burner so we’re going to have to sit down and come up with a position,” Dirks said. “We owe that to our members and the public.”
By Deb Fitzgerald
2 June 2007
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