A heresy in North Dakota nowadays: Confessing that wind farms actually may present problems.
Oh, but a wind turbine is such a clean, simple, natural-resource-friendly way to produce electricity. And North Dakota has the greatest wind energy potential in the country by any calculation.
One estimate is that our state eventually could generate 1,210 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Each kWh amounts to the work done by one kilowatt of electricity in one hour. Or, if you prefer, the potential production would be 300,000 megawatts.
We could be No. 1. Compare that with wide, windy Wyoming – its rank is a meager No. 7.
But there’s proposed legislation, written by a West Virginia congressman who also chairs the House Natural Resources Committee – Nick Rahall, by name – that would prohibit any new wind farm until the federal Fish and Wildlife Service develops rules to determine whether the turbine design and layout of any planned wind farm are kind to such creatures as birds and bats.
The law, if passed, would also require existing machines to measure up by six months after the rules are published – or stop turning.
The crusade developed when it could no longer be ignored that at one of the first giant wind farms, in California, the ground was dotted with the mangled carcasses of birds, especially migrating hawks.
It’s an issue that pits Green person against fellow Green, bird lovers versus lovers of clean power generation. The American Wind Energy Association counters with research that in 2003 “less than .003 percent (three out of every 100,000 bird deaths caused by humans were) done by wind turbines.”
Maybe, as the association hints darkly, it’s more about having a high regard for coal production that motivates the West Virginia congressman.
Scrutiny of wind farms is not only a matter of bird deaths.
A study done in the United Kingdom recommended that a buffer zone of two kilometers be mandated around wind farms, that they not be closer than our equivalent of a mile and a quarter from where people live because of noise waves that have been demonstrated to rob people of sleep.
There also is the issue of whether a wind farm can disrupt the natural flow of air to a downwind property. It’s hard to feature wind as a property right. But it argues for not siting projects too closely to one another. There’s money involved.
And while the sight of huge white blades whirling against a prairie sky backdrop can be mesmerizing for awhile, not everyone may enthuse over the disruption of their viewscape day after day after year after year.
Consider also: If a utility decides it no longer wants to operate a wind farm, should it be permissible for it to walk away and leave towers behind?
Whether to welcome industrial installations – for that’s what wind farms are – should be judged carefully. That’s why the 2007 Legislature directed its interim council to produce a coherent, comprehensive study of the siting and decommissioning of commercial wind farms.
If North Dakota is to become the country’s wind electricity leader, wisdom, and not anything less, must rule.
7 June 2007