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The price of wind power

Wind farms apparently aren’t quite as harmless and “green” as promoters like to say. It appears they may present a threat to eagles and hawks, especially along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington.

This should be no great surprise. There is nothing that man can do that does not exact some sort of price on the rest of nature. The trick is finding the lowest price.

Wind farms consist of tall windmills with three big blades each. Already they have exacted a price – by altering the view of the barren hillsides where they’ve been set up. That price is small because few people see them, and you could argue that those hills look better with the windmills than without, or at least more interesting.

But when it comes to birds, the price gets much steeper. It is feared that with hundreds or even thousands of these windmills close together, they could start exacting a heavy toll on large birds that live in those regions as their native habitat.

If this turns out to be a significant factor, wind power will have to be restricted to areas where these birds are rare.

The same applies to other new ways of getting energy, especially waves off the Oregon beach. Experiments are now taking place to test whether wave power can be a commercial success. Among the factors that have to be tested is whether wave power disturbs the ecology of the ocean shores or interferes with tourism – by altering the view – or commercial fishing.

As for wind power, Pacific Power and other utilities for some time have offered customers the option of paying a little more in return for the knowledge that they’re supporting alternative and clean energy.

If it turns out that the windmills kill large numbers of big raptors, those proud “Blue Sky” signs on people’s lawns might well disappear. It’s one thing to consume power when the side effects include some air pollution far away or damage to fish at Northwest dams. But to be contributing to the demise of eagles that are batted out of the sky by whirling blades, that would be something else.

Albany Democrat-Herald

30 October 2007