CORPUS CHRISTI – At first, the sight of a wind turbine whirling above Santa Fe Street is kind of startling. The turbine, its white tower with its huge propeller turning slowly, is visible to a motorist driving north on Santa Fe from about Doddridge Street. The turbine slowly disappears below the horizon as you proceed north toward Louisiana Boulevard, finally dropping out of sight between Louisiana and Ayers Street.
How long has the turbine been visible from the street? I don’t know. The turbine is almost indistinct on a cloudy day, but is quite clear when the sky is clear blue and the sun is bright. On those clear days the turbine is so distinct that I’d swear it’s located at Six Points, right next to Price’s Chef restaurant.
Most likely what I’ve been looking at is part of the Harbor Wind Farm, built last year in the Port of Corpus Christi and located on the south shore of Nueces Bay. But this apparition above Santa Fe isn’t the only place where wind turbines are slowly changing the horizon of South Texas.
What looks like hundreds of such towers dot the southern part of San Patricio County and fill the horizon as viewed south to north across Corpus Christi Bay. Hundreds more other “wind farms” are located across South Texas and hundreds of other turbines are planned.
As these towers grow out of the ground where before only mesquites and grain sorghum took root, I think the question of appropriateness will present itself more and more.
Is there such a thing as horizon clutter? Are there places where wind turbines should not be located because of aesthetic reasons?
Even if wind turbines are “clean energy,” have our notions changed of what we will tolerate in exchange for industry from the days when we gladly accepted whatever “smoke stack” industries brought? Will we find “visual pollution” as objectionable as air and water pollution?
Last year several South Texas school districts objected to a wind farm to be located just south of Corpus Christi. Though potentially the districts would reap a tax windfall from the turbines, what they really feared was a negative impact on Naval Air Station Kingsville, or rather the money generated by the base.
The Navy has raised questions in the past about the effect of the 400-foot tall turbines on their radar. But the Navy and the wind farm investors came to an agreement that will allow the farm, which will contain nearly 100 turbines, to proceed.
Every source of energy comes with some kind of risk. Corpus Christi and the Texas Gulf Coast have lived with the risks of oil production and refining all through the 20th century and now into the 21st.
But will there ever be another nuclear plant as long as we can’t solve the problem of what to do with spent fuel? The opponents of Las Brisas, the now-squelched proposed coke-burning electricity generator in the Inner Harbor, feared air pollutants. Many of those same opponents question the safety of “fracking” in the Eagle Ford Shale play.
The decision by the investors in Las Brisas to pull the plug more or less decided the question of risk for the generating plant; it was too much. So far, the question of risk on the Eagle Ford Shale has been on the positive side. The risk of wind energy, so far, has been minimal, but the Navy question in South Texas may be only the first murmur of dissent.
Wind energy is “cleaner” than burning coal to make electricity, or even burning natural gas, but, like all energy, it does have risks. Those risks are mostly invisible to us now simply because wind farms are still relatively scarce or are located distant from our own horizons. We can’t completely eliminate risk if we want our houses air-conditioned, or the lights to come on, and our vehicles to operate. We can’t get rid of risk, but we can manage it. We’ve done it with petroleum and we have to do it with wind energy, too.
We must because none of us wants to look out one day over Corpus Christi Bay and see it filled with a forest of wind turbines and wonder how they got there.
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