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Wind power making inroads, won’t replace energy sources

The idea of wind power as a big-time energy factor certainly may be more than just hot air. But as an alternative energy, its impact will likely be more candle in the wind than the wind beneath our wings.

Despite the desire and need for alternative energy, neither wind nor biofuels nor anything else is “going to do away with oil, coal and natural gas in my lifetime,” Purdue University Energy Extension Specialist Chad Martin said in addressing a growing global demand for all sources of energy.

Martin, who admits a “passion for renewable energy,” was the guest speaker for the recent Purdue Club of Putnam County dinner meeting at Autumn Glen.

Recent U.S. energy production, he said, amounted to only 8 percent renewable energy. And wind power represented just 9 percent of that renewable portion.

The “winds of change” are gradually altering the energy landscape, Martin said, noting that the Indiana State Legislature has established a clean energy goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2025 while looking toward 20 percent by 2030.

One of the ways of achieving that would be to double the output of existing wind farms, Martin noted.

Wind farm developments “are still happening,” he said, “but not at the pace they were in 2008 or 2009.”

Back in 2008, he said, Indiana was the fastest-growing wind-powered state, generating enough interest that Martin said he was giving four talks a week about wind power and alternative energy sources.

Areas along Interstate 65 between Lafayette and Chicago have seen the most notable landscape change with wind farms sprouting up and turbines turning.

However, recently passersby along I-65 have been reporting fewer and fewer turbines turning in the wind.

That could be, as Martin suggested, because some of the turbines are under maintenance or different purchase agreements are in effect on the power they generate.

Regardless, he said, “400 turbines pretty much change the dynamic and the landscape of Benton County.”

Yet Indiana remains divided both philosophically and geographically on the wind power issue.

Boone County, Martin said, has put a ban on wind turbines, while a little further east and slightly north, Tipton County is currently developing projects.

White County, Martin said, saw its assessed valuation doubled (and its tax rate affected) by the presence of wind farms there.

Indiana, he added, has more wind resources than seemed possible. However, any place “south of U.S. 40 is not going to find much wind development,” Martin said.

“But never say never,” he added, noting that Morgan County recently saw some interest arise in turbine development.

“It’s a young industry, tax credits and incentives are going to be very important in getting it off the ground,” he added.

While saying there is “no such thing as ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome,” he said, adding that it is more an annoyance from noise than a health issue. However, the energy expert stopped short of saying there is no health impact at all from the presence of the turbines.

“There has been a lot of negativity,” Martin said, alluding to Hoosiers who don’t want wind farms in their community.

Martin said the public at times has difficulty understanding the turbines and wind power. He pointed to an issue with the Channel 18, WLFI, Lafayette, television radar that seems to be impacted by the wind turbines, always showing what appears to be a weather front over the area.

“We get calls,” he said of his Purdue office, “asking, ‘Are the wind farms causing climate change?'”

It is just a false radar echo, he assured.

In conclusion, Martin said that in addition to promoting renewable energy, Indiana and the U.S. need to partner with energy-efficiency efforts.

“Green energy is a terrible thing to waste,” he said before leaving the Purdue Club audience with the caveat, “I hope I didn’t get too windy.”