Energy conservation and Nebraska Sandhills are very close to my heart. I was born and raised in the Sandhills, having completed high school in Mullen. My grandfather, Theodore Folk, was a sodbuster in the Sandhills.
I have been employed by or involved in energy conservation for many years. I helped Boys Town to obtain and implement one of the first wind generators in Omaha. I worked for the state of Nebraska as an energy auditor in the 1970s and ’80s and was in charge of a 40-county area. I moved to California where I became an energy auditor in the 1990s.
I am strongly opposed to installing large wind generators in the Sandhills. They are an unsustainable and inefficient way to create energy. They require huge public subsidies and continuous maintenance, and are not quiet when running. I consider them to be noisy, obnoxious monoliths. Most dearly to my heart, they would damage the fragile and pristine heritage of the beautiful Sandhills.
The Institute for Energy Research has concluded that wind generators are not a good investment and have multiple hidden costs. IER found the cost of wind power to be as much as double the cost estimated because of those hidden costs. This leaves the taxpayers and rate payers picking up the tab of $10 billion a year to generate only 3.5 percent of our electricity. Some of the hidden costs are dormant winds, short life span of the wind turbines, mechanical maintenance and finance charges. The industry wants us to believe that the life span of the turbines are up to 30 years, while in practice, we find that they are good for only 15 to 20 years.
Sandhills environmental damage is of the gravest concern to me. The soil type is a loose, sandy, fragile prairie. The system of towers and turbines could not be installed without damage. I have seen with my own eyes how fragile the environment is and mourn for the Sandhills’ failure to survive.
By the commission’s own statement, the installation of the towers requires massive equipment. Multiple heavy vehicles are needed to install just one tower and turbine. Yet just one truck driving over the loose sandy soil will dislodge the thin top layer of grass. Once the grass is detached or damaged, natural repair is very slow. Weather conditions tend to enlarge such scars. It takes decades, not months, for the grass to gain foothold again.
Imagine that damage multiplied by several large trucks times several dozen towers. Once the towers are installed, high-voltage transmission lines are needed. We know that the entire infrastructure will require a continuous ingress and regress of heavy vehicles.
My own grandfather, Theodore, attempted farming the Sandhills at the turn of the previous century. He plowed a few acres in a low, flat area. Those furrows are still visible today.
My solution is to recommend a two-part compromise:
1. For wind turbines, let’s choose small-scale consumer-sized rooftop devices. Several varieties are not much bigger than a domestic chimney and are affordable to consumers. Each homeowner can decide what fits best in their own lifestyle and investment. I myself have had a PV system on my home since 2001 and am delighted with the function and payback.
2. Increase consumer awareness for conservation. So much was done in the area in the 1970s and ’80s that has all dropped by the wayside. It would be simple to begin the process with common-sense consumer awareness – steps like unplugging appliances when not in use, HVAC maintenance and home lighting changes.
Gary Folk is a native of Mullen, Nebraska. He is a longtime energy auditor who is now retired. He lives in Cloverdale, California.