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Know the West

'Tyranny of the turbine'


I am a farmer in southwest Minnesota, and live very near an intersection of the Northern Border natural gas pipeline and a major electricity transmission line. Three hundred megawatts'-worth of wind turbines have already been installed here, and at least 300 MW more are in the permitting and development stage (HCN, 12/21/09 & 1/4/10).

I am now in deep conflict within my own noggin. I thought that I would welcome the turbines. I now hate them while at the same time I am fascinated by them.

My landscape has changed drastically. Open space, one of the remarkable qualities of this tall-grass prairie converted to corn production, is gone. We are now in a forest of blinking, whirling, whining, flashing towers.

I read of the love affair with wind every place from Whole Foods to the Union of Concerned Scientists (who unscientifically call wind turbines "noiseless") and I am embarrassed by the general naivete. This is how Mr. Ponzi made a living. There is a tyranny of the turbine sweeping the rural landscape.

I have not yet been able to find a believable, juried journal article that describes the externalities of wind electricity in a "lifecycle analysis" with anything like the rigor that I have seen for the biomass production technologies. What does a kilowatt hour from differing sources really cost when we draw a BIG circle around our activities?

The turbines only operate when the wind blows, and as I understand it, the nation's best wind quality leads to a product that is less than 40 percent of rated capacity. Add to that the distributed generation and the transmission costs and the 300 to 500 cubic yards of concrete under each turbine, (another 1 to 2 million pounds of material to be schlepped around the West) and the picture becomes much less rosy. The crane that installs the generator weighs about a million pounds and arrives on 20 or so semis and a fleet of smaller trucks.

This "green" energy is only slightly, if at all, less "brown," and I am disturbed by the ridiculous love affair with wind. Public and ecological policy is not keeping up with the wind boom.

James A. Thompson
Windom, Minnesota