Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.
PublishingThirsty BeachManifestoCreditsPast Issues

By John Karoly
Chicago, IL, USA

John Karoly

Some twenty years ago, I was driving to Palm Springs with my wife when we encountered a large wind energy installation. It extended for many, many miles along the road. My wife asked me, “How much electricity do these windmills generate?” I said that I did not know, but judging from the flimsy wires that transmitted the electricity from the windmills, it could not have been too much.

Over the years since then, we have all heard a lot about the “environmentally friendly, renewable energy” that wind power provides. After all, wind is cheap, in fact it is free, and it blows hard in many parts of the country, and it does not pollute. Unfortunately, this is not the full story.

The way I see it, wind power is a major polluter. No, it does not pollute our air or our water, but it does pollute our environment because of the very large number of towers that have been constructed, many of which are or will be abandoned in time as inefficient and too costly to maintain. The United States government subsidized the construction and installation of these many thousands of towers, but will the government subsidize the dismantling of them as they become obsolete, useless and abandoned? Not likely. They will become, with time, an unsightly, rusting mess lining our highways and lands.

From an historical perspective, windmills were and are very useful devices. Throughout history, many nations used them, most notably the Dutch to pump water. But the use of windmills was very local: water was pumped or a grinding mill was turned by the wind power on site. The windmill was not hundreds of miles away; it was right at the spot where it was needed.

Using wind turbines for the generation of electricity requires heavy winds and transmission lines to take the electricity from the point of generation to where people actually live. Few souls inhabit areas where the wind blows hard enough to allow installation of efficient turbines. In fact, some of the most successful installations with the most consistent winds are in the North Sea around Denmark and England. But the cost to build and maintain these installations is very high because of their locations.

A modern wind turbine is huge, many times the size of the old towers installed along the highway and around the deserts of Palm Springs and other parts of the country. They are subject to many problems - exposure to the elements, such as lightning and ice storms, vandalism, destruction of birds, maintenance nightmares and more. Their availability to generate electricity is very low, less than 30% of the time and this availability depends largely on wind velocity, in addition to the other factors mentioned. Since the wind changes throughout the day and the month of the year, a utility cannot rely on wind turbines alone and must provide back-up capacity from fossil fuel plants. A utility cannot tell its clients: “Sorry, no electricity until the wind blows.” So a good wind farm depends 70% of the time on a fossil fuel plant. A bad wind farm, built with obsolete technology, presumably needs the fossil fuel plant even more often. Not a fantastic renewable source of energy! Not to mention that construction of these turbines requires neodymium, a rare earth metal that has to be imported from China and the Chinese are not too keen to sell it to us, thus they quadrupled the price this year.

Furthermore, while wind energy is one of the more successful renewable energy sources, it represents only 2.3% of the total energy generation of the US, and this figure does not even consider the energy required to build, install and maintain the wind farm and provide the transmission facility. On the other hand, energy conservation, a truly free form of energy, could achieve 30% of our energy consumption as savings. Conservation dwarfs anything wind energy can offer and does so without killing thousands of birds, polluting the countryside or requiring construction of back-up power plants.

Over the years, we have littered our lands with thousands of inefficient wind towers built because a government subsidy was available rather than because building them made economic sense. Some of these towers will probably never recover the amount of energy invested into their construction, installation and maintenance. These should not have been built! Government should subsidize research and development, not commercial installations. It is precisely that kind of subsidy that destroys the economics of an enterprise, and once the subsidy is withdrawn, it destroys the enterprise that created it and will, in this case, leave uneconomic plants/installations in its wake.

When I hear the “news” from various entities that they have “lowered their carbon footprint” by installing or investing in a wind farm, I feel hot air blowing my way.

All opinions expressed by John Karoly are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006 - 2012
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Contact | Site Map

Thirsty Home


Stay Thirsty Store