Wind energy projects: Stalled but still viable

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115091610630776.jpg’, ‘Sketch by Jim Starry’, ‘Jum Starry's wind generator integrated into existing electrical lines.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115091613229607.jpg’, ‘Sketch by Jim Starry’, ‘A sketch of JimStarry's wind generator.’);

Some find wind farms, wind towers too intrusive on scenic views, land values

Wind integral part of Aug. 12-13 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair

Wind energy projects in the Midwest have been flying the past few years, thanks to federal incentives that make it possible to recapture the costs of a wind farm within six years and profit well into the future.

Technological progress improved the performance and efficiency of wind generators. High prices for oil and natural gas, along with tax payments to stressed county governments and revenues for landowners, added to the appeal of wind farms.

As a clean energy source, wind seems an ideal technology to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported energy.

Illinois has two operating wind farms: one in Lee County and another in Bureau County. A third one is under construction in Lee County. However, the Boone County Heritage Wind Farm was just delayed by another vote at the County Board level. The Ogle County wind farm has been delayed, due to a lawsuit.

Despite the virtues of being a carbon-free source of energy, which strengthens our quest for energy independence, resistance to wind farms is growing. Most projects are opposed in terms of their potential adverse impacts on scenic views, land values, tourism, migratory birds, bats and annoyances such as flickering, interference with TV reception and noise.

The fundamental issue is conflicting land and water resource use. While people want clean energy sources and a halt to global warming, they also want the areas in which they live and play to be relatively free of human intrusions. Since wind farms impact large tracts of land, and towers can stand nearly 500 feet, including 300-foot blades, their presence dominates a landscape.

Resistance to wind farms in the land-scarce U.K. is so strong that nearly 70 percent of its projects have been rejected. In Denmark and Germany, however, wind installations have flourished. Roughly 20 percent of their electricity comes from renewable energy sources.

In the United States, wind generator capacity reached 9,000 MW by 2006, and was expected to grow by 40 percent this year with another 3,400 MW slated for installation. However, a long list of challenges is likely to delay some installations. In Nebraska, the impact on prairie chickens is an issue. In Wisconsin, the impact on sandhill cranes and bats is a concern. In the Texas Gulf, the concern is impacts on migratory birds. Possible hazards to shipping and ferry lanes have also been points of contention. Wind farm developers are eager to install turbines in the Great Lakes; critics have already voiced their complaints.

The latest front-page challenge to wind farms is their potential interference with radar for both military and civilian air travel. An amendment to federal legislation inserted by U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) requires the Department of Defense to study and report on the effects of wind projects on military readiness. Projects in North and South Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin received letters from the Federal Aviation Administration informing them projects must be halted while the Defense Department study is conducted. So far, the projects are only being delayed until risks to military operations are assessed and resolved.

In Illinois, a project in LaSalle County and another covering parts of Bureau and Lee County are stalled. A letter objecting to the delays has been signed by six Midwest senators, including Illinois senators Dick Durbin (D) and Barack Obama (D), and sent to the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Wind energy has always been an integral part of the renewable energy movement. Wind advocates in South Dakota fear their immense resource will remain underutilized because it is costly to ship the power to growing urban centers of demand. With contentious siting battles underway in more populated areas, this distant resource may become viewed more favorably than it now is.

Wind energy will be an integral part of this year’s Fifth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 12-13, at Ogle County Fairgrounds. The wind farm project under development in Lee County will be presented by Bruce and Joyce Papiech.

Another approach to capturing wind energy involves small home or farm installations, which should involve less controversy. Dave Merrill will cover the basics of homeowner-installed systems.

A third approach to capturing wind energy involves placing smaller wind generators on existing structures in urban and rural settings, avoiding additional intrusions on the landscape. Bil Becker will report about his progress in placing wind generators on building roofs in Chicago.

Jim Starry will discuss his concept of placing smaller wind generators on existing power poles wherever they occur. This approach can compensate for energy losses inherent in shipping electricity long distances. Similar generators are already used in some western locations. Starry said he feels his design is unique and would be another effective way to make use of clean wind energy.

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and ComEd, An Exelon Company.

From the June 21-27, 2006, issue

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