Monday, May 5, 2008

A Mighty Wind?

Relentlessly, ruthlessly (I wonder where Ruth is?) wind power advocates continue to tout the multitudinous fabulosities of the process of littering the skylines of this auld sod with vast fleets of massive wind turbines. Wind power we are repeatedly, and unctously, informed has diddly for a carbon footprint and deserves a rightful place of pride in the battleranks of our unstoppable advance toward the sunlit uplands of the green energy utopia.

Any fool can see that wind power is ever so free-deedly free--harmless zephyr harvesting that has fewer deleterious effects on the all-hallowed environment than anything, period. Any fool can see that if that fool looks no closer than the virginally white turbine blades spinning merrily away on the distant horizon.

If you live in the putative heartland then you may well have had the experience of seeing a trio of semis bustling along each laden with a single gigantic wind turbine blade. Think about that for just a second. It takes an entire semi-tractor trailer rig to haul just one of those Brobdignagian blades about. How much fuel is consumed in getting that blade from the factory to the installation site? Hundreds of gallons at least I'm sure. Multiply times three and we're likely looking at well over a thousand gallons to deliver the blades for a single turbine. And of course that doesn't include however many other loads needed for the 150ft. plus tall main support pylon and all the other equally outsized, heavy, and wildly expensive hardware necessary. Likely as many as ten or more trailers full will be needed--for a single turbine. Not only will this single turbine cost several million bucks to manufacture the installation will run several hundred grand, at least, with additional large sums needed to hook the turbine up to the grid. We might easily be looking at an investment of ten million dollars before a watt is ever generated.

"But wait!", I hear you cry, "after that it's all gravy with that lovely free wind flowing across the landscape now being put to good use." Well it is gravy--if you don't count hefty maintenance costs for the immense and complex mechanisms that make up the turbine which will likely be in the tens of thousands of dollars per year. As regards the impact on the landscape one can hardly ignore the required road building, the massive concrete base construction, the extensive high-tension line building, and the potential for producing a few hundred pounds of Partridge pate' per year. And let's not forget whatever visual and aural pollution the farmer or landowner next door will perforce be enduring. Those whirling white icons of greenie goodness look benign enough in the hazy shimmering distance but a mile away is another story with many reports of belly shuddering growling coming from multiple 300ft plus rotating masses. This is hardly suprising given how much energy is being dissipated--some of that will inevitably manifest as noise.

Total environmental impact must be considered in any electrical generating system and it does no one any favors to hide negative aspects. Even a single turbine installation will use many many tons, each, of aluminum, steel, fiberglass composites, heavy duty electronics, with additional numerous tons of concrete, steel, aluminum, and ceramics needed for transmission lines. Add to that total the thousands of gallons of motor fuel used in transportation/construction/maintenance and you end up with a project a very long way indeed from "low impact". And that sports fans is for a single turbine not a "farm" of a dozen or, saints presarve us, a hundred.

At present, after a decade of ever more frantic wind power developement, it is contributing approximately 1% of the nation's electrical power. To increase that percentage to something respectable, say 10%, will require millions of tons of aluminum, steel, composites, heavy power electronics et.al. along with fleets of trucks and construction equipment, armies of construction workers, thousands of miles of road and transmission line building, countless millions of gallons of diesel fuel, and lastly hundreds of billions of dollars. And all this to exploit a diffuse persnickety resource that can produce energy at about 20% of an installation's "rated" capacity, at best, for highly unpredictable amounts of time and of wildly varying grid convenience. How many millions of tons of the bugaboo of the age, carbon, will be released in the building and maintenance of all this "free" power? Remember the perennial stories of engines that will run on "free" water? Well my hunch is that if it ever happens the fuel will be free but the vehicles will cost 2 million clams each.

I see your lower lip quivering, "But but we need to DO something!" Oh grow up whydontcha. Stop being such a techno-pussy. Do some research. Stop automatically swallowing the straight progressive media line that any "alternative" energy source is ipso-facto better than anything currently being used. Or don't but don't then complain about your ever escalating bill that applies to your ever less reliable electricity service. You want a free lunch then head over to the Salvation Army chow line and stop whining about why "free" power---isn't. There is NO method of producing electrical power that does not incur major costs. And I'm not just speaking of money--trivial as that concern often seems to greenies. I'm talking about good old fashioned environmental impact on the land and its resources. In fact when you carefully, or heck even casually, break down all the assorted costs of the "alternatives" it rapidly becomes clear that not only do they have trouble competing economically but they also have a tough time doing so in any relevant metric of environmental impact--carbon feetprints included.

What this boils down to is that in the near and middle futures our manifold green hysterias will have us spending umpty gazillion dollars on alternative energy sources that have the sole advantage of making us feel better about ourselves and will have the net effect of removing a few teaspoons of carbon, maybe, from the atmosphere. Oh heck I'm sure it's worth spending a few lousy trillion so that we can continue our religious crusade to save "The Planet" from Mr. Gore's predicted cesspit of drowned cities, worldwide crop failures, hurricane ravaged coasts and lordy knows what all else horrifications. I suggest that those so concerned contribute an additional ten percent of their incomes to the treasury towards this effort. Heck forget the governmental middleman just cut Al a check straight out. Can't afford to have his trusty Gulfstream run out of JP4 now can we?

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