Sunday, April 27, 2008

Alternative Sources of Energy.......wind farms

Last week on Monday (21st April) my class took a trip to a wind farm in Utica, New York State. It was an eight hour drive to and fro', through scenic farm country situated in very small towns in the middle of nowhere, it seemed.

What is a wind farm? You have to see one to be able to visualize 195 wind turbines over a land area of 23,000 acres. Depending on if you are for or against wind farms, it is a pretty awesome sight.

Wind farms have been around since the 1930s as alternatives to non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels (e.g. oil, natural gas), but it really took off after the 1973 oil embargo by OPEC countries spearheaded by the Middle East. It is seen as a zero-polluting form of energy generation (this is particularly important in relation to global warming and green house gas pollution). And the United States is one of the few countries in the developed world, that has subsidized the development of wind energy technology. With oil prices soaring to unprecedented heights in the past year and recently, the Bush administration's energy policies focuses on developing renewable energy sources. The intent is to drastically reduce dependency on foreign oil.

Wind energy is currently a very low percentage of total US energy generation (for electricity in particular), the aim is to increase it to about 20 percent by 2010/2015. It is however not all smooth sailing as there is strong opposition from some quarters as to the environmental impacts (killing of migratory birds that fly into the turbines) as well as the impacts on local tourism. The NIMBY phenomenon (not-in-my-backyard) of people not wanting their 'view sheds' obstructed is another major issue. Opponents have also cited the high cost of installation as a negative.

The U.S. government is investing a lot of money in wind energy in spite of the opposition from these various communities and environmental groups. It is a really interesting debate and I cannot possibly do it any justice in this blog post. If you would like to know more about it visit www.awea.org (the American Wind Energy Association website) or just google wind energy.

Asides from the U.S. other world leaders in wind energy technology are Germany (is number one in wind energy development), U.S. is second then Spain, Denmark, India, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and China.

But back to our wind farm visit. The name of the farm is Maple Ridge Wind Farm and it is the second largest in the U.S. and the largest in New York State. It was commissioned in 2005 and took two years to complete. It leases land from a number of farmers and pays them between 45,000 to 50, 000 dollars per annum in rent. About 85 farmers are involved in this lease agreement. Some have only two wind turbines while others have as many as seven. It does not interfere with their farm operations in any way and provides electricity to about 750 residents in the area. Farmers can plant crops up to the base of the turbines. I could go on, however this post is already too long. I will revisit this topic again.

2 comments:

Thomas Blaser said...

It seems to me that windfarms and other alternative energy is very costly and also unsightly. It seems that atomic energy is best alternative? Though in SA, we all should have solar cells on our rooftops for heating water!

Susan Arthur said...

Thanks for a very interesting post. I'd love to read more about it.