An ill wind?

A commentary in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this week makes an interesting point on the infrastructure required for wind energy:

Wind power has, among other faults, two major drawbacks: Most wind power will be generated in the middle of the country although most of the power is needed in the more densely populated areas near the coasts. This requires long transmission lines. Engineers tell us that normal transmission lines of 138 kilovolts or 345 kV lose 10 to 15 percent of their wattage over 1,000 miles. Therefore, a completely new and very expensive system of 765 kV transmission lines that will not lose power over long distances will be needed.

There’s that. And then there’s this: Wind energy is a spectacular blight on America’s landscape. I noticed this most recently while flying into Denver a few weeks ago. Colorado has a lot of windmills.

So does Minnesota and, as the blog, Perfect Duluth Day found recently, so does Iowa.

A short distance over the state line, we saw windmills in the distance. They were far away but could be seen clearly. You could tell they were enormous. Scary big.

I kept saying things like, “They’re freaking me out!” and “Those are so scary!” Of course, I said, too, “Those make a lot more sense than digging up coal to burn it,” but mostly, I was freaked out.

Perhaps we headed down this road with our reliance on cellphones. There are few scenic vistas left that don’t include a tower. And, let’s face it, we city slickers don’t much care about what’s out on the prairie until we actually go there. But is there any way to utilize wind and still have an America that’s beautiful?

  • Dale Rogstad

    Wind generators are no more a blight on the landscape than pavement, fences, houses, trucks, railroads, cities, or their predecessors the grist windmills in Europe. Your argument is no less valid than those that said rail lines would ruin the look of the landscape. And if wind generators freak you out, you have a dark, scary life ahead of you.


  • BH

    I have to echo the comment before me. I find the sight of windmills equally as beautiful as the prospect of our country actually engaging in wind energy.

  • bsimon

    The power lines associated with current power plants – and the additional ones allegedly necessary for future wind power production – are far more of a blight on the landscape than the windmills themselves. I drove across Denmark 4 years ago, where they are literally everywhere, and they aren’t a blight on th landscape at all.

    Perhaps the difference is that, to my eyes, the Danish windmills had ‘always been there’ as I’d never seen the country without them.

  • I think that the key is small, highly efficient, wind turbines that you could attach directly to your house.

    Much like this. The website is in Swedish but you can get the basic idea.

  • Joel Calhoun

    What happens when we use up all the wind?

  • Colin

    I think windmills are interesting to look at. I like them.

    As has been said before, there are far worse things. This should be a non-issue.

  • L Decker

    Like some other commenters, I think windmills and windfarms are attractive. As a birder, though, I have heard the concern that there is a problem in some areas that windmills, because of their height and moving blades, affect migrating birds. Minnesota has great potential as a wind generator, but there are also several migratory flyways that run through the state. This suggests that environmental impact statements that consider the needs of wildlife should be done before windfarms are permitted to assess the impact of a windfarm on migrations.

  • Dave

    Why is the appearance of windmills any more of a concern than looking offshore at oil rigs?

  • Bob Collins

    Dave, I think that’s a good question. Is there a difference between looking at an oil rig and looking at a windmill? It’s not that I dislike the look of a windmill, and a find the wind farms, certainly, interesting. But part of me also misses the breathtaking view from one horizon to another, when I can imagine we’re back in the 1800s. Those days, clearly are gone.

  • Alison

    If we’re going to be on a crusade to prevent ugly scenery in rural MN we should start by eliminating all of the giant feed lots. Then we can move on to the dilapidated properties in sad need of paint and a couple of giant dumpsters to clear junk out of the yards. If we really want to return rural western MN the scenic beauty of the 1800s we would fill in the straight drainage ditches, restore the streams, and re-develop the wetlands and grass prairies that once existed. I for one think our mono-cultures, of over-fertilized corn and soybean fields to be quite ugly.

    As for the transmission problem, until the areas around the wind farms are powered completely by the wind, this is not a problem. Once we reach that point, it’s time to use American innovation and start thinking creatively. One solution (among many) which we should be investigating with greater urgency is using the energy where it is collected to generate hydrogen to use in fuel cells. Another area for research is energy storage. There are numerous ideas in need of research effort.

  • Art

    Having grown up in North Dakota, and spent probably too much time driving or riding the train on the High Plains, I like windmills. They add movement and verticality to an otherwise flat, motionless landscape.

    I’d agree with Allison, that the industrial monoculture that has replaced the great prairies is far more of an eyesore than any number of windmills.

  • I lived near the Buffalo Ridge in the late 90’s and always loved the sight of the windmills as I drove home.

    Seems to me unlikely that we will be putting windmills over every part of our prairie land. I’m sure there will be spots where you can view the landscape windmill free.

    Speaking of blights on the landscape, I happened be be living in Elbow Lake, MN, and was teaching in Herman, MN, a drive of about 20 miles. It was so flat there, that as I was leaving Elbow Lake, I could see some huge power lines off in the distance. They would gradually get closer, go under them, and I could still see them in my rear view mirror as I drove into Herman, 20 miles later. I never thought of it as a blight, but then, I only lived there a year or so.

  • Reader in Burnsville

    In what way are wind turbines less attractive than smog?

  • Bob

    I’ve never thought of the prairie as being particularly beautiful, especially when so much of “the prairie” consists of sectioned farmland. So I’m O.K. with windmills. I’d rather see wall-to-wall windmills than smell the wall-to-wall odors that emanate from the corporate cattle, turkey, chicken and pig operations that blight the land.

  • Bob Moffitt

    A non-issue. Some people are scared of clowns.

    Shall we ban them, too?