Wind Energy: Here to Stay

Wind farms: I’ve got mixed sentiments about them. They can and do extract relatively clean and easy energy that’s renewable on a daily basis–it’s basically solar energy converted by the atmosphere to kinetic. The energy isn’t simply “lost” by the atmosphere, since the sun will supply more of its own power to be translated to wind tomorrow.

Turbines, and clusters thereof, can be an absolute eyesore in some settings, rather photogenic in others, sometimes even in the same setting under different circumstances. Besides, what’s an eyesore or beautiful is completely subjective; without very intense community consensus one way or the other, this should not be a decision factor.

Bird kills by these turbines sadden me, especially with raptors. Is it acceptable “collateral damage”? That’s hard to say. It probably depends on whether the population can be increased through other means (e.g., habitat gains, rehab efforts) for a net gain. There are some fairly easy strategies that can help, especially for bats.

Yet let’s not be delusional that other “clean” energy is guilt-free on the animal-impact front. Solar arrays can disrupt and kill wildlife too. So can hydroelectricity in some instances. Those are two other common forms of natural, “clean” energy, each of whose hardware takes energy to design, manufacture and install. Let’s be real–there is no loss-free energy form with respect to wildlife. Pick your poison.

I’ve long been a strong supporter of nuclear energy in the U.S., especially now that the technology to keep them secure and safer is so much advanced over the 1960s/70s when most existing plants were built (and those have a remarkable track record in this country…Fukushima and Chernobyl being stupidly built and sited overseas). Still, its drawbacks (namely waste disposal and fuel security point-to-point) are duly acknowledged. Nuclear power must be a part of the U.S. energy portfolio, and if the desired outcome is lowered particulate and/or carbon emission, it has to be a much bigger player than presently. Even some formerly strident anti-nuke greens have backed off, changed their minds and decided nuclear is at least a lesser-of-evils option, if not outright good.

Fossil fuels are demonized continually, sometimes (but not always) justifiably. Let’s be real–for energy affordabilty’s sake, they MUST continue to be mined to serve as a bridge to more long-term energy sources of the future. Otherwise costs go even higher than now and the economy (including tens of millions of poor) suffer from said high prices.

Any regulatory measures that ratchet gasoline taxes, base prices, or (relatively) clean-coal costs up will affect the poorest folks disproportionately–a factor conveniently ignored by the most ardent zealots of at-any-cost “green” energy. As someone who actually has lived in the American version of poverty and therefore has first-hand understanding of it, I see that the latte-sipping, city-slicker eco-hipsters have no clue about living for many years in a state of financial duress severe enough that every nickel of higher fuel, transportation and goods costs, or larger electric bills, makes a big difference in whether or not rent is paid this month. Those who propose measures that yield big energy-cost increases aren’t the folks greatly affected! Hence, the costs to the poor get lip service and are merely treated as collateral damage to the napalm bomb of energy-price increases.

Conservation? That’s great! I like it! We all should rally around this ethic regardless of sociopolitical affiliation, but especially if we call ourselves conservative. To me, a central part of being conservative means to conserve…and that includes energy. If we use more here, we should offset with less there. It’s a simple concept. Somehow, too few fellow political conservatives are onboard with this.

As noble as it is morally, conservation will delay energy crises and mute their intensity, but not eliminate them. Demand outpaces conservation as long as technological (e.g. huge servers) and plugged-in population (India, China) are exploding. Even with a mass infusion and market-driven cost lowering of more “green” energy sources, some of the current ways rightfully will take time to draw down because of their own low cost and pre-existing infrastructure. It’s not as simple as, “out with the old, in with the new.”

In short, there is no fail-safe, completely harmless energy panacea–not unless you become an unsociable hermit, entirely off-grid and 100% self-reliant somewhere on the side of a mountain with a dependable water supply. A big, diverse ensemble of energy sources is the best mass-societal approach, and whether we like it or not, that will include wind and some substantial components of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. As with the others, we’ll have to figure out how to reduce their bad effects (e.g., killing wildlife with blades and spills, respectively) while enhancing their good ones.

Wind farms are here to stay. That’s reality. Most of the time I like them, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. As long as those turbines are out there, I’ll be finding ways to incorporate them into photogenic compositions. Sometimes they’ll even experience too much wind, whereupon I try to witness the ensuing spectacle, once again…


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