18 July 2008

Wind Farm

One of the criticisms levied at wind farms, where you put up a whole bunch of windmills (or wind turbines, in the new terminology) to generate electricity, is the potential for a lot of noise. So when I was driving across Kansas with my parents a few weeks ago and saw a wind farm on the horizon, I wanted to stop and take a listen. My parents, old lefties and environmentalists from way back, were game, so when the highway passed the nearest turbine, we pulled onto the shoulder and got out of the car.

We couldn't hear anything.

So we climbed the embankment to get closer. Eventually we reached the fence and, standing maybe 100 paces from the nearest turbine, we listened. Only when there were no cars or trucks passing on the highway 25 feet below could we actually hear anything; then, it sounded about as loud as a refrigerator.

I know there are other criticisms, too. For one thing, birds -- especially big ones -- get hung up in the blades of the turbines. But then again, burning coal or oil for electricity doesn't do the bird population, or any other populations, a whole lot of good either.

People say they're ugly, too. I guess it's a matter of taste; I thought the wind farm we saw in Kansas was rather beautiful, and the slow movement of the individual blades was soothing and a bit mesmerising (I was driving: I had to fight that part of it).

Interestingly enough, all across Kansas, single old-style windmills are still in use providing energy to get water out of wells and other localized applications.