Lessons to learn from the land of windmills

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nebraska, which has the fourth best wind resources in the nation, is catching up, thanks to recent and possible future actions by the Legislature.

Last year, Nebraska lawmakers made it possible for wind producers to export electricity from wind farms in our state to other states.

This year, the Unicameral is considering a bill to provide sales tax incentives, beginning in 2015, to lower the sales tax on wind turbines and towers for projects that contribute stock to employee ownership arrangements or to a Nebraska Job and Rural Trust for long-term investment in our economy.

Wind isn't the final answer to our energy problems, of course, but it can be an important part of the mix.

Like any source of energy, however, there are tradeoffs.

That's what people in the Netherlands, of all places, are finding out.

Holland, where windmills have been used for centuries to pump water out of the lowlands is conflicted over the installation of gleaming new 650-foot monsters along shorelines that formerly were dominated by picturesque, wooden four-bladed versions.

They're noisy, opponents say, and will disrupt the tranquil panorama. Birds will be traumatized, fishing will be endangered and tourism will dwindle.

Last year, nearly 10,000 megawatts of wind power was installed across the European Union, making a total of 84,000 megawatts or 10 percent of the EU's power wind-generated.

Of some 200 wind energy projects studied in 2007-8 in Europe, 40 percent were ensnared in lawsuits and 30 percent more faced slowdowns because of local resistance from nonprofit environmental groups.

Wind is still more expensive than the coal that provides most of Nebraska's power, and wind turbines would have to occupy a large fraction of the state before they could begin to replace other sources of power generation.

As a pathway for migration, specifically whooping cranes, Nebraska's potential for inflicting injury and death on birds is a serious consideration, as is the prospect of changing prairie vistas.

Planners need to make sure, as we gear up for more wind power, to take aesthetic and environmental issues into account in advance.

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  • Most of the concerns noted by the writer in this piece are the result of considering wind power a large scale replacement for other means of generation in a scheme of centralized generation and distribution. Most could effectively be addressed by producing more energy by alternative means at the point of consumption. An appropriately sized wind generator as part of an integrated system of wind and solar is more than capable of producing the domestic needs of the average household.Emerging battery technologies can assume the power load at night and during sunless and still periods.Wind generation is, at this point,more expensive than other means of production because similar economies of scale have not been achieved, and might not as long as this form of generation is considered nothing more than a replacement for one more smoking coal-fired plant.The transition will require alterations in our personal consumption habits and lifestyles.

    -- Posted by davis_x_machina on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 8:53 AM
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