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Wind Turbines

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“A wind turbine is a machine for converting the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical energy”. (1) The inventor of the first electric wind turbine was Clevelander Charles Brush, who ran his entire Euclid Avenue mansion off of one for 20 years, which later made the cover of Scientific American in 1888. (2) Although the use of alternate energy didn't rise a great deal afterwards, this event did open the eyes for many environmentalists. Wind power is only one of our several “energy source[s] whose вЂ?fuel’ is free and will never be exhausted” (3) with the pros and cons not completely weighed out as to whether it will be truly beneficial or not. The two main issues regarding wind turbines are the environmental effects that they have and the cost effectiveness of building them.

One of the biggest negatives of wind turbines is that they have been reported as a source of death for many birds. “The largest causes of mortality among birds include loss of habitat due to human infringement, environmental despoliation, and collisions with man-made objects”. (4) This effect on the ecosystem appears to be important, but others disagree. We can know for certain that there are some effects that wind turbines are having on the environment, simply from the fact that it is a man-made structure placed within the environment. How much of an effect they are having on the environment, however, still seems to be in debate. The Danish Energy and Environment agency has done one of the more intensive studies on the effects of wind turbines and has spent the last eight years studying and observing two large offshore wind farms, Horns Rev and Nysted. Their “report details the impacts on the surrounding ecosystem including fish, birds, sea mammals, and seabed species” and reported that the “effects of the large wind farms were mild”. (5)

The report “Effects of Offshore Wind Farm Noise on Marine Mammals and Fish” was written this year targeting larger marine mammals such as whales and porpoises, but also smaller sea life such as regular fish. The constructions of the turbines alone are creating an effect on these mammals because of the frequency of noise that is emitted into the water. These frequencies disrupt mammal communication, location and location of other species around them.

One other environmental factor regarding wind turbines, especially the wind farms, is that “erecting and maintaining wind turbines can also necessitate clearing land: ridgeline installations often require a fair amount of deforestation, and then there's the associated clearing for access roads, maintenance facilities, and the like”. (7) Although we are trying to help the environment by creating a safer and cleaner source of energy, the actions of clearing our forests, and whatever ecosystem that lived in that forest, in order to save the environment appears to be an oxymoron. “But there are also now a great many turbines situated on farmland, where the fields around their bases are still actively farmed”. (8)

The long term effects of this issue could be devastating if precautions are not taken. Small rodents are known to find shelter at the base of the large wind turbines, luring different bird species to wind farms causing a higher death rate for the birds. The wind farms are also unfortunately located in the migration routes for many birds. These types of issues have to be analyzed further to make wind farms efficient and economically safe for all species.

The cost effectiveness of wind turbines individually owned may be of some concern, but wind farms have proven efficient and profitable. Andrew Falk, “addressed one of the biggest obstacles for wind energy in Minnesota. The issue is that most of the state’s wind resources are located away from electrical hubs of metropolitan areas and there is a lack of transmission lines facilitating the transfer”. (9) Similar with the reading we did on “High Hopes for Hydrogen”, where hydrogen was said to be more costly to store and transport than gasoline, making energy companies produce the fuel cells all over the country, with each generation plants serving a regional market. The integration process would be slow until there was more emphasis on its use in society. It will be true with wind turbines as well; more transmission lines will be needed to make them more appealing for the general public and businesses.

Another problem with building wind turbines is that you are placed on a waiting list in order to be able to build one and “waiting lists now fall somewhere in the vicinity of a year-and-a-half to two years”. (10) The wait may not be too long considering the benefits that they can provide, but then building one becomes an even more difficult issue because there is “the necessity of one of only six cranes in the country that are capable of hoisting the turbine’s pieces into place”. (11) The construction also takes months and even years, if you are planning a wind farm. After all this work, some people would question whether or not it was worth it. The British Wind Energy Association states that “it is cheaper to save electricity than to generate it, by whatever method”, (12) but since people don’t take actions to reduce their electricity use, another method has to be put into place. “On average, MN residents use 7 blocks of electricity/month. This premium of 1Ð'Ñž/kWh compares to the price of under 10Ð'Ñž/kWh for non-wind power. Each year, every block of wind power purchased will have the same environmental benefit of planting Ð'Ð... acre of trees or not driving a car 2400 miles”.



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