Monday, January 16, 2006

Wind energy, anyone?

I just overheard someone making a big deal about how the evil oil companies are not investing enough in wind turbines. I'd say we have the opposite problem. Why does everyone talk of investing more in wind energy? Have we lost our minds?
And wind farms are far from environmentally benign. If you think a conventional power plant occupying 20 acres is an eyesore, think about this: In a January 2000 article in Foreign Affairs, Richard Rhodes and Denis Beller estimate that a 1,000-megawatt wind farm (equivalent to a medium-sized conventional power plant) would occupy 2,000 square miles. That means replacing the 604,000 megawatts of total generating capacity in the United States with windmills would occupy 1.2 million square miles, a third of the country's total land area. And even that wouldn't really work, since windmills typically produce only a third of their rated capacity because the wind doesn't always blow.
Not only do wind farms take up a lot of space; they're also noisy and hazardous to wildlife. While Mother Jones acknowledges this latter concern in passing, Sierra Club representatives have called windmills "cuisinarts of the air" because they kill so many hapless birds that fly into their rotating blades.
There is even evidence that they are harmful to the surrounding environment. These kind of fads would be amusing if they weren't so harmful and didn't guzzle billions of dollars of investment which could be put to better use.

Post Scriptum:
Italy's attitude to nuclear power harks back to the stone age, though there is some vague talk of it being reconsidered (which means - if you want to be optimistic - that we'll start thinking of building an actual power plant in maybe two decades). Meanwhile, UK public opinion seems to be softening (albeit for the wrong reasons), though it is clearly in the grip of some misapprehensions about the viability, cost and side-effects of "renewables." The BBC says:
A majority of people in Britain would accept new nuclear power stations if they helped fight climate change, a poll suggests. Some 54% said they would accept new stations being built for this reason, the Mori survey of 1,500 people for the University of East Anglia found. But in general, more people were against nuclear power than in favour. Nearly 80% thought renewable technologies and energy efficiency were better ways of tackling global warming.
Don't get me wrong, I love renewables just as much as the next person, but we simply must face the fact that they just won't even remotely fulfill our energy needs.

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