Skip to content

Wind Turbines

 

Learning to Love (?) Wind Turbines
The wind turbine is officially a sanctioned icon of American ingenuity, on display in (what seems like) three out of five car commercials. As the newest model Chevy or Toyota zips by, the Brooklyn and Golden Gate Bridges signify urban prowess from sea to shining sea, the vast desert straightaways remind us of pioneer days and rugged individuality. And now, clusters of sleek, white twirling rotors signify the cool triumph of the present.

 

To be sure, these high-tech windmills are an elegant alternative to belching smokestacks and looming nuclear plants. They are beacons of hope that seem to promise we’ll be able to invent our way out of the coming climate catastrophe. They prove that our new technology is beautiful, despite the evidence of clunky cell towers and bleak solar “farms.”

 

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their fair share of detractors. Critics complain their whooshing sound is annoying and that the blinking shadows thrown off by these overgrown fans are potentially hazardous. While studies dispute the latter claim, planning boards and developers should certainly take every precaution.

 

So it was a good thing that the new turbines in Gloucester, my favorite vacation spot, are located in an industrial park on a hill surrounded by fields and forests. With no neighbors to annoy, the local media had no objections to report. In fact, many residents signed their names on the blades that are more than 100 feet across and rotate in winds that average 16 miles an hour. “I wanted to put my name on a piece of history,” one woman told the Gloucester Times. The turbines provide power for municipal buildings like City Hall, schools, police stations and even the sewage treatment plant, all while saving the cash-strapped city almost $470,000 a year.

 

They are even the source of bragging rights; Gloucester is the first Massachusetts city with not one but three big turbines, including the tallest one on the East Coast. They all top 400 feet, higher than the Statue of Liberty, a mere 305 feet by comparison. The tallest, at 492 feet, is just 63 feet shorter than the Washington Monument.

 

They are, in other words, hard to miss, visible all over Cape Ann, and well beyond. From one odd angle, the Madonna on top of Our Lady of Good Voyage Church looks like she is about to be toppled by needle-like propellers, which are over a mile away.

 

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes the first time I saw the turbines from Good Harbor Beach, which is the place I try to envision while waiting for the dentist’s syringe. They don’t loom so much as hover, but they do, undeniably, change the landscape. To the equation of sea + sand + sky — “giant whirligig” must be added.

 

This is not meant as a rant against the encroachment of civilization. I want my power, my connectivity, my internet. I’ve never been bothered by the acres of condominiums that sprawl across from my “pristine” seaside retreat. And I’m downright fond of the two-story motel that commands a view of the beach, retro neon sign and all.

 

I suspect that, after a few years, the giant turbines won’t seem intrusive and newcomers will see the twirling towers as local landmarks, like the lighthouses. Maybe someday they will have cute nicknames or even come to be seen as national treasures, like our cherished bridges once decried for ruining the landscape in the name of commerce and progress and greed.

 

 
Also posted (with a cool photo) on Cognoscenti, WBUR-NPR

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Eliana Gilad on February 26, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Like you, I am interested in alternative energy, and being that sound is my field (no pun intended :-)… of expertise, I love The Wind Tulip – a silent, cost-effective, vibration-free wind turbine designed as an environmental sculpture, that’s pleasing to the eye, producing clean energy at high efficiency from any direction while minimizing potential environmental obstacles.

    It’s an Israeli invention :-)!!!

  2. therovinghome on February 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

    As I live on Cape Ann, I was interested in reading your perspective, and was impressed by this post and the way in which you somehow managed to acknowledge how intrusive the turbines are without actually criticizing their presence.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years researching wind energy (initially beginning my research from the position that industrial wind was an answer to our future energy needs). It was troubling to discover that all unbiased, non-wind industry sources based in facts point to the same conclusion: wind energy, as it exists today, is incapable of fulfilling the claims of its proponents. Issues of energy reliability, storage and transmission all plague the industry. And, rather than being a “new technology” as you say in your post, industrial wind energy production is inherently retro. The same problems that led to replacing wind power with steam 150+ years ago still exist: the wind doesn’t blow when/if we need it, and wind power can’t be stored for later use. Those massive turbines in the industrial park in Gloucester are limited by the same forces that limit kite-flying on Good Harbor. Worse, those huge turbines are powered on and off and backed up by (for those times when they aren’t generating energy) electricity, ironically enough. Fossil-fuel powered electricity, which, unfortunately, is still our only reliable source of energy other than nuclear. Here’s an interesting link from an article in the LA Times about the dependence of industrial wind on fossil fuels. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/09/local/la-me-unreliable-power-20121210

    So the choice between “belching smokestacks” and industrial wind turbines is actually a false dilemma; there is no real choice, if one is actually talking about viable energy generation (and there was literally not a choice in Gloucester; we were not being asked to choose whether we wanted to look at belching smokestacks OR industrial turbines).

    Once you look behind the industry curtain, you’ll find that industrial turbines are installed for reasons other than the actual provision of energy, most of which involve political expediency and/or money. From the perspective of the public, they are built as symbols of hope and progress, to make us feel as though we are “doing something” about our energy woes. And from the wind developers’ perspective, they are built because they reap huge sums of money in tax credits and subsidies at the front end of installation. The actual operation of the turbines will be a net loss over the years, when the maintenance costs, etc. are factored in. And that life span is a short one, with the machines themselves lasting only around 25 years before becoming virtually inoperable. Relatively speaking, it won’t be long before we are left with the dilemma of just who it is who will pay for taking them down.

    Thanks again for your post (and your wonderful books) and I apologize for making such a long comment! But as you can tell, this issue strikes a chord for me, especially as I watch our society rushing headlong into yet another environmentally troubling scenario instead of trying to find solutions that will actually address our energy needs without industrializing every last corner of the planet. (And I thought Cape Ann would be one of the last corners left!)

  3. therovinghome on February 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

    As I live on Cape Ann, I was interested in reading your perspective, and was impressed by this post and the way in which you somehow managed to acknowledge how intrusive the turbines are without actually criticizing their presence.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years researching wind energy (initially beginning my research from the position that industrial wind was an answer to our future energy needs). It was troubling to discover that all unbiased, non-wind industry sources based in facts point to the same conclusion: wind energy, as it exists today, is incapable of fulfilling the claims of its proponents. Issues of energy reliability, storage and transmission all plague the industry. And, rather than being a “new technology” as you say in your post, industrial wind energy production is inherently retro. The same problems that led to replacing wind power with steam 150+ years ago still exist: the wind doesn’t blow when/if we need it, and wind power can’t be stored for later use. Those massive turbines in the industrial park in Gloucester are limited by the same forces that limit kite-flying on Good Harbor. Worse, those huge turbines are powered on and off and backed up by (for those times when they aren’t generating energy) electricity, ironically enough. Fossil-fuel powered electricity, which, unfortunately, is still our only reliable source of energy other than nuclear. Here’s an interesting link from an article in the LA Times about the dependence of industrial wind on fossil fuels. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/09/local/la-me-unreliable-power-20121210

    So the choice between “belching smokestacks” and industrial wind turbines is actually a false dilemma; there is no real choice, if one is actually talking about viable energy generation (and there was literally not a choice in Gloucester; we were not being asked to choose whether we wanted to look at belching smokestacks OR industrial turbines).

    Once you look behind the industry curtain, you’ll find that industrial turbines are installed for reasons other than the actual provision of energy, most of which involve political expediency and/or money. From the perspective of the public, they are built as symbols of hope and progress, to make us feel as though we are “doing something” about our energy woes. And from the wind developers’ perspective, they are built because they reap huge sums of money in tax credits and subsidies at the front end of installation. The actual operation of the turbines will be a net loss over the years, when the maintenance costs, etc. are factored in. And that life span is a short one, with the machines themselves lasting only around 25 years before becoming virtually inoperable. Relatively speaking, it won’t be long before we are left with the dilemma of just who it is who will pay for taking them down.

    Thanks again for your post (and your wonderful books) and I apologize for making such a long comment! But as you can tell, this issue strikes a chord for me, especially as I watch our society rushing headlong into yet another environmentally troubling scenario instead of trying to find solutions that will actually address our energy needs without industrializing every last corner of the planet. (And I thought Cape Ann would be one of the last corners left!)

Leave a Comment