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Expert Insight: Gilmore's Daily Jab
By Dan Gilmore
Date: Mar. 24, 2009

Supply Chain Comment: Tilting at the Windmills

 

Wind Power Sounds Great in the Abstract, but have You ever Actually Seen It in Action? More Industrial than most Realize

I know that there is some reasonably strong level of support for use of wind power to generate more of our electricity in the US. It’s obviously very clean, and energy investor T. Boone Pickens, who strongly pushed for much greater use of wind power in 2008 as part of his famous “energy plan,” has called the area roughly from Texas up to the Dakotas the “Saudi Arabia of wind” for its energy potential.

The whole topic of windmills is interesting. I actually spoke to a leading European manufacturer of windmills a few years ago at a HighJump Software user conference, and they viewed their future as very bright, indeed.

But I am not sure how many people that are currently in favor of wind power really know that much about how it plays out in practice.

The first time I saw a windmill farm was in the early 1990s, coming into San Francisco from the east. Maybe an hour or so outside the city, there is an enormous windmill field that stretches a number of miles along the highway. The first time you see the thing, you are simply awestruck. Hundreds and hundreds of the windmills on both sides of the road, most spinning away in a rather barren landscape of gently rolling hills, sunshine reflecting off the metal poles and blades. It’s quite a sight.

I am pretty sure that was the first major windmill installation in the US, and I have been past that specific site two or three times since. But I never saw another one until last year, when I drove along a similarly large farm on the outskirts of Palm Springs, California.

As I motored passed this other windmill farm in the desert, I didn’t get anywhere near the same awestruck feeling as I did in my earlier experiences. Whether it was the more beautiful geographic setting that seemed more spoiled by the machines, the fact that just the sight of the things no longer seemed so astounding, or that the windmills seemed to me to be much closer to the road than the ones outside of San Francisco, this is what hit me: this wasn’t a “farm,” it was a “factory.”

If you lived by such an installation, I believe the sense would be that you were living in an industrial area. There wouldn’t be much pollution or noise, I will grant you, but you would be sharing the space with hundreds of giant machines.  “Energy robots,” if you will.

It’s no wonder the Kennedy family and many others on upper crust Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts have for years successfully against putting windmills offshore. I hate to be a “NIMBY,” but I wouldn’t want these things anywhere near me either.

Certainly, to get rid of foreign oil dependence and to get more green, trade-offs and tough decisions will need to be made. Sacrifice of some kind will be required by many of us.

I am a bit surprised, however, at the level of support in the green community for wind power, as in the end, it amounts to “industrializing” vast swaths of the environment. I simply do not believe most people understand this. They oppose oil drilling for the sake of caribou or “pristine” conditions in Alaska’s tundra, but they want these giant machines all over our heartland? That seems inconsistent to me big time.

It would be interesting to know, for example, how many square miles of windmill farm is required to equal the output of one coal or nuclear power plant. I bet that number is huge. Is it worth it? I don’t believe the answer is clear.

I suppose if the people of Oklahoma and surrounding states want to become home to huge windmill farms to the benefit the rest of us, that’s their call. My guess, however, is that after the first few giant farms, local residents will view new installations about the way the people in Nevada view a proposal for a new nuclear waste dump.

This is not meant to be either for or against wind power per se. I believe it will have its place. But those who believe it is a panacea probably haven’t driven past one of these wind factories, let alone live by one.

I have had readers strongly disagree with me, but “green” is all about managing trade-offs, and in my view wind power presents a number of them.

Let me know your thoughts at the Feedback Button below.


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profile About the Author
Dan Gilmore is the editor of Supply Chain Digest.
 

Gilmore Says:


I am a bit surprised, however, at the level of support in the green community for wind power, as in the end it amounts to “industrializing” vast swaths of the environment.


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