July 8th, 2013
The three -car caravan was brimming with sugared up Boy Scouts headed to the Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California for a hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle. For about half of my professional career, I was a tree-hugging Environmental Educator and Outdoor Recreation Guide. I am very happy and at home in the outdoors. I was looking forward to getting back to this familiar hiking spot to show my youngest son.
After exiting the highway and making the last potty stop, we wound our way across the flat, hot desert landscape. It was March and there was a warm stiff breeze.
After cresting a small pass, we could see the large valley below. The vast treeless moonscape, maybe 15 square miles was dotted with about a hundred ‘New’ Wind Generating Turbines. They were absolutely HUGE. It was shocking for me to see.
The road meandered into the previously undisturbed landscape and we approached the dirt road turn-off to Mortero Palms. We were literally driving in the shadows of these 100’ tall mega-turbines.
The windmills dominated the landscape as well as the conversation inside our car.
One dad, a PhD engineer was extolling the virtues of the green power that these ‘magnificent’ monuments to environmentalism were providing. “This Wind Farm can power about 30,000 homes.” He proudly boasted.
Yes, I provided the counterpoint; But at what cost? Isn’t it ironic that it takes Coal, Oil and Diesel energy to make them, move them and install them? And not a single coal, oil or nuclear plant has been replaced by one?
What about the landscape? I certainly noticed the scars left by the continuous tracks of the giant D11 graders that trampled acres of Creosote and Manzanita landscape that is now devoid of vegetation, nothing left but dirt and rocks.
Common sense and environmentalists alike will tell you that no one wants these oversized fans in their backyard. According to the Audubon Society, Avian Mortality is a huge unforeseen problem. Each year 75-110 rare Golden Eagles are killed at the Altamont Pass Wind Generating Reserve east of San Francisco. This is just a fraction of the 2,500 Raptors and 7,500 other birds that meet the deadly force of these spinning guillotines at Altamont alone. This area is home to the largest nesting population of Golden Eagles in the world. The Audubon Society says “Altamont Pass is probably the worst site ever chosen for a wind energy project”. What? An environmental organization complaining about a green project, this is not good.
To date, not one fine or litigation has been levied or aimed at this or any other lethal ‘Reserve’. However, In 2009, Exxon Mobil was fined $600,000 for killing 85 birds in 5 states according to the Department of Justice. These birds landed in pools of oil tainted water at the numerous drilling sites in those states.
Even with the staggering environmental damage and unprofitability, the green community embraces these wind farms. There is no plan required in any states to return the landscape to the way it was when these machines wear out. As a matter of fact, a significant number of windmills that no longer generate energy are set to ‘Virtual’ mode so commuters driving by these wind farms see spinning turbines and think they are generating electricity. The useful life of a wind turbine is roughly 20 years. What happens to them when they ‘die’ can be answered as precisely as what happens to the batteries in the millions of hybrid cars when they die. Perhaps they can send these extinct monuments to green energy to wherever the dead hybrid car batteries will go, China?
Our government subsidizes these wind farms to make them viable. We don’t seem to learn from history or our mistakes when it comes to energy. President Carter created subsidies and tax breaks to develop the burgeoning wind industry, but it was ended in 1985 by President Reagan. Without the subsidies, the industry began to decline. Today, with renewed subsidies, Just 3.67% of generated electricity in America is from wind. However over 13% of all energy subsidies for electricity are given to wind power. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Wind power needs to be identified for what it is. A short lived, low output, high maintenance, bird destroying blight on the landscape that has little hope of being a significant contributor to green energy. Let’s keep working to make all energy as efficient and clean as possible. But in order to do this, the state and Federal governments need to call a spade a spade and use facts and free markets to keep the spigot open on the most important factor in our countries success, plentiful cheap power.