WIND POWER (Part 3) The NIMBY factor
I’ve mentioned in numerous posts the relative sizes of plants producing electrical power for the respective methods of production.
It’s not like an Authority is going build a nuclear power plant next door to where you live, or even in the suburb where you live. Most large coal fired plants are in locations where they have been for a long time now. Combined cycle plants are increasing in numbers, but mainly in areas zoned for those plants. They are built in relatively out of the way places, and often are already existing before you move into an area where a large plant exists.
If it’s a hydro plant, then living near the lake might actually seem quite nice.
With solar plants, we’ve seen that they can take up as much as maybe hundreds of acres, and in most cases they are built in out of the way places where there is good access to quality sunlight, so plants are few and far between, and never really in residential areas.
However, with wind powered plants, instead of taking up small closely oriented areas, they are spread out over vast spaces. Again, by their very nature, they have to be in high wind areas, like Mountain Passes, where the wind whistles through, and also along ridge lines where the wind soars up the slopes, and placed along the skyline where they are eminently visible. Hence they are in areas where they are quite visible, standing out because of their huge size. Opinion is varied as to whether they are aesthetically pleasing to look at, or are an eyesore. Those opinions vary, depending on whether or not they are in your line of sight, or whether you are just looking at them in passing or in photographs.
Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)
The problem goes something like this.
An electricity provider decides to bite the bullet, and construct a wind farm, at enormous cost. An area has to be found where the wind blows strongly, and more importantly, regularly, Environmental Impact Statements are carried out, government approvals sought, and submissions are sought from the public.
Usually people not living in that area are satisfied that someone is doing something to move in the direction of using renewable forms of power. However, and usually for personal reasons, those who do live in the area where towers will be constructed, even though they approve of renewable power generation, they’re not all that keen on having the towers constructed in their area. Excuses are found so that construction might not go ahead where they live.
It’s okay if it’s Government owned land, although some say the effect of having towers in pristine areas detracts from the effect of that area, even though it might be rarely visited.
Local people gather arguments to support their position, and it helps if small furry animals are involved, and even more emotive if they have wings.
The excuses used to support their arguments are many and it helps if you use numerous excuses.
There’s the size of the towers and how they detract from the view, the noise of whooshing blades, the fact that they might be a hazard to aircraft. People with higher profiles are called in to support the argument, and it also helps if you can get a politician on side, because then you can effectively ‘wedge’ one side of politics against the other.
Most arguments have been proved time and again to be spurious but the most effective weapon has always been the political side of any argument, and this has worked effectively on more than one occasion.
With respect to size, the towers themselves are said to detract from pristine views and the aspect of the countryside, with an argument that they probably decrease numbers of visiting tourists, while a counter argument is that the number of tourist visits actually increases because of the people who want to come and see them.
It has been said that the slowly rotating blades cause flickering light in the vicinity of the towers.
Old technology towers had blades that rotated quickly while newer, longer blades rotate at a slower, more regulated speed, between 5 and 20 RPM. Blades can be feathered as wind increases so the speed stays within this range. This feathering process, similar to what is used on propeller driven aircraft, changes the position of the blade with respect to the blowing wind, more open to catch lighter breezes, and closed somewhat as the wind increases. All this is achieved with the use of small sensors and computer programs allowing adjustments to happen automatically.
Now you again see that it is more complex and costly than just a blade blowing in the breeze generating electricity. The slow speed range is important because of the capabilities of the Constant Speed Drive (CSD) that drives the generator, because if the speed varied by a greater amount then the CSD would need to be considerably more complex, increasing the weight significantly, thus decreasing the efficiency.
The noise factor has also been used as an excuse, the constant ‘whoosh’ as the blade passes, but that would only be if you were close to the tower, and background noise from tower locations has been measured at around the same as for a 10MPH breeze.
Land use has also been used as an excuse. An average sized grouping of towers producing around 200MW might take up as much as ten square miles, which is quite a large area. The Power Authority would need to gain approvals from local land holders and therein lies one source of the problem. Those who agree are usually paid by the Authority to have the towers on their property, but those who disagree miss out, and the amount could be as much as $5000 per annum in the US, so it could have the potential to wedge neighbor against neighbor.
However, the biggest argument, and the one that has been proved to be the most spurious is the effect on wildlife. As soon as the word ‘wildlife’ is mentioned, the argument immediately becomes highly emotive, so here’s some facts on that front for you to mull over.
In the US, the toll of the towers is around 70,000 birds per year, an immense total, one that immediately produces the response that these towers be closed down.
70,000 birds. Man, that’s a lot. Especially when compared to birds that are killed each year by cars. That number is only 57,000,000. Yes! That’s right. 57 million birds are killed each year by cars alone.
Still, 70 thousand birds is a lot, especially when compared with birds killed by impacts with plate glass. That number is only 98,000,000. Yes! That’s right also. 98 million birds are killed each year by impact with plate glass.
Birds killed by wind towers approximates out to around one bird per tower per year. True, some of the older towers that rotate faster might bring the averages up somewhat, like those older first generation towers at Altamont Pass, but the newer technology towers have surprisingly fewer bird impacts that you might suspect. The same also applies for impacts with bats, also very little. Offshore wind farms have also been blamed for depleting fish stocks, also almost laughable. The noise factor has also been hit upon by detractors saying that the noise is amplified under water and this could have detrimental effects on whale movements in the area. Man, these people want it both ways. They tell us the whales are smart, and then they tell us they are too dumb to know that when they move into an area of loud noise, they don’t just swim off in another direction.
So, it all really comes back to this.
Yes, we do need alternative forms of producing electrical power and yes, wind farms are a viable option in that overall picture, but you’re not putting one of those things near where I live.