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Advertise on the Tentacle

September 23, 2002

Windmills Of Your Mind Coming To A Mountain Near You

Ronald W. Wolf

Duke Energy, at least for now, has taken its proposed power plant for the Monocacy Valley and headed for the hills. When it gets there it may find other companies already there building windmills to serve the same purpose -generate electricity.

There are proposals for windmill farms at two sites in western Maryland and standing in the ocean several miles off Ocean City. Although the idea sounds interesting, some opposition is forming. Now is a good time to define acceptable community standards for a power-generating facility.

The wind turbines are no small matter. They are to stand on 300-foot towers and have blades up to 150-feet long that weigh a couple of tons. The wind farms require significant space as well. The Allegheny County site is proposed to have 25 towers with wind turbines, the Garrett County site 67, and off Ocean City, up to 350.

Wind farms have a lot of proponents, particularly among environmentalists. They are a clean source of power. And in places such as Western Maryland, their construction and maintenance would be a welcome source of jobs and taxes.

Opposition to wind turbine towers, so far, has fallen into two groups: those who claim they will be an eyesore and those who worry about birds. As for the birds, the towers are proposed to have a single shaft and blades that turn relatively slowly, which should minimize problems.

The eyesore issue may die a little harder. However, one property owner near Deep Creek Lake was quoted in the Baltimore Sun (Sept. 17th) as describing the turbines as having "a major impact" on the resort, and: "Youíre talking about million-dollar home sites out there."

That may prove to be the major conflict for potential wind farms. Well-heeled communities have learned that you can fight anything with money and a public relations strategy. Elected and appointed planning officials should be prepared to take a stand that serves the best interest of the community and not the best interests of millionaires.

There is another drawback to windmill farms. You need wind - an average of about 16 miles per hour. For that reason, youíre unlikely to see windmills in central Maryland. The average wind speed at BWI airport is only about 9 miles per hour. In the Monocacy Valley itís not likely to be better. Windy conditions require going to the top of the mountain ridge west of town, so potentially, Frederick could some day have 300-foot wind turbines up on Catoctin Mountain.

Getting back to Duke, the biggest flaw of the proposed power plant, aside from environmental issues, was that it was not intended to serve the local area. It had no community connection. Why would any community want to accept a power plant with no value for return, except perhaps for creation of a few jobs? Energy plants will never be out of sight and out of mind and are rarely pretty. In general, they occupy a great deal of space, frequently produce smoke or steam, and often require energy to produce energy. That's why wind is so attractive.

The most important reason to support wind farms is that we have failed during the past few decades to develop alternative energy sources for oil. The situation in the Middle East, although on low simmer at the moment, will boil again. Preferring to limp along letting private interests drive development of new energy sources only when profitable for investors is risky and expensive for consumers. Profits have no compassion or community conscience.

Solar energy? Even though solar energy has been talked about for 40 or 50 years, it has not proven cost-effective except on the smallest scale. And, outside of sunny Southern California, solar energy is of limited practical value and always needs a backup source of energy.

Wind is a smart alternative source of energy, particularly now that the turbines used to produce electricity have improved. Placing wind turbines in former strip mines in Allegheny County is an intelligent use of land that has little other use. If the land hasnít been reclaimed, reclamation could be part of the construction effort.

Although western Maryland might be an acceptable site for wind farms, itís out in the Atlantic where wind is energy gold. Envision thousands of windmills, 300 feet or taller, off shore from Ocean City to Maine. It's a big part of our energy future.

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