15 December, 2009

Why are people opposed to Wind Farms?

Personally I find them awesome. Meridian Energy is trying to build a farm in Central Otago, NZ, has been for years. Recently they managed to put a few up, but it took them a long time. There was a lot of pressure from local groups - mainly headed by artists - to prevent them from being built. Their arguments against wind farms fall into four categories:

They're noisy, They kill birds, they're not "green" and they look ugly.

Noisy? Well, to be truthful, yes, they are noisy. But they're also typically built, like most power-plants, away from residential zones. In Europe and the US, you can find them built close to homes, but this doesn't affect property prices, which suggests to me that the noise isn't that much of a factor.

Do you know what else is noisy? Roads, highways, railway lines. These things already exist and are far noisier than wind turbines. Also, modern turbines are designed to minimise noise.

The wind farms in New Zealand are being built and are planned to be built away from residential zones - in the middle of Central Otago. They are near large sheep stations and other farms, not near houses.

So noise isn't a problem.

As for killing birds, yes, wind turbines kill birds. But, do you know what? So do buildings. Birds die by flying into buildings. Read that a few more times to make sure it sinks in. Birds die by flying into buildings. Not thrown into buildings. The buildings don't jump out and get them. They fly into large, stationary, obvious buildings. Migrating birds have been shown to avoid turbines and there are other ways of making them safe for birds, such as putting coloured bars or lights on the blades or using high-pitched noise to scare the birds away. If birds are going to be killed by flying into things, then I expect evolution to provide us with smarter birds.

So, birds aren't a problem.

As for being "green," the argument is over the pollutants involved in manufacturing the turbines. I hardly think that this is an issue considering that wind turbine production is a minor part in a larger industrial climate. Car manufacturing, computers and a whole host of other things are far worse. These industrial techniques, materials and pollutants already exist. I don't think that "wind power–dominated countries will be left with millions of tons of scrap metal which cannot be recycled" - this is a massive overstatement and we already have millions of tons of scrap metal to deal with. And we do deal with it. The other methods of generating power - coal, gas, nuclear, etc., have far worse pollutants than anything wind turbines will ever put out.

So pollution is far from being a problem

The only remaining complaint is that they look ugly. This is not an argument. This is just stupid. When I'm a multi-billionaire, I'm going to buy all the property next to the artists and others who oppose wind farms, and I'm going to build coal plants with large smoke stacks on them - right next to where they live. Will they think that's a nicer alternative?

Wind farms look cool. I want one. As I made the point above, nobody lives there (in NZ at least) and the visual impact is minimal.

We need to generate more energy - our population is growing. There are a number of ways to do this. Coal, Gas, Nuclear, Solar, Wind, Hydro and Tidal. We are trying to get as far away form coal and gas as possible, solar takes too much space to be viable in a country like New Zealand (too low solar irradiance), tidal is still in it's infancy (and you'll get the same people arguing against that for the same reasons - except that tidal generators need to be closer to populated areas, so we have Nuclear and Wind as the green alternatives.

Nuclear is green only in the short term - at the moment, climate change is a big enough threat to justify the nuclear waste produced, but it's something we'll have to deal with in the future. Nuclear power is also something that New Zealand can never use. We fought so hard to get ban it.

Hydro uses a phenomenal amount of land and the rotting plants they cover produce methane - when they flood forests, they can release more effective carbon than an equivalent coal plant - kW for kW.

So the only option left is wind. It's clean, there's plenty of it in NZ and it looks awesome. And if Graham Sydney doesn't like it, he can just paint over them. Seriously, you're an artist, not an expert on energy and the environment. Being a successful artist doesn't mean your opinion warrants any merit.

OK, so I've glossed over a few things and cherry-picked my data a little, but wind turbines are just great. They're awesome machines and they look cool. I think we should build heaps of them - Mt Sunday (where they filmed 'Edoras' in the Lord of the Rings) would be the perfect place for a farm; the wind there apparently averages about 150 km/h.

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