Beware of windmills

Posted on May 24, 2005

It was reported in the classical fictional literature of Miguel de Cervantes, and in the delightful derivative musical play "Man of La Mancha," that Don Quixote tilted at windmills, thinking them to be adversaries. But in the real-life United States today, some people are promoting the erection of many thousands of windmills as a means of generating electric power, with too few people being aware that these modern windmills would be very real, not imaginary, adversaries. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has introduced a bill in Congress designed to avoid having an army of huge windmills slip up on us without sufficient warning. The senator says an effort is being made to require electric companies to produce 10 percent of their power from "renewable" sources. That means wind, hydro, solar, geothermal and biomass power. Sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? The trouble is that there are few opportunities for substantial power generation by these means except by wind. What would that mean? "The idea of windmills," said Sen. Alexander, conjures up pleasant images — of Holland and tulips, of rural America ... My grandparents had such a windmill at their well pump ... But the windmills we are talking about today are not your grandmother’s windmills. "Each one is typically 100 yards tall, two stories taller than the Statue of Liberty, taller than a football field is long. "These windmills are wider than a 747 jumbo jet. "Their rotor blades turn at 100 miles per hour. "These towers and their flashing red lights can be seen from more than 25 miles away. "Their noise can be heard from up to a half-mile away. It is a thumping and swishing sound. It has been described by residents that are unhappy with the noise as sounding like a brick wrapped in a towel tumbling in a clothes drier on a perpetual basis. "These windmills produce very little power since they only operate when the wind blows enough or doesn’t blow too much, so they are usually placed in large wind farms covering huge amounts of land. "As an example, if the Congress ordered electric companies to build 10 percent of their power from renewable energy — which as we have said, has to be mostly wind — and if we renew the current subsidy each year, by the year 2025, my state of Tennessee would have at least 1,700 windmills, which would cover land almost equal to two times the size of the city of Knoxville." Do these revelations by Sen. Alexander, accompanied by the prospect that $3.7 billion of your taxes might be required for subsidies over five years, cause you to want to have 100,000 of these huge, redlighted, noisy, thumping windmills erected throughout the United States, with 1,700 of them in Tennessee — perhaps in your neighborhood? Talk about "pollution" of area, sound and sight! Surely, non-polluting nuclear power and other energy sources would be better. The windmill subsidies could be used better to promote cleaner, more efficient and cheaper coal, gas and oil technology. Sen. Alexander said the purpose of his legislation, in which Sen. John Warner, R-Va ., has joined, is to be sure that "local authorities have a chance to consider the impact of such massive new structures before dozens or hundreds of them begin to be built in their communities." For that fair warning, we should give thanks. If you have seen windmill farms in California, Texas or Hawaii, you will surely understand why the warning is appropriate. Don Quixote thought he had problems with windmills. He hadn’t seen the kind Sen. Alexander is talking about.