Getting charged up about electricity that comes from the wind

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 8, 2002

Wind-generated electricity is becoming a reality in Iowa and here in Minnesota. In fact, one doesn’t have to go very far to see those tall towers with the long triple propeller blades turning rather slowly in the wind.

What are becoming known as wind farms are located near Ventura and Joice south of the state line. Here in Freeborn County several of these generating units are operating or in the process of being built.

Out in the very western part of Minnesota in Pipestone, Lincoln, Murray and Nobles Counties is an elevated area known as Buffalo Ridge where there are at least 400 of these towers of power, according to the Pipestone Chamber of Commerce.

Email newsletter signup

A recent news release from the State Energy Office of the Department of Commerce says, &uot;Minnesota is among the top five wind energy producing states in the nation, generating more than 320 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 320,000 homes – and ninth in the nation for wind energy potential.&uot;

However, the next big wind farm in this region will be located in Iowa. This has been confirmed in part with several recent announcements on an area radio station saying construction jobs are available for this new project. Alliant Energy will be spending $1.2 million in local expenditures and creating about 120 construction jobs with this new wind farm.

The news release from Alliant Energy says:

&uot;Clipper Windpower, based in Goleta, Calif., will build the new wind farm, which will be located approximately four miles west of the center of Spirit Lake (Iowa) and four miles south of Diamond Lake. Alliant Energy will purchase the power from Clipper Windpower and distribute it to customers in Iowa and Minnesota. It will include 29 wind generators expected to be operational by 2003 and will provide 150,000 MW hours of energy – enough energy to power 20,000 homes annually. The 1.5 MW machines will be the largest wind capacity wind turbines in Iowa. …

&uot;The investment in the wind farm is just one element of Alliant Energy’s Power Iowa program, which was created in response to Iowa’s increasing energy needs. Currently, Alliant Energy customers already use five percent of wind energy generated in the U.S. The purchase of the additional wind energy will increase that amount to more than six percent.&uot;

Yet, there are detractors who try to say electric power generated from the wind has some real negative factors. The only one really worth considering comes on a day when the wind isn’t blowing. Then the utility firms can switch to the hydroelectric, nuclear and conventional gas- and coal-fired plants.

In the past those detractors have said the tall towers of power would kill a multitude of migrating birds. That just hasn’t happened. Those big blades turn too slowly to hinder birds on their flights.

And if we check on the other sources of our electrical power, we can find a major fault or two with each generating system. The big river dams interfere with fish migration, especially salmon out in the Pacific Northwest. The coal-fired plants emit all too much noxious smoke. Those nuclear plants have their own unique problems.

One of the oddest objections to wind-powered electric power was featured in the Sept. 30, 2002, issue of Time Magazine.

A firm wants to construct 170 high-tech electric generating wind towers in Nantucket Sound between Cap Cod and Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts. This article lists several of the expected objections to this sea breeze project, including navigation for boats and aircraft, and hindering marine life, migrating birds and fishing. However, the real objection seems to come from folks in their shoreline mansions who don’t want to see &uot;hundreds of lights twinkling on the horizon&uot; at night.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.