When it comes to avoiding pollution and production of greenhouse gasses, its hard to beat wind energy. For now, at least, its the "alternative" energy form thats most widely developed.
The basics: Winds spin a big propeller blade attached to a generator, which produces electricity. Nothing burns, so there are no emissions. Its an old form of energy just think of the historic windmills of Holland, which provided power to saw logs, pump water and perform other tasks long before we had electricity.
As the gravity of the global warming situation became apparent in recent years, some environmentalists pushed wind hard while others fought it, saying winds disadvantages arent being considered carefully enough.
Environmentally, probably the biggest downside is that the turbines can become Cuisinarts for birds, particularly eagles, hawks and other raptors, which fly into them unknowingly. The most infamous are turbines at Altamont Pass near Oakland, Calif., but proponents today say that early installation is an example of how not to locate and build a wind turbine field. They say know-how has improved since construction of the Altamont turbines began in 1981.
Wind has at least three other disadvantages. First, the wind doesnt blow all the time. Proponents, though, point out that wind is fairly predictable in certain seasons or times of day in certain locations, and can be part of an overall mix of Earth-friendly power sources. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy said in 2005 that while good wind areas cover only 6 percent of the landscape, they have the potential to supply one and a half times the countrys electricity demand.
Another major drawback is that the places where the winds blow tend to not be where people live. That means building large transmission lines, which is increasingly unpopular as more and more Americans live out across the landscape where those lines must run. Theyre ugly, critics say.
Thats also the rap on the turbines themselves. Yes, opponents say, wind may be clean energy but do we want to ruin our vistas by erecting turbines on every mountaintop or windy area offshore? The most famous brouhaha over this in recent years was off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where wealthy and powerful families including the Kennedys fought plans for wind turbines.
Want to know how your part of the country compares to others in wind potential? Try this site: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/wind_potential.html
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