A lesson to be learned from spinning forwardWritten by Karl Rundgren | | email@example.com
Two boys are playing outside in the country, pushing toy trucks around and making sound effects. They scoop some gravel into the back of a truck and then drive it three feet and dump the gravel into a pile. At first glance, it’s a rather typical scene, until you ask them what they’re doing.
“We’re putting up wind turbines,” they answer, irritated by the disruption.
In most places, this might seem like a strange answer. But these kids are growing up in the middle of Horse Hollow, the largest wind farm in the world. Dominating the traditional West Texas horizon around them are giant wind turbines, spinning with an eerie smoothness. On a good day, the 421 turbines here can generate 735 megawatts of power — enough for 180,000 average homes.
Standing in this environment, it feels like the perfect place for a wind farm. The gusts are constantly pulling at your clothes, and you have to raise your voice to carry on the simplest of conversations. It’s also off the beaten path, away from any interstate highways or major towns. Better yet for FPL Energy — the company behind Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center —the people out here also tend to own large swaths of land, meaning fewer people to negotiate with.
Some people have embraced the turbines, excited at the prospect of cleaner energy and the financial incentives they get for leasing their property — but not everyone. In 2005, some homeowners filed a lawsuit against the wind farm, claiming that the turbines were ugly and a nuisance. Later, they altered the suit to state that they put off noise pollution, but a judge and jury sided with FPL Energy every time.
Another person I spoke to was more concerned about wildlife, worried that the turbines were affecting the migratory patterns of birds, thus damaging the ecosystem. It’s a common worry and one that has been echoed in Ohio as we’ve explored more wind-energy options. Still, FPL Energy insists that there is no concern. “Wind farms and wildlife can coexist,” wrote Stephen Stengel from FPL Energy. “We spend a great deal of time and effort siting our turbines to minimize environmental impacts. We have not had any noticeable impact on wildlife at Horse Hollow.”
There’s one thing, though, that you can’t escape when standing in Horse Hollow — the way these turbines have forever changed the landscape. I remember working in this area in the late 1990s, long before this project. You could see for miles, the stark horizon interrupted only by the occasional fence or telephone pole. Now, there’s no escaping the constant motion of the turbines or their looming stature overshadowing the ranch land.
I’m sure that people felt the same way the first time oil derricks appeared, or telephone poles, or fences and roads, for that matter. But with our dire need for renewable, alternative energy sources, can we afford to be reluctant?
Northwest Ohio has been dragging its feet when it comes to wind power, showing a definite reluctance. Plans to construct a wind farm in Wood County, supplementing the turbines already in the area, were met with heated resistance last year. People were terrified it would lower property values, affect wildlife and ruin the landscape. Other plans for turbines along Lake Erie consistently raise similar concerns, and people ask for more study and regulation before committing.
I see the wisdom in being thoughtful, but I worry that delay could become disregard, and we might never fully embrace wind power. Some people will always consider turbines as eyesores and, unfortunately, pristine landscapes won’t solve our energy crisis. That’s why I applaud the efforts that are happening, such as Clay High School’s forthcoming wind research facility that will provide students and other groups the opportunity to study the benefits and drawbacks.
Even I had a knee-jerk reaction to the turbines at Horse Hollow — that gut-resistance to change. Then I saw those boys, pretending to build turbines, more distracted by me asking annoying questions than they were by the constant spinning of the turbines. As far as they’re concerned, the turbines have always been there.
We could learn from that.
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News.