California Highway 58, east of Bakersfield, presents some truly astounding sights. It’s still a rare occurrence here in Georgia to see more than one wind turbine. At Tehachapi Pass on Cal. 58, there are 5,000 of them.
Driven entirely by the atmosphere, they generate a nominal total of 562 megawatts of electricity. That’s twice the output of the massive turbines at Fontana Dam in North Carolina, about two hours north of Gainesville.
Wind power is one of the cleanest energy sources because the turbines make no appreciable changes to air, soil or water. Opponents criticize their appearance, arguing that the huge spinning blades are an unsightly addition to hilltops and shorelines. On the other hand, the smoke stacks of coal-fired plants (the dirtiest energy around) and the huge cooling towers at nuclear facilities could be put in the same category.
Bird kills are another concern about wind power. Older turbines, sitting on top of towers made of metal lattice work, were infamous for that. Birds like to perch on the metal braces, and fast-spinning old blades are virtually invisible. Modern designs provide not only for turbines that generate electricity more efficiently, but their towers are also smooth and offer nothing that would attract birds to perch or nest.
Opinions that wind farms are “ugly” aren’t necessarily shared by the general public. One of the world’s largest, Horse Hollow wind farm southwest of Abilene, Texas, can be seen from U.S. 277. In 2005, it was subject to one of the first nuisance lawsuits against such an installation. Subsequent court rulings established that neither the appearance nor the sound made by the turbines created an annoyance.
Georgia doesn’t have many “high wind” locations. But the potential for generating completely clean power exists in our state. A shift to wind energy could ease some of the water wars involving Lake Lanier, because a good deal of Chattahoochee River water is used by coal-fired plants.
More reliance on wind would mean less need for the coal-fired plants along the Georgia-Alabama border, and therefore a decrease in the enormous water needs of those plants.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.