Is wind the way to go for power?
City folk who have taken a weekend jaunt to the country or a cross-country trip through America's heartland have no doubt wondered why some farms have large windmills smack out in the middle of fields. Those aren't for sentimental value or aesthetic appeal. Rather, those windmills are actually wind turbines, and they're used as a means of generating energy.
A power supply that some estimates suggest can provide up to 20 percent of U.S. and world electricity, wind energy has quickly grown in popularity among the country's farmers. Like all things, wind energy comes with both its ups and downs.
Why go with wind?
Farmers across the globe are realizing the potential of wind energy, and much of that realization is due to its many benefits.
• Boosting local economies: Rural communities have long struggled to attract new industry, greatly limiting ways they can add to the tax base and provide new means of income. Wind energy can do just that. Many times, landowners lease the land where the turbines are located to wind developers. In southwest Minnesota, such leasing agreements generated about $250,000 per year in direct lease payments to landowners, according to online wind energy resource Windustry.org. Such arrangements also increased property tax revenue, generating even more money for local economies that surely need it.
Local economies also benefit by developing wind energy projects. By giving such projects the green light, employment in the area increases. Assembly workers and laborers are needed to install the turbines, and local engineers, lawyers and even bankers can expect business to increase as well. In addition, local businesses will experience heightened traffic as a result of the projects, again paying dividends to communities that often need a boost.
• Stability of price: Anyone who remembers the 2005 hurricane season can easily recall the effects on fuel costs. With wind energy, however, the fuel is wind, the price of which is both fixed and free. Whereas the price of most sources of energy is often tenuous at best, heavily relying on the global political climate, the price of wind energy is as stable as it gets.
• Helps to create a more selfsufficient society: Perhaps a silver lining to the tragedies surrounding Hurricane Katrina was a seemingly national awakening to the country's need to find ways to become more self-sufficient with respect to its sources of energy. Wind turbines can greatly reduce the country's reliance on foreign fossil fuels as an energy source while potentially controlling sudden spikes in energy costs in case of another tragedy.
• Environmental benefits: The rise of wind energy is something that can keep environmentalists smiling. Unlike most energy sources that result in harmful emissions when refined for use, wind is all-natural, producing no pollution whatsoever. That benefits both air and water.
Another environmental benefit of wind energy is it lessens the likelihood of having to mine for more resources down the road. Mining for resources is a debate that continues to rage on in political circles, with one side saying such mining is necessary to sustain a way of life while the other cites the destructive nature of mining to land and wildlife alike. Wind energy can theoretically accomplish the goals of both sides, providing a valuable energy source without the need for mining.
While there seem to be an abundance of reasons to support wind energy, there are reasons to approach with caution as well.
Arguably the biggest disadvantage to wind energy is that it's only effective when the wind blows.
And, farmers used to the serenity of farming will need to adjust to the noise.