The climate debate has been so big in the last few years and then, who can forget Trump's conversation about the windmills killing all the birds?
To explore Trump's claim and to learn about how wind energy is generated, I went to Palm Springs to visit a wind mill farm. We took the windmill tour, which was a self-driving tour. We were given a tablet with an audio-visual program that talked about the different things in the tour - Non-operational as well as successful turbines where we could stop and take pictures.
If anyone is interested in this tour, visit: https://www.windmilltours.com It costs $50 per car and it takes less than 60 minutes to complete. I think the tour is priced quite high (it should cost $20!) but then again, this is the only one out there so they can get away with charging more.
Right behind the windmills is the Green Power 1 merchant power plant. You can't really go in there but you see some of the huge energy-processing machines.
Let me give you a 101 version of what I learned.
On this desert farm, there were 2500 windmills. Turbines as far as your eyes can see!
Turbines are not noisy! Rotations are consistent but very few per minute
There are big wind turbines and smaller ones. The smaller ones are actually the older turbines which are now being replaced by the big ones. Why? Because the bigger ones generate more power and are more efficient. Also, the real small ones, especially the ones that look like mini-Eiffel Towers are delicate and keep falling.
One single large turbine can potentially generate enough power to run 1500 homes a month!
Those big turbines are really quite tall - 500 feet or so, taller than the Statue of Liberty!
Wind turbines have to be placed strategically. For e.g. the farm in Palm Springs had windmills on both sides of I-10 to take advantage of the winds that come through two mountain ranges - San Jacinto Mountains and San Gorgonio Mountains
Windmills convert kinetic energy into mechanical energy which is then converted into electrical power. This electric energy is sent to the energy grid that distributes power to consumers
The Good: Sustainable Energy
In general, windmills are good for earth. They do not release any polluting emissions, and they do not require the use of water in generating electricity.
The Not-so-Good: Land Use
Windmills have to be spaced out, which means they take up too much land. It depends on the size of the farm and the location, but if it is in an area which has existing natural habitat that will have to be cleared, that would be an issue. So, it is important to ensure that your windmill farm is in an already cleared area.
The Bad: The Birds and the Blades
Trump is right about the birds. Due to the air pressure generated by the movement of the blades, birds and bats can collide with the blades. This can happen on windmill farms, and let's not ignore or suppress this issue. What you should know however, is that this is really farm-dependent and many well-sitting farms do not have these concerns. Research on how birds migrate and flying patterns before setting up turbines can help alleviate this issue. In addition, bird-alert sensors and ultrasonic speakers placed on windmills shut the turbines down when a bird is near and save lives.
A bigger issue is the inability to recycle plastic. The windmill blades are made of plastic and as we know, plastic is hard to recycle. You can down-cycle them to make construction material but many blades go into landfills. This is a definite global problem.
SO, windmill blades do need to be reimagined!
We have to find a way to use materials that are light but can be recycled. This may mean we go back to smaller windmills, which would mean smaller blades, perhaps? But to let go of a little efficiency for sustainablilty is probably worth it, me thinks.
To conclude, there is no debate that windmills are great for our earth and provide great sustainable energy. That said, just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to the wind turbine argument, and we need to answer these questions:
Do windmills ruin the aesthetic of the area?
Real estate developers may think so as well as folks who have bought property in those areas
If we increase the number of smaller windmills to encourage the use of sustainable blades, we are compromising on efficiency. And it also increases the land footprint.
Is this a good idea?
Turbines are machines after all and could spark a wildfire. This could lead to damage and air pollution and more resources are required to take care of that issue. And human lives could be lost in this process too.
Should we be concerned about wildfires?
Many birds make their nests high up in the windmill lattices. They do that to protect their fledglings from the animal predators on the ground.
If we reduce the number of windmills, where will these birds make their nests?
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