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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Wind Power: Turbulence Ahead

Wind power offers clean energy–but how much will hikers compromise to get it?

by: Jennifer Weeks, Photo by Mark Goodreau, Photo illustration by Jackie McCaffrey

An artist's take on wind turbines atop New Hampshire's Franconia Ridge.
An artist's take on wind turbines atop New Hampshire's Franconia Ridge.

Imagine 30 wind turbines whirring ATOP two remote Maine peaks. The 300-ton towers, with blades sweeping 400 feet high and aglow with aircraft-warning lights, would each produce 9,000 megawatt-hours of renewable electricity per year. So what's wrong with this picture? A lot, according to groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)–like the fact that the windmills in this proposed farm would be visible from a 34-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

When a developer tried to make this project a reality on Redington and Black Nubble Mountains in 2006, outdoor advocates balked, envisioning the area's pristine mountaintop panoramas and sensitive slopes ruined by the construction of enormous turbines. Maine's Land Use Regulatory Commission agreed, rejecting the full project in 2007 and nixing a scaled-back version early this year. But it greenlighted several other wind farm proposals, including a 44-turbine operation on nearby Kibby Mountain. Fans of wind bemoaned this mixed record, arguing that clean energy was worth the sacrifice.

Wind farms represent hard tradeoffs for hikers, birdwatchers, and other nature lovers, especially in Eastern states, where consistent and strong gusts tend to blow across scenic ridges. The AMC, ATC, and groups such as Maine Audubon stress that they don't oppose wind power everywhere–and insist that they understand how seriously air pollution and climate change threaten wild places. But they also argue that wind farms put more at stake than the view: Mountaintop development requires clearing land and building access roads, which could harm wildlife and damage fragile ecosystems.

Despite these controversies, wind energy is one of the world's fastest-growing renewable power sources. With good reason: At optimum sites, it's economically competitive with fossil fuels and doesn't emit pollutants that contribute to acid rain, smog, or climate change. It's also plentiful, as any Mt. Washington hiker can attest. "Wind has to play a significant role if we're going to address our environmental concerns," says Jeff Deyette, an energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "That will require responsible development in places where hikers like to go."

But increasingly powerful turbines mean wind farms are becoming more intrusive in wild settings. PPM Energy wants to expand a Searsburg, Vermont, farm by adding 17 new 400-foot towers–some on land in Green Mountain National Forest. "Wind development is industrial development, especially when you put a lot of turbines in one area," says ATC Conservation Director Laura Belleville. "We wouldn't oppose a project just because it affected views, but we need to think very critically about its short- and long-term impacts." (The ATC is neutral on the Searsburg proposal.)

In the absence of federal regulations for siting wind farms, the AMC and ATC are stepping in to help steer the process. Both use GIS data to rank potential development areas based on the presence of resources like rare plants, wildlife habitat, trails, and views from the AT and the Long Trail. The AMC has already endorsed several projects in Maine, and the ATC is open to supporting farms that meet its criteria. "It's much more appropriate to put a site where you can already see other human uses, like roads and towns," says AMC scientist Dave Publicover.

"Air pollution and climate change have very significant impacts on the places we care about, so we're not going to put our heads in the sand and say that someone else should solve the problem," Publicover says. "If we're going to find a solution, everybody will have to accept some changes." For hikers, that could soon mean turbine blades spinning on the horizon.

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Joe Wilkas
Nov 12, 2012

Well, it's now year 2012 and there are giant (450 ft) wind turbines showing up and being proposed for many of our scenic ridges and mountaintops in New England, including near popular hiking trails.
Of course they're not cost-effective, but your federal tax dollars are subsidizing all of it.

May 16, 2012

Get off your energy consuming computer if you have any problems with any energy producing system. Use as little power as possible.

J. O. Barnett
Oct 11, 2009

It is a shame you want the "clean" energy and not the sight of these things "in the Eastern states". Come out to West Texas and New Mexico where all of our caprocks have these, so you can get your clean energy. Hypocrits.

Dec 30, 2008

Lets see, how can I put this in a politically correct way...... "Stop your whining."
I have been around the world and have hiked on trails that run right next to wind generators. If you get off your whiney soap box, take a more positive outlook, you'll find the wind generators eco-friendly, even graceful structures. It seems some people will always find something to whine about.

C. Laska
Dec 29, 2008

Wind has it's place. I have to agree that most of points here are based of falsehood. Please make a your point with fact. The simple fact is wind has to be cost effective and building them on a Mtn top or any place you could not drive a school bus would not make sense. We may want to think it's about the Earth but it's still about the return on investment.

Edward Wilson
Dec 29, 2008

I am a professional in the wind energy generation field.I totally dissagree with the concept that wind turbines would interfere with the sport of hiking in the mountains. Wind turbines will never be placed on top of mountains. It would be to costly to install, and to maintain. Besides wind turbines operate better when wind speeds are less variable, that is not the case on top of hills and mountains. How would you transport and install the 20 ton towers by helicopter?? How would you bring down a turbine blade when they need repair? It is an absolute nightmare to transport these structures through regular highways, it would be virtually impossible to bring these turbines and towers to the mountain top via choppers' it would cost to much.The cost of the transmission lines would be exhorbitant, and would take years to build. There is plenty of flat land real state with predictable winds more conducive to wind power generation. So fear not, there will be no wind turbines (experimental yes), but not wind turbine farms in mountains. So your trail will reamin free from wind turbines for the time being. Enjoy your windy hike, the wind will be caught down hill by the turbines humming away in the valleys and flat lands.
Ed Wilson.

Nov 17, 2008

Forgot to add something :)

Hydroelectric is economical, all it requires is a turbine to be placed between the dam and the treatment plant in normal water production and it will always work(unless you run out of water :)

Nov 17, 2008

Wind is inefficient. How do you get the aluminium for the blades? By using a ton a electricity, aswell as oil for the trucks that mine it. How do you get the steel for the bearings inside of it? Using COAL(coke after it's transformed) and OIL to smelt and extract it. How do you get the oil for the grease used inside of the same bearings? With oil. Basically, something this big which relies entirely on something like the wind, which as we all know is unreliable. And sticking them on top of a ridge is stupid. What happens when theres alot of rain, and it eventually erodes the soil from underneath it and BOOM, no more wind turbine.

Nuclear is probably the only EFFICIENT and ECONOMICAL form of power we can use now. It only requires 2 main things; uranium, and water(or liquid sodium, etc). The water never comes into contact with the radiation, so a stream, ocean, etc could be used without harming the environment. Uranium can be stored deep underground, maybe in abandoned mines which were previously used for opal/diamond mining(long, thin tunnels, usually very deep). Uranium is very abundant in my country, and the only reason we dont use it or sell it(until recently i believe), is because we dont want to have to store it, and other countries will want us to store it for them. So we simply wont use it. It has the potential to produce all the worlds power for the next 1000 years. Hydrogen fission(fusion?) is a long way off, and at the moment is EXTREMELY expensive, although theres estimated to be enough deuterium(isotope of hydrogen) in seawater to provide enough power for the next 60 million years.

Wind turbines are really only economical for small towns, such as albany(south-west australia). They had 12 MASSIVE turbines put in, and they only produce around 75% of the whole town of 25,000 people.,_Western_Australia

This place is economical, as the winds coming off Antarctica blow consistently, and are likely to keep blowing for the next million years.

Wind power isnt economical for powering a whole nations power, and if theres no wind, looks like it's "sorry guys, no power today". Solar only functions 30-60% of the time, and if theres clouds theres even less. Solar isnt worth investing in. period.

Wind will always be there, but isnt efficient/reliable enough.

Geothermal is economical in certain places, but the hot spots have been known to cool down, and thus are a waste.

Tidal is still experimental, but it has the potential if it works.

Nov 17, 2008

I must also agree with mtnmaniac that nuclear is probably the only source for the majority of our long term base-load electricity demands, in spite of its environmental impacts and radioactivity.

While the football field estimation of radioactive waste is probably a significant underestimation the creation of toxic wastes is most likely by far the least significant for any other power source except hydro-power.

Electricity must be available in large and variable amounts when needed, not when it happens to be available. Solar in all its proposed forms does not meet this criteria at the moment. There is no reasonable way to store the electricity it generates until it is needed. While solar does currently save fuel that would otherwise be generated by coal or gas, it does not relieve the need for such generation capacity for the times that it is not delivering.

Hydro-power in the United States is already operating at its maximum capacity and is not sustainable over the long run even if you wanted to destroy all of our watersheds to access it the current dams are using all of the best spots and many are silting up. We should be looking to remove not add more dams.

Wind power on land does take up very large areas of land, if you don't believe me go look at the Altamont Pass in N. California. It must also have a backup electricity source because, as we all know, the wind does not always blow. It is also geographically constrained by its source (wind).

Solar-electric generation has many of the same problems as wind-energy with respect to location, space requirements and intermittent availability, although at least the areas are not often the same ones as for wind.

In any case for any intermittent power source (such as solar/wind/even hydro) there must be backup capacity in non-environmentally dependent sources such as Fossil Fuels or Nuclear. Solar/Wind/Hydro can only reduce the amount of fuel (Coal/Gas/Nuclear) that will be used not eliminate it. So the choice is either Coal (Lots of CO2), Gas (somewhat less CO2) or nuclear (very little CO2). In sum solar, wind and hydro electric power generation can only supplement not replace hydro-carbon or nuclear power with out some efficient and very long term storage capacity (ie weeks or months). Such long term storage has not even been conceived much less worked on.

We need to be conserving our wild and road-less areas in this country, and not just for enjoyment purposed but for the long term health of the environment. Even if the power storage issue is solved in some way Solar Power is generally not friendly to natural landscapes because of roads and power lines (that require cleared areas under them) that must be available for them.

The point of current policy should be to completely replace all fossil fuel usage with non CO2 generating sources. If we include automobiles and other fuel driven devices we will need about triple the current electrical generating capacity even if we significantly reduce current usage per capita.

While considerations of Uranium fuel is a consideration it must be pointed out that we have not even begun to prospect for it and that there are several alternative elemental isotopes that we will be able to use instead the near future. The isotopes such as Thorium are much more plentiful and in some cases can be derived from used uranium. The possible pollution effects from radiation release are not insignificant but even a Chernobyl sized event does not compare to the yearly destruction of our environment wrought by fossil fuels in every single year we use them. Nuclear proliferation is a concern but even without our help that cat has been let out of the bag by the ambitions of smaller nations.

In sum, to paraphrase Winston Churchill nuclear energy 'is the worst possible choice we have.. ..except for all the others'.

Scott B.
Nov 14, 2008

I design wind turbine collection systems. There are many comments here about not wanting to use oil and gas as an energy source. Well, I believe we're too far into the game to just quit, unfortunately. But, in wind and solar power we have a chance to at the very least clean up the air. Renewable energies are a viable and sustainable source that we need to take advantage of. I love to hike in "pure" environments, but name one place in the good old USA that you won't find trash. My friend hiked out fifteen bags of garbage from just one trail in Glacier NP! The number one item found? Over 2500 Cigarette butts! But that's for another soap box session...seriously... 2500!

Wind turbines are huge and noisey... true, but I believe there's no reason to place them in areas sensitive to hiking. Right now we are reusing tapped out oil fields in Texas. The ultimate renewable. The majority of these collection systems will be near the coast... a few in the foot hills of mountain ranges... but NEVER on top of a mountain as in the stuipid artist rendition in this article! The foundations for these turbines are 54' across! The cranes needed to assemble these beasts need another crane to assemble them! There's no room on a mountain ridge to do this! The engineering needed to place one of these golliaths would be too cost prohibitive! It would be shot down from that point alone. So people, get a hold of yourselves, put down your pitch forks and torches. This won't be happening. Wind, solar, and hydro... the energy of the furture, get over it!

Nov 14, 2008

Did anyone read the article "Offshore Wind Power Could Alter Ocean Currents" from Discovery News:

I'm all for wind power, but this is disturbing.

Oct 21, 2008

well this was a really good article please write more about the environment.

Juan B
Oct 20, 2008

Wow. I suppose I posted links to support my facts for 'everyone else.' Even though at the end of my previous comment I suggested you should get your facts correct, you simply spewed the same falsifications again. Are you related to the Political process?

Solar is being made three different ways: 1) mono-, 2) poly-, 3) Amorphorous (thin-film). Cadmium is one of the main components of the newer, amorphorous form that currently yields no more than half the efficiency of the first two silicon-made panels. Silicon, by the way, is the most prevailing mineral on the earth's surface. Are you referencing the newest solar PV science – amorphorous thin film for your solar longevity and toxicity ‘facts’? Why, when the original solar PV panels which have been producing energy for 25+ years and new ones are again going to be producing for 40-50 years would you say 5-10? Show me a nuclear plant that can do that without continual monitoring, refueling, maintenance, large abundance of cooling water source, lots of energy driven control, main, and auxiliary processes.... Again, I'm not saying nuclear cannot be done safely - I did it for 8 years. There's just no END OF LIFE plan right now and what we are left with is not something I want in my backyard but, anywhere. I find this ironic when one of the main legs you stand on for putting down solar PV is the waste at end of life.

I operated a nuclear power plant in the Navy. I saw the fuel leave on multiple rail cars and then come back because their planned disposal site in Idaho was closed by the Governor. And that was just from one of my ship’s refueling events. Yes, uranium is dense, thus fission - duh. But someone forgot to include the cooling medium, gamma and neutron shielding, other contaminated metals, secondary contaminated metals & equipment, cleanup and disposal contaminated equipment in your 1 football field 10 feet thick estimate. Maybe you don't have a understand of the potential health damage Radiation from nuclear waste presents to life, further maybe you find it hard to understand quarter-million year half-life’s of the material that we STILL don't have a place to put!!!! Further, I'm sure they may have newer, fancy ways to mine the U238. But how much energy did it take to generate the Oxygen and ship in the Baking soda, mix them together and pump water in, and filter the U238 and other things out. U238 is deposited along with many other minerals and compounds that way so you're going to be pulling a lot more than just U238. How much Energy did this take? Where did it come from? What was its carbon foot print? And to monitor surrounding wells, and close and cap wells, etc? Further, you're still left with U238. It takes an immense amount of energy to enrich U235 from U238 – Look up Chalk River. We had a joke of what Nuclear ‘CRUD’ stood for (Chalk River Unidentified Deposits). And guess what, all that refining equipment becomes radioactive waste too. Generally, this U235 matrix is put into a fuel grid and the rods are actually control rods to control the reaction process. Anyone who uses the term Fuel Rod doesn't really understand the way the real nuclear plants work. So again, Sure, put on your blinders and just look at nuclear once you've spent billions on a plant with huge subsidies, and just the snap-shot of it creating energy, yup it's clean and carbon free. I'll grant you that. It's all the above that dissuades me from supporting nuclear when clearly there are key places for Solar (Southwest USA and roofs in optimal areas), Wind (offshore and in key windy places), geothermal, and others that I think right now, yes RIGHT NOW, can provide all the energy needs we have if only we had the right energy policies in place. Then we can have the luxury of investing in finding a long-term solution for nuclear or a realistic vision for clean coal and sequestering the carbon exhausted. But to promote these two only shows a lack of concern for the larger triple bottom line and posterity.

One wind turbine per sq mile for ALL of Colorado’s energy? That sounds like a pretty good comparison if we can get some from Solar and Some from wind in places where it does work well. You seem to be so smart and then spew facts like this. The above photo shows what 11 or so wind turbines on a linear line that spans much less than the length of one side of a square mile. It doesn’t make sense to put them in every sq mile but only where it will produce the most efficient and constant wind speeds. As nuclear and Solar and everybody but coal has become more efficient… so has wind. Further, once these huge wind turbines do need to be replaced, isn’t it possible to recycle to steel and materials used to make them initially when making new ones. Further, when solar PV reaches its end of life, it can be recycled too. Pretty good end of life solutions from my perspective.

I'm not advocating any One energy will be the solution for our and other’s future... But clearly, Occam's Razor applies here, Which is more simple to solve our energy crisis: Solar or Nuclear? You figure it out.

Clearly, Large-scale Hydro's days are done, Coal needs a lot of work and research before it can be retrieved and made carbon mininal or effectivley sequestered (are we just hiding the problem here), Nuclear ... too many problems that still haven't been solved in 50+ years. Yes, it is more efficient and, nay I say safer, than then, but when it comes the nuclear, three words: END OF LIFE.

Paraphrasing Einstein, "One cannot pull at one part of the universe without the rest of it feeling it."

daryl hull
Oct 17, 2008

I aprove of wind energy !! I do'nt approve of Exon Mobil or any oil,nor do I approve of nuclear. Put those prop's wherever you want I think they are cute.

daryl hull
Oct 17, 2008

I aprove of wind energy !! I do'nt approve of Exon Mobil or any oil,nor do I approve of nuclear.

Conserve first
Oct 16, 2008

We need to get consumption under control before we start decimating our mountain ridge lines for an unreliable pittance added to the grid. People won't sacrifice big screen TVs and huge houses lit up like Xmas trees 24/7, but they are happy to sacrifice the health and beauty of our remaining wilderness mountains. Time to look in the mirror.

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