Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wind opinion up in the air

One of the things about having my job is that I tend to have a lot of information about almost every local subject either in my head or scattered somewhere on my desk. I have to learn new things, then translate the information and retell the story. In the past couple of years, I have had a crash course in wind energy and wind turbines. My editor and I joke that we've had to learn more about wind energy than most people in the state, and that's probably not far from the truth.

But being in the news media, everything I write is to be done without bias. Sometimes that is tough to do. After all, I have opinions just like everyone else. Lock 12 Van Wert County residents in a room and ask them a question, and you're sure to come out with no less than 15-20 different opinions. That's the way we're wired. But with wind energy, being impartial is easy for me because I'm really still up in the air on the whole thing.

I hear objections to having a couple hundred wind turbines in the county from time to time. Actually, they aren't as frequent as they used to be. But I've heard some of the typical complaints which sound more like the usual “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) arguments. “They might catch on fire!” Or “Birds will get killed by spinning blades” or “They'll be noisy or cause shadows” or whatever convenient excuses come to mind. While I can sympathize to some extent, I really don't pay much attention to NIMBY objections. Since I bought my house in the 90s, I now have a couple of large hog farms, a dairy farm, and electrical plant, and who knows what else -- all within a couple of miles. I know about NIMBY. We just have to deal with that.

I also hear real objections, like whether or not wind energy is going to be a real answer for the electrical needs of the country. Since wind energy can't be stored, a wind farm can't take the place of a coal-burning power plant. So it's not a final answer. I'm not sure it's money well-spent by the government, but at least we're seeing the results around here. Usually I have to drive to a far-off state to see what bridge or useless museum my tax money has purchased.

But you know, the objection I hear the most is that some people think they are ugly. I don't get that. Apparently other people don't either since there seem to be plenty of cars pulled to the side of Paulding County roads with eyes glued to the tall white towers. I've taken the drive numerous times with my kids, counting the number of completed turbines and looking at the sites where one or two vertical pieces are in place -- stumps, I call them. The blades reach high in the sky above us as we drive along, looking like overgrown white mosquitoes at times, or as my wife observed, like a fighter jet flying sideways when viewed from one angle. I could sit and watch them for hours, much in the same way I could stare at a campfire. It just sucks you in. Ugly is just not a word that comes to mind when I see them.

“Well, that's because you don't have to look at them all day, idiot!” (I'm sure someone just said that as they read... hope they don't mind me cleaning up their language!) Actually I don't have to look at them, but I can. Even though the turbines completed thus far are all in Paulding County, I can see about a half-dozen from my backyard. At night, the red lights atop the nacelle (the part the blades appear to be attached) shine brightly, blinking in unison at me. Even though the closest turbine is more than five miles away, they are still part of my landscape... part of my backyard.

Will these turbines and the ones still to be erected in Van Wert County always be pleasing to my eyes? Hard to say. There could come a time when they become as outdated as the farmhouse windmills that are just now starting to vanish from the countryside. But for now, they are bringing in a much-needed economic boost. And for that we should be thankful.

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