June 21, 2005
Senator Lamar Alexander Wants To Protect Scenic Views From Wind Towers

John J. Fialka of the Wall Street Journal reports on Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander's battle against wind electric generator tower subsidies.

Compared with other emerging renewable-energy sources in the U.S., wind power is a giant, growing about 25% each year because, with its subsidies, it is increasingly cost-competitive with natural-gas-fired power in some states. Sen. Alexander says he wants to remove wind power's subsidies before it gets bigger. "We are ruining the outdoors for no good reason," he said during an interview. "These aren't your grandmother's windmills."

That is so: A modern wind generator stands on a 300-foot tower with flashing red lights that can be seen for more than 20 miles. Its blades are 95 feet long and when the wind is blowing it can generate enough electricity to power 500 homes. Since wind comes and goes, it normally operates at about 35% of capacity.

The Democrats are backing a proposal to require electric utilities to buy 10% of their electric power from renewable sources by 2020 (and does that include nuclear?). Alexander opposes that and he also opposes a $3.7 billion tax credit the bulk of which is expected to go to wind farm construction.

The proposal Sen. Alexander failed to stop last week establishes a "national renewable portfolio standard." It would require large utilities to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020, a requirement financed by a small increase in electricity rates. Energy companies that don't generate renewable power would have to buy credits from those that do, which would be an incentive to use wind, geothermal, solar and other sources.

Mr. Alexander says that would spell an environmental "disaster" for the Southeast, where strong wind exists mainly on mountaintops. In a recent speech he envisioned hundreds of turbines "with their flashing red lights atop the blue ridges of Virginia, above the Shenandoah Valley, along the foothills of the great Smoky Mountains...and down the Tennessee River Gorge." The sound of these machines, the senator said, is like "a brick wrapped in a towel tumbling in a clothes drier on a perpetual basis."

I like scenic vistas. I don't understand why environmental groups are willing to support wind power. Would they rather ruin scenic vistas than build nuclear power plants? I guess so. They even want to use taxpayers money and higher electric prices to subsidize the ruin of scenery. How about you? do you mind seeing wind towers 20 miles off on mountain tops or coast lines? I can see putting them 30 miles offshore beyond view of most people.

Senator Alexander is certainly correct that the US Southeast has little wind power potential and that most of the potential in the Southeast is in the mountains. See this map of wind in the United States. (or see a newer and higher resolution wind map of the United States) Most of the Mississippi valley is pretty poor for wind as well. The Northeast has wind at the coast and on mountains. Do you want your coastal and mountain scenic views ruined by wind towers?

On that previous map note the "Superb" wind ratings for Alaska's Aleutian islands. Could wind towers on an Aleutian island provide such cheap power to economically justify siting an aluminum smelter or other highly energy intensive industry on one of those islands?

To get a feel for how much wind varies with time check out this map of wind intensities over the United States per hour for the last 6 hours. At the moment I viewed the map the US was experiencing pretty low levels of wind almost everywhere in the lower 48 states.

I'd rather accelerate research into nuclear power and photovoltaic materials. Nanotech photovoltaics of the future will be used to create photovoltaic roof tiles and siding that blend in to housing exteriors without any esthetic loss. Billions spent per year on wind tower construction subsidies would be better spent on photochemistry and nanotech research. The wind subsidies are literally orders of magnitude larger than the amount spent on photovoltaics research today. This seems like bad policy getting worse.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 June 21 12:36 PM  Energy Policy

odograph said at June 21, 2005 2:50 PM:

The "protect scenic vistas" thing is an obvious lie, because it does not differentiate. If this is the same bill I saw, it de-funds all turbines by a coast. There are both sewage treatment plants and gas-fired power plants a few miles up the coast from me. He would not let anyone add a turbine, in the parking lot of the freaking sewage treatment plant, because it would ruin the view.

An obvious anti-wind measure pretending to be something else

Michael said at June 21, 2005 3:44 PM:

I would rather have the sewage treatment plant and the gas/coal/nuclear fired power plant in discrete areas at any given location rather than wind farms anytime. Wind farms are ugly, noisy and ruin vast tracts of land.

Come visit the Mojave Desert. It's disgusting.

As much as it pains me, I must agree with the good Senator.

My opinion.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2005 3:51 PM:


Power plants cover orders of magnitude smaller areas. They also are not sited on top of ridges either.

The "freaking sewage plant" can be built with a low profile. You can hide it with some trees. The wind towers go into the air hundreds of feet and the proposals for the future are for taller towers to reach where the air blows harder.

Jim said at June 21, 2005 4:38 PM:

the real wind potential is in places like south dakota. i don't want wind turbines on the beautiful mountaintops either, but this is a tiny part of the potential wind locations (when you take the country as a whole, not speaking for local regions).

why does anyone oppose turbines in the middle of nowhere illinois or texas?? nuclear has dangers... i agree with you that it's an essential part of the future, but regardless of all the advantages, it has HUGE risks (v. small chance of problem times enormous damage if things do go wrong = huge risk) solar is still very far from commercial. wind and solar are actually quite complimentary technologies (wind blows more in the winter; sun is stronger in the summer), as are wind and farming.

Joseph said at June 21, 2005 4:53 PM:

Reference wind generators planted on the Aluetian Islands. Not pratical. Ice build up would prevent their use as of now. The best system currently developed that can handle such conditions is maxxed out I think around 500 KW for output. It's also very expensive to build. The research into this is being conducted by a group (name escapes me at the moment) in Colorado.

But your point is well taken, some people would b**** even if you hung 'em with a new rope :)

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2005 5:27 PM:


Ice: Why not just take a small fraction of the energy generated by the wind turbines and heat the props?

Speaking of ice: Prop planes fly in Alaska in the winter. Do they have problems with ice while flying?

I like the way Delta shows TV screens on some flights with altitude, direction, and outside temperature. Well, in a nutshell, its cold out there at high altitudes. But they manage to prevent ice buildup.

For that matter, wind towers in the Rockies would face the same problem with ice as the Aleutians.

Colorado: I'm guessing you are referring to the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory National Wind Technology Center near Boulder Colorado.

Ice seems a solvable problem. An Aleutian Island would be a great place to place a high energy industry powered by wind if the resulting electricity would be cheap enough. I wonder how the economics of wind power work out when the wind blows really hard.

me said at June 21, 2005 6:04 PM:

Let's see...empty flat ocean/rocky hill OR a testament to human ingenuity generating clean power from the air itself...
This is 'futurepundit' right?!...not 'admire-the-unchanged-view-from-our-caves-pundit'

Jim said at June 21, 2005 6:19 PM:

why not just build your aluminum smelter in the great plains, where it's much easier, closer to people, and cheaper. that's where wind makes sense. build it like they built an aluminum industry along the dammed snake river.

Snit said at June 21, 2005 8:44 PM:

Maybe we can come up with a compromise measure: Line the New Jersey coasts with wind turbines. It is, for the most part, already a pit, and (aside from NY commuters), who cares what those living there think?

More seriously, Alexander, and Parker, I think, would rather promote an alternate, for whatever reasons. Wind power is extremely cheap. If we're willing to continue stripmining, we should consider wind power.

Engineer-Poet said at June 21, 2005 9:00 PM:

Faced with a choice between 400-foot wind turbines on a ridge or having the ridge bulldozed into the valley next to it for the coal underneath, I'll take the turbines.  Make no mistake, that is the choice we have right now, and Mr. Alexander is trying to protect the people who would leave no ridges behind.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2005 9:02 PM:


Our technology has changed. But humans still have the same genetically coded preferences for views. We like grasses, trees, and some stuff in between. I'm not going to deny my esthetic preferences just because they were coded for me by millions of years of evolution. I also like sweet and fatty stuff. What am I supposed to do, take my meals intravenously because it is a more technologically advanced way to provide needed nutrients?


The question is what portion of the cost of aluminum smelting is energy and what percentage is labor or other things. I don't know. I raised the issue hoping someone might know. My guess is that aluminum smelters have become far more automated just like steel mills. Maybe they don't need a lot of labor any more but maybe they still need gobs of electricity.

As for the great plains: I'd really like to know what happens to the pennies per kwh cost of wind electricity if the towers are installed at very high versus high versus medium versus low wind areas. The great plains are more medium. The Aleutians are very high, the highest rating in that map I linked to.


I realize it is fashionable in some quarters to make fun of New Jersey. But since I was born and raised there my experience with the NYC snobs was that they really weren't living somewhere that afforded them the luxury of looking down on NJ. NYC is the pit. Why not put wind towers on top of skyscrapers?

"for whatever reasons"? Nuclear power is cheaper than wind power and it doesn't spoil scenic vistas. I'm quite willing to replace coal with nuclear.

As for coal versus wind: The coal strip mines take up a lot less land area than a corresponding number of wind mills would. I would like to see the coal burners forced to reduce emissions more rapidly. They could do it. Though tougher emissions controls on coal would make nuclear's cost advantage even bigger.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2005 10:28 PM:


Currently we have about 3 choices:

1) More coal plants and coal mining.

2) Nuclear plants.

3) Wind turbines in lots of places including on mountain ridges and near shorelines.

It is my impression that coal mining is done in much smaller areas than wind mills would go up on to provide equivalent amounts of energy.

It is also my impression from an article I read (and I don't have a URL) that most forms of coal strip mining have come under very severe regulations for restoring land after the coal is stripped out. Some forms of coal mining (in particular the chopping off of mountain tops) still do not require full restoration of landscape shape. But the regular strip mining does and they all require making the soil surface layers the same as they were before the coal was removed.

So would you prefer nukes or wind turbines?

Snit said at June 21, 2005 10:31 PM:


Didn't mean to offend you about NJ. I do live in Brooklyn now (not from here), but I'm not actually that snotty about it, even if I do find humor in it. (My primary experience with NJ are the turnpikes... enough said.)

In any case, I'd be fine with turbines on rooftops, even if I know they won't happen for the same reason I don't expect widewpread nuclear power in my lifetime - other people don't like it. I also suspect lots of the recent technical advances will turn out, operationally, to have faults that will end up horrific at least once more, further spoiling public perception. (That's without political issues - pebble bed might even really be failsafe, but get a government contractor capable of getting the contract to build one in the U.S., and I'll eat several hats of your choice.)

I'm with you on coal emissions. I just don't see much practical alternative to a lot more wind in the near-term. Solar isn't scaling fast enough, nuclear is a political non-starter...

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2005 10:39 PM:


Nuclear is a political non-starter? I think we need more environmental opposition to wind based on esthetic grounds. If wind can be turned into a non-starter then more people will revisit nuclear.

As things now stand everyone is so accustomed to opposing nuclear power and fossil fuels that they accept wind because it is not nuclear power and it is not fossil fuels. So wind just isn't getting the critical treatment it deserves.

So far most people who support wind power support it in the abstract. They haven't considered they'd want hundreds of wind towers near their backyard or near their favorite summer vacation areas at lakes and at ocean beaches or near their favorite winter skiing areas.

Engineer-Poet said at June 21, 2005 11:22 PM:

I'd rather have the turbines on the ridges, for one simple reason:  when they're obsolete, someone will come along with a crane and remove them, leaving the ridge more or less as it was.

A removed mountaintop will never be the same, even remotely.

Joseph said at June 21, 2005 11:25 PM:


Low speed trailing edges will develope ice build up to an appreciable degree (not an issue with high speed props). As an example at say -40 F when driving in a coastal enviroment you'll soon hear the roaring sound of your ice encrusted radio antenna as it plows through the air:). It's actually loud enough that you'll think something is wrong with your transmission or rear differential. The research group in Colorado was using active de-icing systems on their test wind generators. There wasn't a great amount of technical discussion but the impression I had was that blades large enough for a 500KW load were about as large as they could push the engineering at that time. Other problems of course abound. Brittleness of materials (at the more extreme temperature of -63F I still remember the occasion I tried to hammer in a nail and the hammer cracked), special lubrication needs (most lubricants become decent contact cements at greater than -30 F). I'm sure it could eventually be worked out but the generators would be far costlier and require a far greater level of maintenance which means stationing a lot of people nearby with all the support needed for them.

Engineer-Poet said at June 22, 2005 12:26 AM:

Trailing edges?  Aircraft wings (and "hot props" both) have their de-icing gear on the leading edges.

Jim said at June 22, 2005 6:12 AM:

Randall, you're really misleading with the following statement:

"3) Wind turbines in lots of places including on mountain ridges and near shorelines."

as i've already pointed out, and you've ignored, Randall.... the most valuable wind resource on the planet is the great plains of the u.s. the map you reference is pretty outdated. it shows the mountaintops as big pixels of goodness. these are very local spots of high wind value, whereas the great plains are flat and have huge regions of good wind value. mountaintops are not efficient place to build... what a pain in the ass place to build (although not quite as ridiculous as your aluetian islands) not to mention the low air pressure reducing the value for a given wind speed. 4 and 5 regions are very good for producing wind. in fact the biggest wind farm in the country is being built in illinois with all PRIVATE financing. check out the more detailed location (it's near bloomington, il, small 4 region on the following map). and they're closer to 40 stories tall and there'll be more turbines than people in these two little farming towns. they started here because it's right next to a major transmission line to chicago.


"I think we need more environmental opposition to wind based on esthetic grounds. If wind can be turned into a non-starter then more people will revisit nuclear."

think about when these or similar investors have teamed up with alcoa and some native american tribes in s. dakota to go after the huge swaths of 5 regions.... no amount of badmouthing will stop this phenomenon because it makes good technical and economic sense.

as me said:"This is 'futurepundit' right?!...not 'admire-the-unchanged-view-from-our-caves-pundit'"

so what is it: are you FOR or AGAINST harvesting the wind power of the great plains?

Jim said at June 22, 2005 6:18 AM:

btw, i just read the article in the wsj, and noticed that at the end his real motivation is mentioned: Sen. Alexander owns property within sight of the planned nantucket wind farm..... what a selfish, disingenuous pig

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2005 8:34 AM:


I'm also selfish: I don't want to look at scenic views that have big wind towers. Does that make me a pig? Oink Oink. Do grow up a bit.

You missed a really important point about your Iowa map: It only goes up to the 4th level because apparently Iowa doesn't have locations that have the top 3 levels of wind.

Here's what I believe is a newer wind power map of the lower 48 states. Here it is again at much higher resolution and size Note that it upgrades portions of the northern great plains and northern Texas and western Oklahoma from 3 to 4. But the mountains remain at 7 at points. The Southeast remains as a poor place for wind except in the mountains and bits of coastline.

Are you sure that Illinois wind farm isn't getting tax credits?

You say:

think about when these or similar investors have teamed up with alcoa and some native american tribes in s. dakota to go after the huge swaths of 5 regions.... no amount of badmouthing will stop this phenomenon because it makes good technical and economic sense.

Well, almost 100 coal generator plants are proposed in the United States currently. I figure most will go forward because they make "good technical and economic sense". You happy about that?

As for wind farms on the great plains: I guess I am not being clear enough: I don't want to see the landscape covered with wind farms. If we must have them then I'd prefer we have them in the less scenic locations. So keep them away from mountain ridges and coastlines. That means that, yes, I'd rather have them on the great plains than those other places. But I'd much rather have them 30 miles off the coasts or in the Aleutians so that fewer people have to see them.

Better yet, I'd rather have nuclear and a big push to do research on photovoltaics.

Joseph said at June 22, 2005 12:22 PM:


What can I say, that's where the ice builds up on slow speed narrow surfaces passing through intensly cold, high humidity air. I'm not a student of the physics, simply an observer of the effect. I'm sure there's a flow model for how it forms dependent on velocity. Personnal observation is that the leading edge in these conditions is predominately ice free with the buildup occurring predominately on the trailing edge. Is this different that what aircraft experience? I can't say and I'm not sure if the conditions are fully comparable (altitude versus moisture density at extremely low temperatures).

To the point of using the wind to process aluminum along the Aluetian Islands, I'd be surprised if the wind was steady enough to make it practical. Greenland uses geothermal which is fairly dependable. To be competetive the power supply would have to be constant to allow 24/7 operations. The wind does not blow constantly on these islands and sometimes has gales for days on end. Regardless I'm sure someone would protest it as some type of degradation of enviroment or native lifestyle etc.. I've predicted it before. You can have the perfect mega wind site and some group will protest that it's changing local enviroment or some such and demand it be torn down.

As far as scenic values...well yeah areas with suitable winds probably are also very scenic. They're normally scenic because most people don't like to live in windy areas so there's no human construction to impact visuals. If people don't want the scenic vistas ruined then build nukes. The same thing can be said for photovoltaic since it also takes up space. The final answer of course is when power becomes oppresively expensive, then people suddenly begin swallowing their indignation no matter how principaled they may have previously seemed.

Jim said at June 22, 2005 1:02 PM:

you're still looking rough data. s. dakota looks like a four because that's the average of 3,4, and 5 regions. check it out... i think 5 is ideal balance of plenty of wind but not so high that you have durability problems.


regarding the illinois investment group, i only know as much as was in the tribune article - that stated it was all private. presumably they're hoping for more clean energy subsidies that would include wind. obviously coal is more economically and technically feasible with the resources we have in this country.

i'm not sure exactly the economic balance of labor vs. electricity costs for aluminum smelters, but they're mostly all built in regions of cheap power (quebec is another good example besides the snake river)

Robert Bradbury said at June 22, 2005 1:49 PM:

Randall said, "Currently we have about 3 choices ...
So would you prefer nukes or wind turbines?"

Randall, no matter how many times I try to make the
point you seem to always ignore the cost and time for
the infrastructure requirements.

1. Coal. Infrastructure is largely in place. Mines
could expand production and formerly closed mines could
be reopened (huge numbers of underground coal mines
were closed when trains switched from coal to diesel
in the 1940s). Existing coal burning plants could expand
electricity production (at some environmental cost).

2. Nuclear plants. Even if you had the political will
to get them approved in say 5 years, all current designs
(with a track record) are considered relatively unsafe.
You do not throw up a nuclear power plant overnight.
5+ year construction times would not be unreasonable.
Perhaps longer if you have to "harden" the designs to
withstand terrorist attacks as many would now require.
To ultimately make nuclear work you need (a) to have
inherently safe (and tested) designs; (b) probably to
site them underground to reduce threats from terrorists
and potential accidents; (c) deal in a robust way with
the nuclear waste issue (which most likely requires robust

3. Wind turbine contributions are limited by the production
capacities of existing factories and the time required to
expand infrastructure to support increased production rates.
(One has the same problem with solar cells.) One also has
the potential problem of constructing the power transmission
lines from the remote locations where wind turbines might be
installed to where the power can be used (again more infrastructure

So the only thing which is going to make any serious difference
in the 3-8 year time frame is coal. Any other discussion should
be focused on changing the political priorities.

Those who really want to investigate this should
read about the DOE's efforts to produce clean coal
technology [1,2,3]. The only problem is that coal, unless
combined with a long term workable sequestration policy is not
a sustainable solution (due to the potential for global warming).
The only relatively long term sustainable solutions are
(a) breeder reactors; (b) photovoltaic; (c) wind; and as I
have mentioned before (d) solar ponds that can produce methane.

1. http://fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/cleancoal/
2. http://www.netl.doe.gov/cctc/
3. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/8208/8208coal.html

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2005 2:09 PM:

Robert Bradbury states:

Randall, no matter how many times I try to make the point you seem to always ignore the cost and time for the infrastructure requirements.

No, I don't ignore these problems. But, look, we are going to need more electricity next year. We will need even more electricity 5 years from now. We will need even more electricity 10 years from now. We will need still more electricity 15, 20, 25, and 30 years from now. So expect more electric generation capacity in some form or other installed every year for decades to come.

Yes, I agree that in the short term coal is going to grow the most in absolute term for the next decade. But unless political opposition to coal pollution grows the development and deployment of cleaner alternatives will not happen as quickly as it could. We should be worried that coal might still be the preferred solution 12, 15, and 20 years from now or we'll move to covering scenic views with wind towers. I want to avoid both those outcomes.

For solar power I see two reactions: A) Subsidize photovoltaics so much that it gets used a lot even though it is expensive or B) Dismiss photovoltaics as a distant pipe dream. I'm arguing for a third option: C) Admit that coal and wind have such large downsides that we ought to accelerate the research on photovoltaics so that some day we can stop having to use energy sources that have such big downsides.

Nuclear could get installed more rapidly as well.

Bob Badour said at June 22, 2005 5:16 PM:


Not sure where the Snake River site is, but aluminum production relies on water access too for shipping bauxite and alumina in as raw materials. I assume the Snake River site has ocean access or access to local sources of raw materials.

Engineer-Poet said at June 22, 2005 5:53 PM:

I've been to the Mojave around Palm Springs.  I've seen the wind turbines.  They were okay from the freeway; what bugged me was the ridiculous waste of water all over the place.  Kentucky blue grass lawns in the middle of a desert?  What did they have to dessicate (and kill) to achieve that?

FWIW, I've also seen the eggbeater turbines around Sacramento.  I understand that they are being removed.

I do not understand some people's reaction to wind turbines.  On my last vacation I discovered several wind farms along freeways, and spent some time photographing them.  Compared to the absurd waste of a brilliantly flaming flare stack I saw in western Wyoming, they appeared positively benevolent.

red river said at June 22, 2005 8:20 PM:

I love the discussion of Wind power in the Aleutians.

The comments about ice buildup and -60 temps is a bit farfetched as the Aleuts sit on the Pacific astride the warm Japanese current. Its pretty balmy. The few times year that it does get real cold you just shut things down. I worked on fishing boats up there in my youth and it pretty nice on the coast in winter.

The Dutch and Norwegians already run large installations in similar conditions.

The wind map is deceiving as wind power class depends upon local conditions more than anything else. Fetch and local geography can turn a class-3 into a class-6.

I personally know the rancher in the Flint Hills who is installing 400 1-MW towers on his place. He has 20 years of data logging and was able to prove he was a class-6 in a class-4 region with an average speed of 21 mph over his place. In the winter, its very cold on top of his hill - a lot colder than the Aleuts.

It was ironic that some people tried to stop his project claiming ranching values, yet this man is one of the best ranchers in the lower 48 AND the land has been in his family for over 100 years. In fact, most of the wind power projects in the great plains are done by family operations. Its a win-win on many levels.

The Arbuckle Mountains astride I-35 in Oklahoma south of OKC is marginal class-7. It has unlimited fetch and multiple ridges. Its probably the best wind-power site in the great plains because its very close to Dallas and OKC.

AS for beauty, nothing is more disgusting to me than a pasture full of spurge or scabiosa. I love the towers.

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2005 9:55 PM:

red river,

Thanks for confirming what I suspected: The Aleutians are not that cold due to ocean currents. If wind towers can be constructed in Wyoming and North Dakota and Norway surely they can be operated from the Aleutians. Cool.

I'd really like to know what the price is in pennies per kwh for electricity if the wind blows very hard and consistent. I read about wind installations that operate at an average of only 20% or at most 35% of max capacity. Well, are there sites where wind installations could operate at an average of, say, 80% of max capacity? At that point wouldn't wind be cheaper than any other electric power source? So then at that point wouldn't such a site be a choice place to put an aluminum plant?

Heck, think about big computer farms. Fiber optic capacity is cheap. The Aleutians are relatively cool and so the wind could be used also to help cool the computers. Save on air conditioning costs. Couldn't big server sites be installed on the Aleutians to do big compute jobs like, say, processing all the data from massive DNA sequencing efforts or for protein folding simlations? Most of the computer administrators and users could use the computers remotely. If the wind slowed down the CPUs could be slowed down to lower power levels. So the sims would take longer to run when the wind slowed. Still, the CPUs would run at full speed most of the time.

So would those heavy wind Aleutians be a good place to put wind towers to generate electricity for use for industries sited on the island in order to get the cheap electric juice?

Seems to me the whole question depends on whether wind farms could run at a much higher percentage of max capacity there. Wind farms that can run at 3 times higher than typical capacity ought to produce electricity for a third the price, no?

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2005 11:31 PM:

Speaking of more detailed wind maps see this map of upper midwest wind power. Note that South Dakota looks best out of the 8 states in that map. You can also view wind maps for most of the individual states. While South Dakota has more wind than Wyoming on average the best places in Wyoming are better than the best places in South Dakota. Most of Wyoming's best wind is between Cheyenne and Casper. My guess is this is due to mountains.

Most of California's best wind is well offshore.

James Bowery said at June 23, 2005 7:29 AM:

"Technology policy" mainly boils down to trying to compensate for the fact that capital concentrations are subsidized*, resulting in all kinds of pathologies -- not the least of which the distancing of investors from their investments. They lose the incentive to take technical risks because they just can't manage their risks intelligently. Such centralization in the US is not as bad as Soviet central planning, but it is of the same quality.

Having said that, it is pretty silly to try to preserve scenic areas through technology policy rather than through real estate policy. What's wrong with having the owners of the eye-sores compensate their neighbors for damages to real estate value? Have they even tried that approach? It seems estimating those damages at a local level, similar to eminent domain proceding, would work a lot better than having Federal politicians try to figure out all the externalities of various technologies.

*The way they're subsidized is pretty fundamental. Since the primary value of government is maintaining the social construct of non-subsistence property rights, it is the holders of those rights that should be taxed accordingly. That is: The owners of non-subsistence property rights should pay for government rather than people who merely earn income, capital gains, etc. A subsistence exemption similar to the bankruptcy exemption would be necessary for the same reason that human capital would not be taxed except in the form of conscription powers. At present property tax is backwards -- falling primarily on subsistence, and paying for none of the biggest cost: the Federal government.

Jim said at June 23, 2005 7:41 AM:

bob - snake river is in the northwest. there are several big dams on it. i'm not sure if it's a coincidence, probably not, but boeing is located in seattle. quebec is one of the world's biggest places for hydro power, they also have a large aluminum industry (alcan). presumably the ore from s. america could flow up the mississippi/missouri to get to my imaginary aluminum smelters running off wind power in s. dakota (or wyoming). rail transport in u.s. is feasible too. for that matter, the ore from austrailia could make it to randall's imaginary wind-powered smelters in the aleutian's pretty easily too - even easier to get to the whole pacific rim export market.

nice find on the off-shore cali resources... there is an enormous amount near l.a., even if you took a 20 or 30 mile offshore exclusion! i wonder how deep the water is there? that probably has a big impact on cost to build.

Rob said at June 23, 2005 8:19 AM:

There's a dirty little secret about wind power that doesn't seem to get much mention. The electrical grid, you see, must always balance. The power going in has to equal the power going out at all times. So, if you have 100 megawatts of wind power on-line feeding the grid and the wind stops, you have to come up with 100 megawatts of replacement power right away. This means that you have to have generating capacity built and standing by to replace wind power at all times, becuase the wind just might quit.

When you take this into account, wind power is quit a bit more expensive than it seems at first. Of course, no one ever takes this into account when they talk about wind power, just as they don't take into account enormous government subsidies.

McDuff said at June 23, 2005 8:25 AM:

Yeah, let's keep using coal. I hear they make it carbon-free now.

People have been ruining more than just the view for years by building huge dams all down the Colorado. This is far less of an environmental issue than those travesties.

That said, I do appreciate the need to conserve America's vital heritage out in the wilderness. It's part of what makes America what it is, these wild, untapped spaces. The problem is, this bill throws too much of the baby out with the bathwater.

Engineer-Poet said at June 23, 2005 2:13 PM:

I'm sure Randall knows that water depths at 30 miles would all but certainly make the cost of foundations prohibitive for wind turbines; his position amounts to BANANA.

There's a bunch of category 5 territory in Lake Michigan; the winds coming across the water have a lot of fetch, and don't slow down until they hit land again.  I'd support putting one or more rows of 5 MW machines in the lake, no problem; if you could see them at all, they'd be features like clouds and boats.

Robert Schwartz said at June 23, 2005 2:37 PM:

I love these threads. The only technology that will be acceptable is one we don't have and the only place to put it is not in my back yard.

Randall Parker said at June 23, 2005 3:05 PM:

E-P presumes too much. Maybe automated and unmanned floating platforms could hold up wind towers 30 miles off California's coast. The platforms either could have long anchors to the bottom to hold them in place or part of the power from the wind could be used to run electric engines to keep the platforms from drifting too far.

There'd be a problem in how to get the power back to the shore though.

Robert Schwartz,

All technologies have downsides. Many technologies can be developed to reduce the size of the downsides. Cleaner ways to burn coal, reactor designs that have much lower odds of accidents, and other approaches can reduce the downsides of most of the energy technologies being discussed here.

As for "not in my backyard": Well, yes, of course. People don't want to be inconvenienced. I don't there is anything inherently wrong with that attitude.

Sidings and roofing material that are photovoltaics would not create a NIMBY response.

jlw said at June 24, 2005 8:50 AM:

For the record, researchers at AECL in Canada have been exploring using nuclear and wind TOGETHER. It works, and in some ways works better than nuclear by itself.


quote: "Indeed, one of the best ways to move from the petroleum-based economy to one that relies on hydrogen to power vehicles is to combine wind turbines and nuclear reactors in an integrated system. Together, those energy sources could usher in a new era of clean power."

The choice of either nuclear or wind is a false one. The path we need to take requires both technologies--and solar, and clean coal, and tidal/wave power, and anything else that can produce net zero carbon.

Andrew Fenwick said at June 28, 2005 3:13 PM:

I agree with odograph and jlw. I drive by the wind farm south of Lamar, CO. everyday on the way to work. It is a beautiful sight to see cattle grazing undisturbed below these giant, quiet, clean turning blades. How many people live out here on the ranges, and why don't you hear any of them complaining about them? Perhaps they appreciate what they represent. What these wind towers actually represent is a clean, renewable power shift away from Senator Alexander's entrenched coal plants.

The opponents to these wind towers will continue to make irrational claims in support of a feckless position. They used to warn us that these wind towers would kill migratory birds by the tens of thousands by swatting them out of the sky like giant metal blender monster machines! Ooooooo, scary! I've got my blanky and my popcorn ready just in case it happens.

Of course they need wind to work. If you put enough of them across the vast, empty tracks of the western plains (why do you think they call them Great?), some will be turned on and some will be turned off. They don't all need to be running to meet the need. Just like the lights in your home, you don't turn on every light all the time just because you have it to turn on do you? Perhaps you do, in which case you should stop reading now and go home, because your lights are on and no one is home. You only turn on the wind towers when you need them. As far as the fear that the wind will stop blowing, anyone remember King Canute? Like the tide, who can turn off the wind? Has anyone ever seriously heard of a wind embargo? Like I said, feckless position.

Perhaps if a few wind towers were planted on Capitol Hill, they would find an inexhaustible supply of wind. There never seems to be any shortage of wind (or natural gas) on that hill.

Bob Badour said at June 29, 2005 11:13 AM:

But is wind enough, Andrew?

I always find those who resort to ridicule have something to hide. In this case, I believe you might be hiding the issue of capacity and continued growth. At least, I don't see how your ridicule addresses those issues.

Can wind scale to meet the energy demands of the entire nation?

What other arguments and issues did you avoid by resorting to ridicule?

Andrew Fenwick said at June 29, 2005 1:13 PM:

Thank you for your comments Bob. Of course, I respectfully disagree with your opinion! As a point, I attempt to limit my ridicule to ignorance, dishonesty, greed, bullying, misrepresentation, theft, and corruption.

What part of my very first statement, "I agree with odograph and jlw," did you not understand? These are authors of previous posts on this very page with which I am inclined to agree with.

You got me! I am hiding the issue of capacity and continued growth! Do you want to borrow my blanky? You'll have to get your own popcorn!

There is so much more to this great country than just East and West Coasts. I am blessed in that I was raised on the East Coast, spent many years on the West Coast, been stationed throughout the U.S. and overseas, and now live in Colorado. Have you ever seen a night image (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap970830.html) of the entire United States Bob? On this image, the darkness represents room for wind power capacity and more growth than you can imagine. Wind turbines may be located only a few miles outside of town (on land approved for this use by the owner) and you'll never know that they are there!

"Can wind scale to meet the energy demands of the entire nation?" Again, what part of my first statement confuses you?
However, using the following formula, shamelessly copied from (http://www.imagineeringezine.com/e-zine/wind-1.html): power in watts = (collection area in sq. ft.) (Wind speed in MPH)3 (0.0054), I believe wind power offers one element of a long range alternative energy solution.

It's not that people out here don't want wind turbines. No one believes that nonsense about negative environmental impact or noise. The issues of capacity, growth, and scale of wind power are determined on the support or discouragement of Congress. We all know how Congress conducts business.

Seriously Bob, there are many interesting thoughts and ideas on this page. The argument that wind power may not work well in one area, does not hold water that it won't work well someplace else. My "argument" is that I pass by wind turbines everyday. I find them to be gentle on the surrounding environment, quiet, efficient, unobtrusive, providing electricity with zero emissions, and work effectively on a synchronized utility grid.

What is it about wind power that offends you so? Remember, principles before personalities!

CBL said at January 18, 2008 6:36 AM:

Wind is an important resource we can't afford to ignore. People who complain about the footprint and ruined view of wind towers should consider transmission lines which are nearly as tall and run for thousands of miles across this country and right through many neighborhoods. At least with Wind projects, most are situated far from towns, parks and scenic areas. Shooting down Wind initiatives is ignorant as the industry is growing at 45% annually and can provide a serious boost to the economy, (unlike jobs for Oil/Gas which mostly goes overseas) and our power mix for years to come. Offshore projects especially will be efficient and out of view of everyone. And unlike Nuclear or Coal, wind projects can go up fast with relatively small investments and when something better comes along, be quickly dismantled with the hardware going to recycled uses. So ma and pa, what would you rather have? A few harmless wind towers on the horizon or a Nuke plant in your neighborhood. Or maybe you'd rather have an open pit coal mine with slag heaps ruining the groundwater for generations? Next time your rates go up and/or you lose power for a few days because the Grid is maxed, maybe you'll reconsider who you voted for.

Fenton Heirtzler said at September 29, 2008 4:34 PM:

Which is uglier? A superhighway or a windmill? Which is noisier? A superhighway or a windmill? Which produces more carbon dioxide? A superhighway or a windmill? As long as Ye Olde Senator does not oppose automobiles and large highways, his argument against windmills defaults.

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