Blowin’ in the Wind, The Merits of Wind Energy

Wind farms are an efficient production of clean energy | Photo from Wikicommons

Jon Loeb ’11 & Cole Manley ’11
Staff Writer & Senior Writer

Wind farms are an efficient production of clean energy | Photo from Wikicommons If you have glanced at the front cover of a New York Times issue in the past several weeks, or watched any news coverage, you will have likely seen countless pictures of oil spewing out into the Gulf of Mexico and coating innocent pelicans.

In the past month, millions of barrels of oil have steadily formed an ever-expanding slick hundreds of miles wide, covering gulf beaches and estuaries in the process.

Whom to blame? Of course, BP deserves accusation. But more fundamentally, our nation’s centuries-long addiction to oil, and other fossil fuels, is the culprit.

Even more damaging is the effect these fossil fuels are having on the Earth’s atmosphere.

The merits of climate change can no longer be questioned. Global warming is not a myth; rather, studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s third and fourth assessments predict additional warming of 2.5-10.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century. Already, glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas, and mountain ranges across the world have melted at previously unseen levels. The evidence is irrefutable.

And on a purely pragmatic level, the continued overuse of fossil fuels is shortsighted. Oil reserves will last at most 80 more years, with coal completely depleted by 2400. Yet many devices that we depend on, such as cars, still rely on these limited fuels.

Something has to change.

What will power the future, while also helping the planet? What energy source can act as a ubiquitous, clean solution to the energy and climate change crises simultaneously?

The answer, as Bob Dylan would sing, is “blowin’ in the wind.”

Wind energy, when coupled with other “green” energy sources, can act as the green panacea.

Unlike oil or coal, wind is renewable, and will constantly be generated from the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface. As the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) writes, “wind will continually be produced as long as the sun shines on Earth.”

But the positives of wind energy extend far beyond constancy.

Unlike other renewable energy sources, like geothermal energy or solar power, wind energy is widely available, especially in the United States.

According to one report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, based on a minimum wind speed requirement of fourteen miles per hour, wind energy extraction is profitable in 37 states.

In fact, as of 2009, 36 states had installed wind energy projects; Connecticut was one of just fourteen states not to have a single wind energy site.

Perhaps the largest reason for wind energy is its lack of carbon dioxide emissions – greenhouse gases replete in oil and coal refinement which are a major cause of global warming.

Silently, wind turbines spin through the air, turning blades, powering an internal generator and then transferring this electricity by tower and cable to homes or businesses. Gone are the columns of smoke and particles billowing up from coal plant or oil refinery.

Additionally, wind technology has improved exponentially in recent years, with new and more powerful wind farms sprouting up in Texas and along the western and eastern coasts. Currently the largest wind farms can produce enough energy for 250,000 homes.

Unlike solar power, wind power works for 75% of the day. An inherent disadvantage of solar power is that it can only generate electricity during the daytime.

Furthermore, hydropower dams, another heralded renewable option, are very expensive to construct, and often flood agricultural land and environments behind the dam.

So how does wind energy relate to Westport?

Offshore wind farms, while criticized for visual and noise pollution, are becoming more and more feasible, especially along the Eastern seaboard.

Next to Cape Cod, on the Nantucket shoal, 130 wind turbines are expected to power most of the Cape’s electrical needs.

We should follow this approach.

In a hundred years, or even forty, do we want to face severe energy shortages, brought on by our own inaction? Or do we want to celebrate the speedy expansion of wind energy, as oil reserves dwindle and coal mining slows?