Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

March 2nd, 2009:

Reaping the Wind

Whew. Got to Chicago intact. I’m already dug in at our condo, blasting away at my book revision, but I wanted to take a moment to mention a trend we saw on our now-familiar blast across America on I-80: Wind farms. The first was just north of I-76 near Sterling. We had not seen it the last time we took this run, in August 2008, and it wasn’t just one or two towers, but by my estimate well over 100. They were not close to the highway, and by my estimate at least 5-8 miles away. We could discern them on the horizon, but they wouldn’t make for good photos, and so we didn’t stop. As best I can tell, what we saw was the Peetz Table project, near Iliff, Colorado, which when finished will have 267 turbines and produce 432 MW of electricity when the wind blows. And there, at least, the wind blows almost all the time. (It damned near blew us off the road, and provided some legendary tumbleweed activity.)

The next day, as we passed by Adair, Iowa, home of the Smiling Water Tower, we realized that there was a swarm of wind turbines south of I-80 that we had not seen before. These were much closer than the ones we’d glimpsed in Colorado the day before, and could not have been there when we last passed by in August. However, I do remember seeing many oversize loads hauling down I-80 at the time, bearing the generator heads, columns, and blades. The Adair project went up fast. It was only announced in July, 2007, and construction began in April, 2008. A little further down I-80 we saw another huge crop of turbines near Walnut, Iowa. That one is even newer, dating back to June 2008, and has (so far) 102 towers up and running.

New capacity is coming online all the time and so actual figures have the half-life of exotic isotopes, but as best I can tell the US is now the world’s largest producer of wind energy. And among states, Iowa is third, after California and Texas. This was very good to see; I’ve been a big fan of wind energy since the early 1980s, when I attended a lecture in Rochester NY by a guy who had built his own wind turbine from old auto alternators. That was less interesting than some of his basic research on harvestable wind in places like Texas and Colorado, where the winds blow with enviable steadiness compared to piker states like Illinois, where the winds are as faithless as its politicians. Wind isn’t enough, of course: We need nuclear and need it badly to replace our coal plants and handle growth in energy demand. (If you don’t think so, I’ll hear your numbers. If you don’t have numbers, this isn’t the sort of debate I want to take part in.)