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Tilting at windmills

December 10, 2011

[19th J.P.'s Moment of Common Sense, my weekly oratorial exposition on Broad View, KBZZ 1270 AM Reno.]

Is there anything more irrational than a windmill in the 21st century? The question occurred to me last week when I passed a field of wind turbines. The sight was intensely irritating because I hate signs of stupidity, and a wind turbine is a 400-foot-tall sign waving its arms and yelling, ďIím stupid! Iím stupid! Iím stupid!Ē

I said that three times because the dumb things usually have three blades.

There are more than fourteen thousand abandoned wind turbines in the United States. You might recognize them by their lack of movement, but donít count on it. Many of them still rotate even though they no longer produce electricity, supposedly because their owners want to keep lubricant pumping through their innards, but I suspect the real reason is so that taxpayers wonít realize how many of these monstrosities donít actually work.

Letting a non-working wind turbine keep rotating is stupid times two because a 400-foot wind mill is a giant Cuisinart for birds and bats. Get out of your car sometime, hop over the fence, and walk through a wind farm. If they donít arrest you for being a terrorist and send you to Guantanamo, youíll find yourself walking on thousands of little bird skeletons and feathers and bat carcasses. I can do the math for you. If the windmillís blade is 135 feet long, and a leisurely rate of rotation takes it from straight up to straight down in about a second, that might seem slow to your eye but the tip traveled about 300 feet in one second which is about 200 miles-per-hour.

Do you know any birds or bats that can fly 200 miles-per-hour? Neither do I.

So along come these poor, innocent, little critters, flying along looking for something to eat, and BAM! They never even know what hits them. Then the carcasses draw more birds who see those little dead bodies as an easy snack, and they end up flying into the same Cuisinart. Just one wind farm, the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in California, which doesnít even have the new, larger, faster blades by the way, has been estimated by the Audubon Society to kill 10,000 birds a year, including 75-110 Golden Eagles, 380 Burrowing Owls, 300 Red-tailed Hawks, and 333 falcons.

Thatís a lot of dead birds for one wind farm. Yet if I walk down to Wingfield Park here in Reno and whop one of those thousands of pesky poop-all-over-everything Canadian geese in the head with a golf club so I can eat him for Christmas dinner, Iíll have environmentalists screaming bloody murder and probably get arrested. Makes no sense.

Hereís my one-minute three-step summary of how the wind turbine game works:
First, greedy businessmen who manufacture blades and turbines convince gullible environmental whackos who never took a physics course they understood to help them lobby the government for subsidies to build windmills. Second, stupid politicians who flunked ninth-grade algebra pass energy bills which use taxpayer money to provide as much as 50% of the construction costs, bribe local Audubon affiliates with government grants to shut up about the bird problem, and subsidize a chunk of the production costs of the electricity generated. Third, since all that help still isnít enough to make wind power economically competitive, the government mandates that local utilities buy all the electricity the damn windmills generate, then charge you and me extra for it.
So, with all that help, why are there so many abandoned wind turbines? Well, those great big blades swinging around at hundreds of miles per hour are outside in bad weather, and by golly, as any common sense farmer could tell you, moving parts that sit outside need a crapload of maintenance to keep them working.

Eventually, no matter how much the government subsidizes them, the maintenance costs get too high. After all, the owners already scored the big money when the government underwrote the original construction, so they walk away fat and happy, leaving eyesores hundreds of feet high that kill birds like they were brand new.

Iím half Dutch, and nobody knows windmills better than Dutch people. The Netherlands used windmill power for centuries to keep themselves dry, and in 1850 there were an estimated 10,000 windmills scattered around the little country, most of them busy pumping water from one side of the dikes to the other. But when the internal combustion engine was invented, the Dutch converted to pumps powered by fossil fuels.

This isnít 1850, this is 2011. As an energy source, fossil fuels are more dependable, more efficient, and more powerful than windmills, and itís a waste of money to be building 400-foot bird zappers to litter the landscape and send us non-stop semaphore messages about how stupid we are.

That's... just common sense.

"A father may have a child who is ugly and lacking in all the graces, and the love he feels for him puts a blindfold over his eyes so that he does not see his defects but considers them signs of charm and intelligence and recounts them to his friends as if they were clever and witty." Ė Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

From Reno, Nevada, USA       

December 14, 2011 - Thanks for the info. How can I find out how many in Illinois are not functioning? Currently fighting them in our county in Northern IL. Your sister and I have a mutual friend and he passed this on to me. - Dick G., Illinois
J.P. replies: I don't have info about non-functioning wind turbines in specific areas. The government would presumably keep track, but it's the government pushing them so they won't make it easy for you. I can give you some of my sources: this article mentions the 14,000 abandoned wind turbines and also talks about the bird deaths at Altamont Pass; this one talks about abandoned wind turbines in Hawaii and California and the effort that wind proponents make to hide them by keeping them rotating, especially if they're close to busy highways where the public might see them; this one talks about the way electric rates go up for consumers when wind farms are built; this one talks about the Dutch abandoning wind turbines in the North Sea because of the maintenance costs; and this one is a cute story about the Duke of Edinburgh verbally thrashing a Dutch windmill salesman at a cocktail party. Good luck. I would love to hear updates about your battle - there might be a followup for my website in your story.

December 11, 2011 - I always thought those giant windmills were beautiful. Now you've ruined them for me. I'll always be wondering, "Is that stupid thing producing electricity, or just turning for show?" - Roger P., Idaho

December 11, 2011 - Great article, JP. We've been battling these mechanical beasts for the last couple of years. They even wanted to place a few hundred off shore in Lake Michigan and completely ruin one of our greatest natural resources. Keep up the great work. - Patti, Michigan
J.P. replies: Offshore wind turbines are even more expensive to maintain, as you can imagine. Plus you've got to lay expensive cable to get the power to where it's needed. The Dutch are beginning to abandon their offshore wind turbines because of the maintenance costs, so Dutch wind turbine peddlers are trying to sell their white elephants to Great Britain and the U.S. Given the degree of Dutch heritage in West Michigan, you have to wonder if there's some kind of connection.

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