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Driving down I-55 between Chicago and St. Louis you’re going to see a sight most people are unfamiliar with. Wind turbines – or windmills as my son calls them. Wind energy, the kind Ted Kennedy and all the other hoity-toities out in Martha’s Vineyard didn’t want spoiling their view.

Seeing those turbines in the day and night got me thinking about the whole debate about renewable energy. Trade-offs. To many people on all sides of the discussion either have fingers in their ears or are being hypocritical; but, I wonder how many have sat down and thought out ramifications, this way and that.

You see, we’re used to power plants. They’re usually “tucked” away, mostly out of sight, and while large, they’re “compact”. And, one facility can provide enough energy to power a very large region. It holds true whether the fuel is coal, nuclear or something else.

But “renewable”, “green” energy usually takes up a lot of room because you just cannot get the same amount of energy comparible to classic plants. Solar energy requires many acres of panels, and so does wind energy. We’re not talking Dutch windmills here. And, we’re not talking one or two windmills per town. Try hundreds, each well over a hundred feet tall, looking like giant aircraft blades mounted like some sort of modern art project in flat or rolling fields.

My wife described the scene as “weird” and “freaky”. You could see the wind “farm” for several miles as you were driving near it in the day time. At night, it looked even weirder.

We’re all used to the “light pollution” that emanate from our cities, and the blinking lights of cell towers and radio towers. But those towers are usually alone. A lone blinking tower at night might not be such a big deal to people living near it who can see it. But a windfarm might be another matter.

I had forgotten about the windfarm, and driving along at night I thought I was seeing an airfield runway from a great distance, with its blinking red lights. As I got closer, I could see that it was on both sides of the road (I hadn’t seen the turbines on the other side of the road during the day), and as I got closer I was able to confirm that it was the turbines being lit as the light on the hub reflected on the vanes as they turned.

One turbine blinking in the night might not be such a big deal. One or two hundred, evenly spaced out over acres – if not miles – might be a different thing entirely.

And that’s also gotten me thinking about the noise. Granted, these particular turbines are in fields out in rural Illinois, but there are small towns nearby, and people do live in the country. I’d suspect that the noise could be pretty substantial, and consistent, perhaps even annoying – or not at all. I’ve never lived near one, so I don’t know if they produce noise or not. It seems to be up to debate, those for it, and those against.

I wonder if the whole community signed off on the deal? I wonder if they thought about the blinking lights at night that an alien might think is some planetary runway, or the probable droning noise all of those turbines could make on a very windy day? And who knows about the birds.

To be sure, the locals are getting electricty – which they had before – and MONEY. According to the “ever reliable” Wikipedia, the locals and the school districts stand to get some nice revenues from those turbines. Energy production can pay – just ask every landowner who has mineral rights and discovers they’ve got oil or natural gas underneath them.

I’m not against “clean” energy, and I’m not stuck on fossil fuels, but let’s not kid ourselves that clean energy is a win-win all the way around. It can be cost prohibitive to construct and you don’t get as much of an energy return on your investment. And while fossil fuels emit carbon and such things, solar, wind and water energy harnessing devices have their own drawbacks that can affect the local populace and/or nature negatively. It’s not just about looks. Trade offs.

Would you be willing to live next to a windfarm, even if it meant $5k in your pocket and more money to your local school district?

As for Illinois, this particular wind farm we saw is part of a larger program by the state to provide a considerable portion of the state’s energy needs with renewable resources.

Twin Groves

An argument for wind farms.

An argument against, and more.

And this is something you don’t want to see at all.

Night lights.

Nothing is free, easy or without any problems, no matter how much pro-“green” people may argue to the contrary.

From the sites that I’ve perused, it seems that most of the people for wind energy do not or have not lived anywhere near a wind farm – nor do they really spend much time thinking about all of the potential problems. It seems too that many who’re against wind farms live near them.

“Greenies”, and every one of you who’re quietly supportive of them are just as guilty of negligence and greed as those you accuse of harming the environment purposefully to tap resources.