The writer, who lives in Cloverdale, California, is a native of Mullen, Nebraska. He is a longtime energy auditor who is now retired.
As a Sand Hills native, I am strongly opposed to large wind generators in the region. They are an unsustainable, inefficient way to create energy, requiring huge public subsidies and continuous maintenance, and they are noisy when running. Most dearly to my heart, they would result in severe damage to the fragile, pristine heritage of our beautiful Sand Hills.
I have been employed by or involved in energy conservation for many years. I helped Boys Town to obtain and implement one of the first wind generators in Omaha. I worked for the State of Nebraska as an energy auditor in the 1970s and 1980s, overseeing a 40-county area. In California, I was an energy auditor in the 1990s. I regularly observe windmill farms in California and witness their contributions.
The Institute for Energy Research concluded the wind generators have unseen imbedded costs and are not a good investment. Hidden costs include dormant winds, short life span, ongoing maintenance and finance charges.
The machines require regular attention: alarm monitoring, lubrication, repair and preventive care two to four times per year. The life span of the turbines is only 15 to 20 years, not the 30 years that the industry wants us to believe. This leaves the taxpayers and ratepayers picking up the tab of $10 billion a year to generate only 3.5 percent of our electricity.
The installation of high-voltage lines, towers and turbines require massive equipment. Multiple heavy vehicles are needed to install just one module. Yet, just one truck driving over the loose, sandy fragile soil of the Sand Hills would dislodge the thin top layer of grass. Once the grass is damaged, natural repair is very slow.
Weather conditions tend to enlarge such scars. It takes decades for the grass to regain a foothold. The entire infrastructure would involve a continuous parade of heavy vehicles. What damage would occur to the Ogallala Aquifer when large holes are dug for the needed foundations?
Sand Hills environmental damage is a grave concern. I have seen how fragile the environment is, and I mourn for the Sand Hills’ failure to survive. My grandfather Theodore attempted farming the Sand Hills at the turn of the 20th century. He plowed a few acres in a low, flat area. Those furrows are still visible today.
I have two alternate recommendations:
Wind turbines: Choose small-scale, consumer-sized rooftop devices. Each homeowner can decide what fits best in their own lifestyle and investment. I’ve had a PV wind-turbine system on my home since 2001 and am delighted with the function and payback.
Conservation: Increase awareness for conservation. So much has been done since the 1970s and 1980s. More can be done. Simple common-sense awareness could do much to offset the 3.5 percent contribution of wind generation.