Saturday, August 9, 2008

Winds of Wildorado

Approximately 450 ft. in height from the blade tip in top position to the ground, this windmill is one of 70 in the Wildorado Wind Field near Wildorado, Texas.

The base of the tower is anchored on almost 4 foot bolts set in a concrete pad that weighs over 350 Tons. That seems like a lot until you consider that the nacelle alone weighs about 92 Tons.

The Wildorado Wind Field is situated on approximately 16,000 acres and generates 161 MW of power. It was built in a period beginning in June, 2006 and ending April 27, 2007. The Siemens equipment was shipped from Denmark to Corpus Christi, Texas, and then trucked over 700 miles to the location just west of Wildorado which is on Interstate 40, west of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle.
Texas currently leads the U.S. with 4,446 MW of installed wind capacity. That is 5% of the world's production of wind-generated electricity. It is enough to power approximately 1.5 million homes. The cost of construction for wind-generated electricity is about $1.92 million per megawatt.
The industry has far exceeded the goals set in the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard to date because of the virtually unregulated wind-energy environment in the state.
Should siting of wind-generation facilities be regulated by state or federal law? If so, why? What might be the impact of siting regulations on landowner property rights?


Chris Crawford said...

I see no reason why there should be any restrictions on siting of wind power fields, other than those already in place for agriculture. In regulatory terms, we simply designate that wind power farms are appropriate uses for land already zoned as agricultural/ranch. People who live on agricultural land are used to a lot worse than wind farms.

Sue said...

Seems to me that the siting of wind farms should operate on the same principles as any form of construction. There are federal laws that apply (environmental impact statements which include social and economic impact), and there are state and local laws that might apply. Each situation will be to some extent unique, and depend upon location, existing land uses, who owns the land, and what the geographic, ecosystem, and social system surrounding the proposed wind farm might be.

I think that far more problematic than the big wind farms which by definition have to be out in the wide open spaces away from buildings and other obstructions, are smaller wind turbines for individual businesses and even private homes. The designs for smaller wind turbines are far more varied that those used in the big wind farms. While many of the smaller designs use more helical shapes that make less noise and are less likely to harm birds, there are more issues of regulation and control to address when people start putting up wind turbines for their home or business in populated areas. These will probably need to be addressed by localities and states and based on the specific local conditions.
[note check out one of many vertical/helical designs on UTube

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
This is a situation in which I think the market and more local levels of government are relevant. The farm must be sited such that it can sell power to customers. If the interest managing the farm has access to reliable long distance power lines and they aren't interfering with someone else, I think much of this comes down to something akin to building codes. Obviously, different building standards make sense for different places; building foundations in the soupy soil of south Louisiana is a very different project from building in north Texas.
That said, the federal government owns vast tracts of land, primarily in western states. Taking into account logistics, demand, and local & long-term impacts, I think it's appropriate for the federal government to manage federal lands for the greatest public benefit, which may or may not include building wind farms. (Currently this does include building wind farms.)

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

An additional question: How would you feel about a wind farm located on the rim of the Grand Canyon?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
It sounds like something James Watt might suggest.
Wilderness is in many respects formative of the national character, and the Grand Canyon is emblematic of both wilderness and that character. If the need were dire enough, we certainly could surrender our national treasures to more utilitarian purposes. However, the enduring value of a place like the Grand Canyon is so great that I can't imagine a time in which such a need could exist. Any effort in the forseeable future to do anything with the canyon (other than the sorts of things people already do there) would be wasteful of the its value.
I think a case can be made for other public lands having similar pseudo-wild value. National Parks, Wilderness Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas (and similar public lands) are generally intended for these kinds of purposes (with ifs and buts). In the US, we also identify lands that are intended for more utilitarian purposes. I'm not sure we always get this distinction right (and it's not always a clear line), but there is room more than one kind of land.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: I ask the question for this reason: Buffalo National Wildlife Refuge near Umbarger in the Texas Panhandle is a waterfowl refuge, a temporary home to migrating Bald Eagles and contains one of the last habitats for the Lesser Prairie Chicken which is a candidate species for Endangered status. The lands surrounding the refuge are privately owned. A large ranch that surrounds the south and east sides of the refuge has signed a lease for wind development. The ranch that encompases the northwest border of the NWR is negotiating a lease. The state has included the refuge in one of its Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) with a colletion point just south of the refuge. Needless to say, it is likely the NWR will soon be surrounded by windmills that may pose a danger to migratory birds and will create both obstruction and noise that could impact the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

A short distance from the NWR lies Palo Duro Canyon which if stacked on top of the Grand Canyon would provide a complete geological history of the earth. It's scenic beauty and value for wildlife is unparalleled in Texas. All of the land bordering the canyon is in private hands -- most owners of which are negotiating leases for wind energy.

The Texas Panhandle also is on a couple of major migratory flyways -- one of which provides a path for Whooping Cranes in their annual trek to Padre Island. Do potential negative impacts to scenic value and wildlife refuge status trump personal property rights of ranchers who see the potential income from wind energy as a strong reason to lease their land for development?

Keep in mind that the reason Texas leads the nation in wind energy is largely a function of the unregulated status of the industry within the state.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
I think they certainly can influence the extent of personal property rights. I can’t dump trash in my neighbor’s yard or cut down his trees for firewood. I also can’t dam the creek that crosses the family farm. Property owners have responsibilities in addition to rights.
If and when the LPC and any other local species are ESA listed, there may be cause to alter building practices that could interfere with the species in question. Americans present and future have a right to those species and the land that sustains them; they own the NWR. However, we have a legal and regulatory framework that governs how we look after these resources.
As for Palo Duro, I think this is an inquiry into values primarily for the state. Palo Duro is a state park. And as you point out, one of the key drivers of wind power development in TX is the state’s own decisions about infrastructure projects. If Texans want to cover Palo Duro with windmills, I may believe this is short-sighted, I may express my opinions about this action, I may educate or get angry, but in the end, I don’t live in Texas or own any property there. If the state wants to ban windmills in the park’s viewshed, that’s the state’s prerogative. I don’t have a dog in that fight.
If someone in Maryland wanted to cover Assateague Island, Calvert Cliffs, Cunningham Falls, the Serpentine Grasslands, or any of our numerous natural treasures with wind mills, I’d do what I could to stop it. As a citizen, that’s my responsibility and my right. Likewise, if someone were befouling or otherwise devaluing the land my family owns in Louisiana, I’d do what I could to protect that. That land is family, and some day, my brother and I will be its principal stewards.
I’d like to see an America in which people value wild land and appreciate the worth of rattlesnakes and lichens. I’d like to see people understand the shrewdness of sustainability. Until such a change in thinking happens, we have a (sometimes convoluted) system of public lands and laws that enforce property owners’ rights and responsibilities. We need to be mindful of both rights and responsibilities.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: One of the problems we face in West Texas is that about 85% of the state's population is east of I-35 which encompasses about 1/3 of the state's landmass. The CREZ's were established to ship wind-generated electricity to ERCOT -- which is the power grid servicing the eastern part of the state but not the Panhandle. The location of the newly authorized power infrastructure is being dictated by the population centers of the state, not the people who live in the area most affected.

It will certainly be of economic benefit to the Panhandle. It will be lucrative to the landowners. It will be beneficial to the power users in the ERCOT grid.

I wonder what would happen if a Whooping Crane flew into windmill blades and was decapitated? There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain bat and bird species are at risk from the blades -- especially when windmills are sited in sensitive areas -- such as near raptor habitat (cliffs), on forested ridges and near waterfowl areas.

On a similar note: If the LPC were declared endangered, what would happen to windmills already sited in or near known LPC habitats?

I sense that people get up-in-arms about energy projects that are near them (coast of Maine, coal mines, oil wells) but really don't care if it affects a remote part of rural America that the coast inhabitants refer to as flyover country. The NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) principle.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
This is part of my hesitancy over wind as a panacea. Unsightly infrastructure projects are often sited out-of-sight / out-of-mind. Moreover, we really don't know what will happen if we throw all of our eggs into the wind basket. I feel reasonably certain that if we erect masses of wind mills on a ridiculous scale that there will be environmental problems. Wildlife is one obvious issue, and I've heard a little informal buzz about the migration of pollen, spores, and other small biological materials. People don't seem to be thinking about this. Greenpeace's website, for example, suggests that we can site wind farms all over the High Plains and the Southwest, and that this is a suitable solution to an energy demand that is concentrated on the coasts and the Great Lakes. I have ethical (and technical and fiscal) concerns about that.
I'd generally like to see mass-localization of power generation, rather than simply trying to substitute one industrial process and long-range transport process for another.
As for what happens to existing infrastructure if the LPC is listed: Lot's of people will get angry. Protests and suits will ensue. Land-owners and power companies will be portrayed as soul-less villains, while biologists and outdoor enthusiasts will be decried as stupid, amoral hippies. Some will act their parts. Lawyers on both sides will be secretly gleeful. Politicians will pretend to care vehemently one way or the other, but won't actually solve the problem when they're elected. You, Prog, Sue, and I will write about it for months.

Pat Jenkins said...

good pictures pan, you would have impressed me if you told me you had climbed them as well!!!

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

PJ: I didn't get to climb them. I was a guest of Edison Mission Group which manages the wind farm. My tour guide was the site manager. The tour was part of a two day conference on Wind and Wildlife. It was both interesting and informative.