Winds of Change

Header image by reynermedia on flickr / creative commons 2.0

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

If you believe everything you hear from Moody’s and Forbes, North Dakota is rolling up the sidewalks and blowing away. That isn’t quite the case, but some people have lost jobs and are leaving the area. Conservative legislators are talking about State agencies needing to make cuts due to decreased tax revenue. (All they will have to do is not fill all the unfilled positions in State Government and they can make up the shortfall). The lines are still long in Walmart, though, and traffic can still be a problem in town.

Two weeks ago, our County Commission approved a conditional permit for the construction of a wind farm south of town between Dickinson and Schefield. A week later, the same County Commissioners ordered a moratorium on the approval of any other wind farms. The rationale was to see how the wind farm company treats the landowners and the communities that could be affected by the turbines.

The wind farm is a very controversial topic in our county. A few months ago, this same company tried to get a permit to construct a wind farm just east of Dickinson. Those turbines would have almost surrounded two small communities. There was such division and strife and upset among the people who would have been affected that the County Commission denied the permit. They reasoned that community peace and harmony were more important than the revenue that the company would bring to land owners and the county.  The land owners in favor of the wind farm reasoned that they should be able to do what they want with their land, and what right had the County Commission to tell them otherwise. There are fewer land owners involved in the wind farm that was just approved, but letters to the editor from those impacted indicated that division and strife is happening in this case, too.

The first modern wind turbines in our county were put in place by the Holy Sisters at the Benedictine Priory east of town. One of the nuns was an engineer who reasoned that if they could supply their own electricity they could save money heating and cooling their enormous convent. She designed and managed the construction of much of the system. The Sacred Heart turbines are smaller than the ones that are being built now.  I tend to think of wind energy as “good” energy, making less of an impact on the environment, but the controversy in the county has made me see that having a bunch of wind turbines on your property could be a real problem. I guess that they are quite noisy, they cast shadows that can be visually distressing, and they can be hazardous to migratory birds. Some of the landowners may have a wind turbine as close as 1700 feet from their front door.  It also seems that wind energy companies are no more ethical or easier to work with than are oil companies. This is what the County Commissioners wanted to assess before they approved any more wind energy production.

It is hard to know what attitude to take regarding energy production. Oil pipelines leak. Oil tanker cars on trains explode. Fracking can contaminate the ground water. Coal plants destroy the atmosphere, and now wind farms cause division and strife in communities. The City of Dickinson just got an award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government for its infrastructure prioritization policy for municipal building projects during our recent oil boom. Projects concerning life safety received the highest priority while those that affected all citizens and projects funded by outside grants came next. Someone made some good decisions at the right time, and I guess we will be ready when the boom comes again. It remains to be seen if our county becomes covered with wind turbines. I am glad I don’t have to make that decision.

Which way does the wind blow?

78 thoughts on “Winds of Change”

  1. I’m glad to hear that the town of Dickerson has done some good planning. I’m also glad that North Dakota is not facing the extreme economic problems that some have suggested. In addition, I think it is important to carefully consider the problems that might be associated with wind farms before allowing their construction.

    With that being said, I hope that the people of North Dakota will take into account the need to move very quickly away from the use of fossil fuels as our main source of energy. At the same time, I hope they will see the need to get our energy from other sources that don’t generate CO2, including wind farms. I have not doubt that the wind is blowing away from fossil fuels and toward other energy sources such as wind farms.

    We are already well on our way toward doing major damage to our planet by burning fossil fuels that create global warming. We should have moved away from our dependance on fossil fuels many years ago when scientist warned us that the level of CO2 in the air from burning fossil fuels was getting too high. We don’t have much time left to prevent the catastrophic damage to our planet that will occur if we don’t cut way back on the use of fossil fuels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One thing I find encouraging about the use of wind farms is that the negative effects seem to be pretty reversible. If you put up a wind farm and later decide it’s too close to populated areas, it’s probably possible to take it down. Perhaps the wind farms could be owned by cooperatives, which could manage the assets so that a community wouldn’t have to have turbines in perpetuity.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. from what i hear jim we are to late already. the damage is done. if we got everyone to stop all the harmful behavior right now by the time the effects from past sins would keep materializing for the next couple of decades as we slide off into the abyss. my thought is that we will need to be really good at dealing with the reality that reality aint what it used to be. the coffee farmers in the mountains of central america need to move the beans a mile further up the mountain because the temperature changed in the last 50 years and will again int he next 50. the world will need to see how it goes as the polar ice caps melt the amazon and south american tropical rain forests get cut down by civilization creating sprawl in an area vital to the planets survival. i think the art of figuring out how to undo stuff is going to be in high demand very soon. a masters in fixing the planet will be in the top 3 or 4 applicants for some pretty important job descriptions.
      fossil fuels are the villain because the rich get richer and the oil company executives figure out ways to make there interests get looked after. as the planet has interests pop up the focus will need to change to re position the priorities accordingly. should be interesting.

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      1. There is a big need to take care of the damage already done and get ready for more damage that is sure to come. At the same time we need to head off even greater damage that will happen if we don’t change our ways. There are things we could and should be doing right here in Minnesota to take care of damage done and damage that is sure to happen. We should be looking at this and working on it.

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  2. Good job of explaining this dilemma, Renee.

    In the 1980s I attended an energy conference that made me uncomfortable. The conference leaders established early on that the attendees hated nuclear power. Then they detailed the various costs of all other technologies: hydropower ruins rivers and kills fish; petroleum has its own costs and polluting effects; coal is probably the filthiest source of power of all, with many social and environmental penalties (including misery and death for miners). Wind power and fracking were not a factor in the 1980s, but both technologies have persuasive critics now. Conference attendees were shocked to discover that nuclear power didn’t look so bad when all the costs were added up.

    There is only one technology that is relatively cheap and painless: conservation. There are huge benefits and few costs associated with reducing demand and especially eliminating wasted energy. But those strategies are intolerable for many people for political reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As I age, I make more and more mistakes with “first reads” like this. PJ said the other day that she made a first read mistake, reading “subbing” as “sobbing.” Yesterday in a doctor’s clinic I was startled to see a magazine ad for “Groin Plastic Surgery.” My god, what could that be? Well, it was “Gorin Plastic Surgery.” But it sure had my mind racing for a few wild seconds.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I always do a double take in the grocery store when I look at the sign for Aisle 3 and it says Adult Nutrition/books magazines, since It seems to me to imply that Family Fare is selling pornography when, of course, it isn’t.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. A former candidate for one of ND’s US Senate seats would like to build a nuclear power plant in The Red River area near Fargo. Heck, they can’take even decide on flood control there, much less agree to something like that.

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      1. i would think you could kill two birds with on e stone there. power the state sell it to minnesota and winnepeg and fix the red river with the proceeds. now people form fargo lean at a 30 degree list from having to face into the wind and glow in the dark. it should make them easy to identify.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. And the pesky question of what to do with the waste has never been solved. It’s always kicking the can down the road for some future generation to deal with.

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        1. I wasn’t inferring that you were advocating for nuclear power, but I was arguing that those who find it attractive are willfully short sighted. And I think the stakes with nuclear are unacceptably high. I’m also not positing a binary choice between nuclear power and that generated by carbon-based fuels. It’s obvious we need a third way AND greater conservation.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Remember all the protests about the electric transmission lines that were constructed through central Minnesota in the 1970’s and farmers actually sawing the poles down? What I find hard to understand is why so many players in the energy sector are so dishonest and two faced, especially the executives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am participating in a local chapter of 350.org that is opposing the construction of pipelines by the pipeline company, Enbridge. These proposed pipelines and expansions of pipelines have issues associated with them that are the same as the Keystone pipeline that was finally stopped when Obama made his decision to not permit it’s construction. I know from this work that big companies, like Enbridge, put making money ahead of everything including the needs of the public.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. i didnt like this song in the 60’s when it came out but ordered it as one of the initial 12 albums in my columbia record club experience. then i had a whole album of songs i didnt care about at all. i remember thinking at the time the japanese guy was the first oriental guy i had seen in popular music.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Interesting post Renee. Thanks.

    We drove through an enormous wind farm in Colorado on our way to AZ–it must have been 25 square miles of wind farm in an area of little else, which seems like a great place for such a thing. The motion was mesmerizing.

    Human life which requires energy to support will always have an effect. My thought is that we have to view long term consequences and make decisions which allow us to 1. Supply energy and 2. Do so with the least environmental impact.

    But it is clear that humans will not go backwards to no computers or media–that ship has sailed. So our task is to reduce the impact of our power use. I for one, will not give up Netflix!

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    1. Can you imagine, though, what it would be like to live in a small town that is surrounded on three sides by hundreds of wind turbines?

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  6. It’s misleading to evaluate the promise of wind energy based on the single model mostly employed at present. How can we not take advantage of a free and renewable energy source? I suspect, though, that wind power in the future will little resemble the wind farms we see today. There are some aspects of the current windmill design that receive substantial pushback– flickering shadows, vibration and danger to birds. Some people object on aesthetic grounds, but there is nothing less aesthetic than a power plant. Perhaps the biggest drawback to wind turbines is that you have to put them where the wind is.
    Obviously the pinwheel design must offer distinct efficiencies. We can’t assume that other designs haven’t been explored. Still, once an industry is established and the whole infrastructure is in place, with parts manufacturers and technicians and a body of experience, the resistance to change– even when it means improvement– can bog down progress. I can imagine, for example, a wind turbine based more on the screw principle (insert your joke here) than on the pinwheel. Such a turbine, if efficient enough, might avoid the vibration and flickering of present designs and be easier to shield from birds.
    One of the biggest challenges to making progress in energy production is changing fundamental assumptions, especially when those assumptions work in favor of the big energy companies.Back in the 1970s and 1980s, activist Amory Lovins was promoting distributed energy as an alternative to massive, centralized power plants and their transmission lines. Centralized power is terribly inefficient. According to Lovins, two thirds of the power generated is lost in its long distance transmission. And, because it’s centralized, big power needs big redundancies to assure consistent operation. In addition, the heat usually produced as a by-product is often wasted and pumped into the atmosphere.
    Distributed power– produced neighborhood by neighborhood or even house by house as the technology allows has the advantage of needing only to produce the energy actually needed, without having to allow for massive waste or redundancies. Because of its small and uniform scale, economies of mass production would apply– something that you don’t get with a centralized power plant. Neighborhood grids could overlap in a sort of Venn diagram of supply so that outages need not be a problem. Neighborhood or personal power plants could and should vary with the location and available resources.
    As battery technology and the intelligence of computerized power routing continues to improve, new ways of deriving and distributing power will become available. Of course, I expect resistance from any number of self-interested parties, but in the long run my money is on big fundamental changes.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. From Renee’so husband Chris:

      What are views on natural gas, particularly flaring?

      I know my wife spendsaid a lot of time blogging, but at least it keeps her at home. She is very happy.

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  7. Bill, I really like what you say about distributed energy. Would like to hear more about it. Renee just put on Dylan’s Subterranean Homesicky Blues. You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Too cold to go outside. May as well stay in and blog. Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovins’ book, “Soft Energy Paths” was all about distributed energy. It’s dated now, in that a lot of his alternative solutions involved some sort of combustable, like methane or pelletised carbon-based fuel, but the basic concepts and the reason they would be game changing are only enhanced by advances in technology and digital control that have come on the scene since the ’80s.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Completely OT. In today’s snail mail I received a letter from a man I’ve know since he was about two years old; he’s now forty-three, and I’ve had no contact with him for years. It’s a very nice letter, wishing me a Happy New Year, and then delves into the reason for the letter.

    Fifteen years ago, Danny had returned to the Twin-Cities after finishing his degree at UCLA’s film school. The economy had tanked, and, of course, even if it hadn’t, the degree Danny had obtained wouldn’t necessarily make him a shoo-in for most job openings. I took pity on him, and offered him a job doing data entry into a computer system. He worked for me several months on a well-defined project. It was, at best, a menial job, but it provided him some income, a daily lunch, and probably most importantly, the chance to get out of his parents’ house.

    His letter today took me by complete surprise. He has lived in Seattle since 2010, and I have had no contact with him since then.

    Here’s his closing paragraph: “Margaret, when I reflect on the people I’ve been lucky to know during my life, you are unquestionably one of them. Please know that I will never forget your kindness to me.”

    I’m touched, and gratified that some small gesture on my part has made a difference in Danny’s life. Be kind, you never know what small effort on your part will make a difference in someone’s life.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I cried, BiR, when I read that letter. The fact of the matter is that Danny is hyperactive, and a rather compulsive person. It was not an easy relationship. I was often frustrated that I couldn’t make him understand that accuracy was more important to me than speed. Danny took such
    pride in speed.

    For two years I’ve also employed his younger brother, Benji, who is mentally ill, as a helper in my garden (this after I retired). Benji was a tremendous help, but supervising him was exhausting because he simply didn’t listen to, or comprehend, my instructions.

    Fortunately, I loved both of these guys dearly (they were part of my annual Christmas Eve celebration for at least twenty years – although they are Jewish – with a Danish mom), so I’ve been more forgiving than I would have been with a stranger. Not fair, no, but I’m human.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. are there many danish jews?
      great ot adder pj.
      good for you.
      a bright spot in the world today.
      mybe in seatle where the it craze is so hot , people who do menial tasks as fast as they can is a big market.
      computer geeks here get at least 50 an hour, 200 if they are good

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      1. To tell you the truth, tim, I was 27 years old before I ever realized I had met a Jew; it was a distinction that just never registered with me. In fact, looking back, now that I know better, I realize that many Danish performers – including Victor Borge – were Jewish. At the time, I had no idea.

        Gitte, Dan’s mother, however, is Christian, but she married an Israeli Jew. The family has always celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays.

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  10. The discussion about power generation reminds me of how “environmentalism” has evolved over time. In the 1970s things were so clear. There were a limited number of polluters. They were doing things that were obviously evil, like pumping toxins into public waters. They had enough money to conduct business appropriately.

    It wasn’t difficult (legally or politically) to force them to behave better.

    Over time we were forced to acknowledge that doing the right thing was a whole lot more complicated than that early model of the evil polluter. For example, adoption of ethanol was sold to the public as an environmentally-friendly advance. Then we learned how complicated the real story was: with all the different social, economic and environmental costs of ethanol.

    We also learned unpleasant lessons about who was to blame for degrading the universe. Instead of a few wealthy corporations pumping toxins through a pipe we saw that the real villains were countless people doing things (like spraying to eliminate weeds or insects) that were injurious in complex ways but not quite like the nasty old pollution. Instead of environmental villains doing evil things we had average people damaging the environment with lifestyle choices.

    One of the lamentable consequences of seeing the total complexity of environmental issues is that corporations with vested interests find it easy to complicate and cripple public discussion of what is being gained and what is being lost. Strong majorities of voters continue to claim they care about environmental health, but it is almost impossible to pass meaningful legislation on environmental issues.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Bill! Where’s your team spirit! Come on, now.
          (this is from the person who – when invited to a Super Bowl watching a few years ago, had to ask “Who’s playing?”)

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        2. Though I’ve never made an issue of it, I think my friends have my number. I’ve never been invited to a Super Bowl party or any professional sports watching event, for that matter.

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  11. Winds here are…well, cold. So we are inside. Using energy to keep warm. These really cold days are the days I notice that this house is not efficient in its heating – we have tried to rebalance things a few times, but we always wind up with a noticeable temperature difference between the main floor and the bedrooms (and Husband’s office). It’s radiator heat, so not easy to adjust. Maybe when I can afford to replace the downstairs windows (especially the really big ones on the three-season porch on the other side of the French doors in the living room) the heat ratios will get better. Last year in a fit of “I can’t stand the drafts anymore” I upped the ante with the French doors and hung heavy curtains over the doors on the porch side – it cuts some of our natural light, which is a bummer, but it is less drafty there. Not perfect, but less drafty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Replacing old windows can be a huge energy saver. It’ll also make your house quieter. One of the best improvements we made to this leaky old house.

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      1. We replaced upstairs windows and our big picture window last year – just replacing the picture window downstairs has made a difference. We couldn’t afford to do the whole works at once. We have five more windows downstairs to do plus the back porch. Maybe we could do the five next year…(back porch is likely a total overhaul, not just windows).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Our house, not old (1978) but with substandard windows, is a very different place since we had new windows 2 years ago. It is quiet, warmer, and less dusty.

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  12. the new house we moved into has 185 technology. the windows suck its cold standing next to them. but the heat bill is nothing. i bought the plastic stuff to put up. think ill do it now…. bye

    Liked by 1 person

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