The U.S. Wind Industry Is Blowing Hard

Supporters hail the development as a great source of clean, renewable energy. Opponents say there are other factors to consider.

wind farm
Wind farms are not everyone's first choice when it comes to looking for a renewable energy source. (Aris Messinis / Getty)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Sleek and aerodynamic might be words that were once associated with the cars rolling off Detroit assembly lines, but these days the Great Lakes state is becoming known for “sleek, aerodynamic wind turbines, and they are progressively turning Michigan’s agricultural land into wheelhouses for clean, renewable energy,” reports the weekly online magazine Mid Michigan’s Second Wave.

If that’s the case, the state seems to be part of a trend.

The American Wind Energy Association says, “The U.S. wind industry now totals 48,611 megawatts (MW) of cumulative wind capacity through the end of the first quarter of 2012. There are over 8,900 MW currently under construction involving nearly 100 separate projects spanning 31 states plus Puerto Rico. The U.S. wind industry has added over 35 percent of all new generating capacity over the past five years, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined.”

Of the ten largest wind farms in the U.S., five are in Texas, four are in California, and one is in Indiana.

That all sounds pretty good, but for a lot of people the winds are blowing in another, less positive direction.

Just last weekend, The Miami Herald reported that a proposal to build an electricity-generating wind farm—the first in Florida—in a remote area of western Palm Beach County had met with opposition.

“The site, 13,000 acres of private sugar land between Lake Okeechobee and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, is located in the main flight path for North American migratory birds. And that has led to opposition from an unlikely source: the nature-loving local Audubon and Sierra Club chapters. They fear that the whirring blades of the windmills would will turn migrating birds into tropical mincemeat.”

Perhaps an even better-known case is Cape Wind’s controversial proposal to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound, which was opposed by even the late, environmentally-friendly Senator Edward Kennedy. Antagonism toward the project is so strong that The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound was formed in 2001 specifically with the goal “to protect Nantucket Sound in perpetuity through conservation, environmental action, and opposition to inappropriate industrial or commercial development,” such as wind farms.

Adding to the controversy is data that sometimes conflicts with supporters’ claims that wind farms generate jobs. In February 2010, ABC News stated, “Despite all the talk of green jobs, the overwhelming majority of stimulus money spent on wind power has gone to foreign companies . . . Nearly $2 billion in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been spent on wind power, funding the creation of enough new wind farms to power 2.4 million homes over the past year. But the study found that nearly 80 percent of that money has gone to foreign manufacturers of wind turbines.”

I’m not sure where I fall in the debate. I do know that I wouldn’t want to look out my window every day and see a wind turbine. But that is, admittedly, not a viewpoint that’s going to help solve our energy problems.

Where do you fall on the question of installing wind turbines?

Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence

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