October 27, 2008
By Ernest Istook
The visuals are terrific. Imagine the Empire State Building with
a windmill on top rather than King Kong. That's how the New York
Post depicted Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest idea. Another
illustrator adorned the Brooklyn Bridge with windmills atop its
It's all because Bloomberg proposed that the Big Apple should
blossom with windmills to provide at least one-tenth of its
What if his idea caught on? Why not mandate that every building
taller than a few stories sport a rooftop windmill? We could
include the Washington Monument. And every TV and radio antenna.
And every hilltop and mountain, including those in national
Don Quixote would be proud. But had Bloomberg done the math,
he'd know that even if Manhattan were topped by a solid block of
windmills, they wouldn't come close to meeting the city's power
Wind power has its place as a power source, but it's not a place
at the top. It provides less than one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S.
electricity because it costs more to produce. The wind may be free,
but the equipment is expensive.
The costs are even dearer if you follow Bloomberg's other
suggestion, namely floating windmills in the middle of the
How many windmills does it take to meet the power needs of a
typical city, much less New York City?
At www.scitizen.com, Kurt Cobb worked the numbers. Generously,
he presumed the windmills would use 5-megawatt turbines -
generating three times the output of a typical 1.5-megawatt
turbine. He compared that with a 500-megawatt fossil-fuel (coal)
power plant needed to power a city of 300,000 people. A typical
power plant, he noted, would cover 300 acres, but use only 30 of
those for the actual facility.
Cobb calculated it would take 233 5-megawatt wind turbines to
equal the coal plant's output, since the wind doesn't blow
constantly. Each would need to be spaced 2,065 feet away from the
others (five times the diameter of their 413-foot rotors). Adding
the rotor diameters to the spacing requirement equates to a
110-mile long line of windmills, half a mile in width.
It comes to 55 square miles. That's to provide electricity for a
town of 300,000 people.
New York City has 8.1 million residents. Manhattan Island totals
23 square miles. So, based on Cobb's calculations, it would take
six and a half Manhattan Islands, each covered totally with
windmills, to power one-tenth of New York City. And if standard
1.5-megawatt wind turbines were used, they would take three times
Mayor Bloomberg's vision is flawed. But it's typical of the
pie-in-the-sky energy "solutions" suggested by those who would
rather "go green" than "get real."(Bloomberg looks positively
reasonable compared to the Australian engineer who proposed a giant
helicopter carrying wind rotors 15,000 feet into the sky, and
sending back electricity through a tether wire super-sized
Going back to Kurt Cobb's calculations, if we wanted to meet the
electric needs of 300 million Americans rather than only 300,000,
we'd need a half-mile swath of windmills, each of them hundreds of
feet high, 110,000 miles long, crisscrossing the continent 40 times
between New York City and Los Angeles.
That's a lot of land to condemn. The cost would be in the
hundreds of billions of dollars, since each large windmill costs
National Wind Watch calculates that wind power consumes an
average of 50 acres per megawatt when you include the need to
remove trees in the vicinity. On that basis, powering America with
wind means we'd have to cover Nebraska with wall-to-wall windmills,
leaving no room to grow corn (and thus threatening ethanol).
But even if it were practical (and affordable) to convert to
wind power on such a massive scale, it generates other
consequences, both aesthetic and scientific.
New York State's largest windmill farm to date, the $400 million
Maple Ridge project, features 195 medium-size (400-foot high)
windmills, part of a windmill surge in upstate New York sparked by
state and federal incentives. That project has generated great
controversy even in its rural setting. According to area researcher
Dr. Nina Pierpont, it has also created "wind turbine syndrome," a
variety of ills such as inner ear problems, headaches, difficulty
sleeping, ringing in the ears, mood disorders, irritability, panic
attacks and child misbehavior, all attributed to the low-frequency
rumblings of the windmills.
There are practical problems, too. If the structures are put
totally in the boondocks, massive new transmission lines must be
built to carry the power to where the people are.
But such large facilities cannot be totally isolated, so NIMBY
takes over quickly. Citizens say "Not in My Backyard" to the idea
of an ever-present giant whooshing sound. And they oppose the sight
as well as the sound.
Yachting liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., famously took the
wind out of the sails to a proposal for offshore windmills in his
beloved Nantucket Sound. Walter Cronkite made TV commercials
opposing the project, saying, "These massive wind turbines could
disrupt the natural habitat for wildlife in the Sound and endanger
Just imagine if the Titanic had been forced to contend with
windmills and not just icebergs!
The Nantucket Sound windmills - six and a half miles out - would
be visible from shore. The height of such windmills makes them
visible from 10 miles away - hence the Bloomberg-ish proposals to
site them beyond the horizon, 50 or so miles out. But putting them
there - in international waters hundreds of feet deep - raises the
costs enormously. Some engineers are designing floating windmills,
top-heavy behemoths anchored to the seabed by enormous tethers -
with the potential of snapping in rough weather. And they'd still
require the super-size extension cords to send their power back to
the distant shores.
All this to generate power that is more expensive than our
current power plants, even after major taxpayer subsidies are
Whether onshore or offshore, the gigantic areas involved to
harness wind power will bring their own unintended consequences.
The director of the Center for Global Change Science at M.I.T, Ron
Prinn, warns that erecting enough windmills to replace fossil fuel
power has adverse environmental impact. Prinn says those would
"take significant momentum out of the atmosphere, so there'd be
less penetration of wind to the ground surface." Translation: You
change the wind, and you change the weather.
Al Gore, why aren't you speaking up about this?
The environmental community, which for long years could freely
propose nice-sounding but impractical solutions, is coming to grips
with the reality that wind energy requires an enormous footprint
(as does solar energy), far beyond that required by energy-dense
and compact fossil and nuclear fuels.
Yet rationality is too much to expect. As a contender for
governor of Delaware, Democrat John Carney told a debate audience,
"I want to be sure there are enough windmills offshore that there
isn't room for drilling."
Let's just hope his windmills don't get in the way of the view,
or of Ted Kennedy's sailboat.
Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and
is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in WorldNetDaily
The visuals are terrific. Imagine the Empire State Building with a windmill on top rather than King Kong. That's how the New York Post depicted Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest idea. Another illustrator adorned the Brooklyn Bridge with windmills atop its towers.
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