While driving north through Indiana en route to Chicago in the middle of the night, drivers will likely find themselves suddenly surrounded by a sea of red blinking lights. They don’t signify a nearby airport or some secret government operation. Instead, the red lights simply indicate the tops of turbines—or high tech windmills. In the sunlight, I-65 adopts a yellow-brick road quality, the sheer magnitude of the extraordinary wind farm that stretches for miles actually visible. The behemoths adopt a sleek and graceful quality, their blades dancing in sync high above the scattered tree line. This particular operation, the Meadow Lake Wind Farm, consists of 303 turbines that produce approximately 500 MW of power, or enough energy to power 150,000 to 300,000 homes per year. Meadow Lake Wind is one of 28 North American farms operated by Spain-based EDP-Renewables, whose combined output equals nearly 3,700 MW. At the moment, growth of the wind industry in the US has been slow. But experts argue that with increased support of wind farming in the US, there is an opportunity to avoid sole reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuel sources for energy. One day soon, we may find ourselves not relying on the Kansas oil fields anymore.
In recent years, the US has finally started to rely more on alternative sources of energy to support its communities. In 2011, renewable energy sources comprised 9.3 percent of the total energy consumption in the US, with wind energy covering 1.2 percent of that total, and 12.9 percent of the renewable sources. In just one year, wind energy jumped to comprise 1.4 percent of the total energy consumed, and 15.2 percent of all renewable energy. But America’s energy jump doesn’t quite measure up to European trends. The total wind energy capacity in the European Union by the end of 2012 was 106,041 MW, which covered 7 percent of all energy consumption. Denmark took the lead in 2012, with an impressive 27 percent of all energy consumed being produced from wind energy. In fact, during October 2013, Denmark was able to produce more than the entire country’s energy requirements for 90 straight hours solely from wind power. Considering absolute output, however, Germany’s consumption of over 31,000 MW in 2012 far surpasses Denmark’s 4,000 MW. By 2012, the US had achieved an output capacity of 60,007 MW, just slightly more than half of the EU’s.
In Indiana, power companies like Indianapolis Power and Light offer renewable energy incentive programs, the state offers property tax exemption, and the federal government provides loans and grants for renewable energy initiatives. President Obama has taken steps to promote cleaner energy use, granting tax benefits to those that participate in sustainable energy programs while fighting to end tax breaks for wasteful gas and oil companies. Under Obama’s leadership, the Department of the Interior has sanctioned 11 geothermal plants, 25 solar ranches, and nine wind farms, which will provide enough energy to support 4.4 million homes over the next decade.
Turbines have been designed to efficiently capture energy from wind; however, opponents focus on their large size, wildlife concerns–specifically migratory patterns of birds, noise pollution issues, and the fact that wind is not always constant as negatives. Individual industrial-sized turbines can produce approximately 1.6 MW worth of energy annually, which is enough energy to power over 500 homes for a year. Through building the turbines and access roads of a wind farm along farmers’ property lines, most of the property can still be used for agriculture—a spatially efficient feat that cannot be replicated by other power generators.
Making the switch from fossil fuels to efficient, sustainable sources of energy would have a positive impact on the state of the environment, employment sector, and political sphere. Further initiatives will help to decrease the rate at which CO2 enters the atmosphere, slowing the rate of global warming. Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels by helping to finance the construction of wind farms both onshore and offshore like “Cape Wind” would translate to a reduced dependence on foreign oil. Adopting technologies to harness natural energies would give nations a self-reliance all individuals need in order to unite and move towards true progress.
According to Mark Rodgers, the key correspondent of the “Cape Wind” project in Nantucket sound, “Europe began offshore wind in 1991 and have now built 64 offshore wind farms and they now employ 58,000 people in that industry. Meanwhile the U.S. has the best offshore wind resource in the world and have yet to build our first project. We are way behind and it is high time we begin to catch up – Cape Wind looks forward to doing our part to make that happen!”