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Friday, May 11, 2012

Wind power in the news

Recent reports discuss effects, uses of wind energy
Banned in Charlestown
By Will Collette
Today is National Windmill Day, a day for Donna and Mike Chambers to stay hidden under the covers, while in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, people celebrate the wonders of this clean green energy source.


For the present, and perhaps foreseeable future, Charlestown has placed itself on the sidelines in the development of wind power as an alternative energy source. 


We have a town ordinance in place that slaps an outright ban on utility-sized wind turbines, and creates conditions that make the permitting of small, homeowner wind generators and wind generators for small businesses impossible.
But that doesn’t mean the technology is standing still, waiting for our tiny town to come to its senses. As reported, the latest turbine on Charlestown’s outskirts is going on line at East Matunuck State Beach.



In other parts of the world, studies are being done to better understand the impact of generating electricity from the wind, with some interesting results.
For example, a long-term study in Great Britain where wind-energy has been a major component of their national push for alternative green energy, shows that previous studies on bird mortality were far too simplistic.
Scientists with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and RSPB found that building the turbines was more disruptive than operating them. Their findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. They noted drops in bird populations around sites during the construction phase then recovery.
They also noted that once turbines went operational, local bird populations seemed to adapt to their presence. As the BBC noted, “Wind farms 'not major bird mincers'” 
The researchers also noted that effects on local bird populations varied widely, depending on site location and local ecology.
"What this study does is refine the evidence available to use, to help us define better what is a risky development," RSPB researcher, Dr Jeremy Wilson told the BBC, "There's certainly no indication in the species we covered in this study that collision mortality is causing a big problem, but we need to bear in mind that it didn't cover the bigger raptors where we know collisions tend to happen,…It's not a black and white picture; but this kind of finding is precisely why we get involved in this kind of research."
An Inflatable, Flying Turbine Goes Higher to Find Stronger Winds. In March, Altaeros Energies tested its new inflatable wind turbine over the state of Maine. Their approach to go where the really big, reliable winds are – high about where normal wind turbines can go. 


So they have built an inflatable, tethered wind generator that can be floated 1000 feet or higher to catch stronger winds and feed the electricity through the tethered cable to the ground. 


I’d love to see that flying above Charlestown’s beaches and see the reactions of our resident anti-wind energy NIMBYs and Deputy Dan Slattery! See video here.

Here’s some good news – bad news about the environmental effects of wind farms. A new paper, "Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature" from Nature Climate Change, studied satellite observations from 2003-2011 of an area of Texas that hosts extensive numbers of wind turbines. The study shows a “significant warming trend in that local area of up to 0.72 °C per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to nearby non-wind-farm regions.”
One possible explanation for these observations relies on basic physics – that hot air rises and cold air falls, but if you stir them together, as wind turbines do, you increase ground level temperature.
NASA posted commentary on this study noting that wind energy is part of the global solution to the threat of climate change. That positive impact will probably both offset and outweigh temporary local impacts. 

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