Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sustainability: wind farming

There’s a fresh breeze blowing these days, that of wind energy.
At least two large-scale wind farm projects are in the works, and more farmland is being eyed by renewable energy companies for wind turbines.  With the high cost and unreliability of foreign oil these days, the nation is turning its attention to cleaner, domestic energy sources, including solar, wind and natural gas production.
Our region stands to lead the way in East Coast wind-generated electricity. First, as a leading agricultural region, we have plenty of land. And being near the coast, we have an abundance of steady wind.
Embracing these projects seems to be a no-brainer. Still, it pays to ask questions and retain a bit of healthy skepticism for what we might not know of any potential drawbacks.  The first wind farm proposal, called the Desert Wind Power Project, was announced in January by Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables.
The company’s Atlantic Wind division wants to build up to 150 utility-scale wind turbines in the “desert” section of sparsely inhabited farmland that straddles Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. Eighty-two wind turbines would be in Pasquotank County, while 68 would be in Perquimans — a 300-MW facility generating enough power for 70,000 homes a year — roughly that of our Albemarle region.

Last week, the North Carolina Utilities Commission gave its approval. Now, Atlantic Wind needs local permits to support access roads, substations, collection lines, a meteorological tower and operations/maintenance facility.

Perquimans County’s planners were expected to consider the application Tuesday night, May 10. Pasquotank’s Planning Commission will consider its application Wednesday night, May 11.
Most of the 20,000 acres in the project would remain as farmland with the 475-foot-tall wind turbines operating on just 2 percent of the land. Up to 300 temporary jobs would be created, and local landowners would get paid about $1 million a year for allowing the turbines to be built on their land. Iberdrola has said it would employ about two dozen people to manage the wind farm once built. A second wind farm project has been proposed by Invenergy of Chicago, which plans to construct 100 turbines in the Hales Lake area of northern Camden and Currituck counties. 
The advantages of wind power are clear: With no fossil fuels burnt, no harmful greenhouse gases are emitted. They allow surrounding farmland to continue to be farmed. And when combined with solar energy, they can provide a significant and steady supply of electricity.
According to the National Climate Data Center, through 2002 the yearly average wind speeds for Norfolk, Va., was 10.5 mph, and for Cape Hatteras, 10.9 mph — the closest weather stations posted near us. Elsewhere in the East, only New York City, Boston, Mass., Key West, Fla., Mt. Washington, N.H., and Bridgeport, Conn., had equal or higher average wind speeds.
It’s no wonder the wind energy companies want to be here. And we see no reason why they shouldn’t be here

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