Texas wind energy – a tough decision of environmentally good or bad.

Hmm. Since this ran in the Katy Trail Weekly I’ve learned more about the Texas wind industry. Not good things. Shady things. I feel a follow up coming but first I’ll be doing a little investigating! For now, check out part one to get the basics:

When most people think of Texas energy they often think of oil rigs in an expansive west Texas field. But that’s leaving out a huge environmental energy resource in our state. Wind. Texas has more installed capacity wind turbines than any other state.

During a presentation in the DFW area, Andrew Swift, Associate Director of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University highlighted the impressive rank of Texas as number one for total megawatts of wind capacity installed at 12,755 megawatts (MW). To give you an idea, one megawatt can provide enough energy to power 300 homes in North Texas. The opportunity for wind to supply a lot of our energy is already in place.

As one energy executive put it, Texas is home to “the best wind resources in the world in Amarillo”. I lived in Amarillo for three years and can attest to the consistency of a one directional strong breeze. The limited trees that do withstand the panhandle weather are shaped by the constant breeze blowing their limbs in one direction. They look like half trees that belong in a Dr. Seuss book.

The Amarillo wind energy is now connected to the energy grid that serves the Dallas area. We are fortunate to have a sustainable energy source feeding our grid and at it’s peak in 2013 wind supplied the grid with over 30 percent of it’s needs on some days.

The large turbines are causing environmental problems but when compared to fossil fuels such as oil or coal, wind makes a far less impact on the environment. Many people breeze over the negatives of wind turbines instead of acknowledging their impact. Energy harvesting from any source is going to have negatives. It’s more about how can we have the least amount of damage to our environment and still turn the lights on at home.

Wind energy harvesting does not release carbon dioxide and does not contribute to air pollution. Burning coal or oil is a large contributor to global warming. Wind turbines have been shown to impact wildlife, especially birds and bats that are killed by collisions with the spinning turbine blades. Mountain top removal for coal mining has a direct effect on many species.

The wind turbines do take up space, space that was natural habitat for land animals as well. “A survey by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of large wind facilities in the United States found that they use between 30 and 141 acres per megawatt of power output capacity (a typical new utility-scale wind turbine is about 2 megawatts) (ucsusa.org).”

The one large restriction with wind power, we can only harvest the energy when the wind is blowing. If there isn’t wind, there isn’t energy. For an energy grid system that operates on providing the energy for the demand this creates a problem. If the demand is higher than the output, the energy has to come from another source. Scientists are currently working on battery systems to store the wind energy created at peak times to be used for later use.

Texas is gearing up to become the first state with offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico. The environmental impacts of turbines in our Gulf need to be monitored. The Texas coast is a huge stopover point for many species of migrating birds. This is also a billion dollar tourist industry from birdwatchers. Offshore installations are much larger than their land counterparts and therefore need more space. The offshore turbines will cause environmental concerns and will compete with ocean activities such as fishing and other recreational activities. But, I think I’d rather see a wind turbine than an oil rig while swimming in the gulf. The wind turbine is not going to cause an oil spill detrimental to our ocean ecosystems.

Wind is a free resource, owned by no one and an endless resource. It’s not going anywhere. Our wind patterns may change but we will always have areas of high wind. Oil and coal on the other hand are in limited supply. I’ll put my money in a sure thing like wind, instead the last of a limited supply of oil.

Sheringham_Shoal_Wind_Farm_2012This picture terrifies me. If a wind farm like this was placed in the Gulf it would surely harm the millions of birds migrating through the area. 

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