Opposition to industrial wind power
May 2, 2007
On April 25, The Hays Daily News ran a fairly extensive news story on the proposed development of the industrial wind power generation plant west and southwest of Hays. That article stated that about 80 local families have expressed their opposition so far, but it did not say much about why there is this opposition.
Let me try to explain very briefly some of the multiple sources of opposition. But please understand that this is an extremely brief explanation of each. More information is available at a public meeting being held tonight in the Fox Pavilion, starting at 7 p.m. and sponsored by the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition. (Full disclosure: I am a member of this group.)
I would say that the opposition can be divided into three groups, and these groups often overlap.
The first and largest group, I think, is the group of those who favor the development of wind power but who object to building these wind turbines so close to existing homes. Because there is so much available space in western Kansas and because there are risks or drawbacks to construction of wind turbines near where people live, to many of us it seems like the best thing to do is build wind turbine operations in less populated areas and compensate those who would live dangerously close so that they can move.
I will explain these risks and drawbacks in a just a minute.
A second group of people have concerns that go even deeper. There are some who point out that wind power is not actually as helpful to the environment, as "green," as it may look on first glance. They point out, among other things, that even though wind turbines are better than coal-fired power plants because the turbines produce no carbon after they have been built, there is a lot of carbon produced in the construction of the wind turbines and towers. In fact, it takes the wind turbines about seven years of operation just to make up for the greenhouse gases produced in building them.
Since a turbine probably has a lifespan of about 30 years, that means that about one quarter of its life is must making up for the additional carbon produced in getting it built in the first place.
And, of course, there are other aspects of the environment that also suffer or may suffer from the wind turbines. The flow of groundwater may be affected; wildlife may be harmed.
A third group of people may or may not favor the industrial wind power development, but they are quite upset by the seemingly underhanded way in which this has come about. After the Hays Daily News reported more than a year ago that the project was apparently dead, other actions favorable to the development of the industrial wind generation project went forward without the knowledge of the general public.
So there are people concerned about what they think may be collusion and corruption.
But let's go back to the first group and the reasons some have for holding that there are risks and drawbacks to the development of industrial wind.
For me personally, the biggest concern is the noise and its effect on health. Doctors whose patients live within a mile or so of the wind turbines report that the noises - including some "noise" so low that our ears do not actually pick it up though the vibrations strike us - produce a much higher incidence than normal of the following things: sleep problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, interference with learning and ringing in one's ears.
Our nothing-special vacuum cleaner - an ordinary Eureka - makes a sound that comes in at about 25 or 26 decibels when one is 10 feet away from it. I sure would not want to sleep with this vacuum cleaner running in the far corner of our bedroom. Yet the sound measured more than a half-mile from the 20 wind turbines outside of Meyersdale, Pa., came in at about 50 decibels in the audible range and about 65 decibels when you add the low frequency noise. Since CPV is proposing putting turbines less than a half-mile from residences, we can expect the outside noise to be pretty uncomfortable. I can understand where the headaches will be coming from.
These health risks occur when the turbines are working the way they are designed to work.
Then there are also dangers that come from times when the turbines do not work the way they are supposed to, from accidents and natural occurrences, for example. At other installations, ice sometimes develops on the blades and gets thrown off. Though Ms. Krista Jo Gordon of CPV Wind Hays says that her turbines will have technology that senses ice build up on the turbine blades, it does so by noting an imbalance. Thus, when we get a freezing drizzle, the kind that coats twigs and branches equally with a coating of ice, the ice may very well build up equally on the blades. This would not be detected by the type of sensor Ms. Gordon described. So those of us who live near these installations could still possibly be struck by hunks of ice thrown by the blades.
Tonight I expect that people will probably have a dozen more things to bring up: aesthetics, property values (predicted to decline by 30 percent), interference with communications, the impact on roads and land during construction, taking down the towers at the end of their life, the unenforceability of the commitment of CPV to make a payment to the county in place of taxes, the possible illegality of that type of payment (it can look like a bribe).
So there are lots of reasons that 80 families are objecting to the development of the industrial wind power generation facility so close to our homes. One can favor the development of wind power generation but believe that this project is not a good one.
Paul Faber has been teaching philosophy at Fort Hays State University for 20 years.
Confessions of a NIMBY obstructionist
April 29, 2007
Insight is a quirky phenomenon. If one will only linger long enough to permit it, much more can be learned in a debate than that which is readily accessible.
I, like many in the community, have been wrestling with the realities of the current industrial wind proposal in Ellis County. As affected community members, some others and I have voiced concerns. As a result, we have been categorized by some as "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) opponents of progress. As labels go, this one is uniformly negative, leveled at those not enlightened enough to see the big picture or too self centered to sacrifice for the greater good. Having invested a significant amount of personal time and resources in a graduate education and teaching at a state university, I have an affinity to think of myself as, at the very least, marginally "enlightened".
However, having been castigated for my position, I am forced to consider the possibility that my educational investment has gone the way of an Enron retirement account. Determined to rebuff the charge, I spent some time examining the accusation. The results of my scrutiny were, at first, a tad disturbing. As is the case in many debates, listening fully to the statements of others, often brings insight into your own.
While reflecting on the validity of the charge, I found no escape from the precision of the indictment. The hard truth is, I am much more interested in this debate than I would otherwise be, if only I had the fortune of being blissfully unaware of the predicament of those faced with the realities of this proposed industrial development. No doubt had I lived east of Hays, I would have found many other "important" things to occupy my time. After all, like most of us in the modern world, I'm a pretty busy guy. If it were not for the "misfortune" of living in the center of an area proposed to house eight to 10 400 foot-towers within a half mile from my house (and at least three within half that distance), I may likely have continued with my day, perhaps pausing slightly to consider with genuine sympathy, the plight of those poor souls west of town. Though it pains me to say it now, (most personal growth is uncomfortable), if it were not for living in the proposed area, I would have missed several truths ranging from the mundane to the sublime.
One of the simple truths I have come to understand is that even if I lived east of Hays, I would not have escaped the potential adverse effects of this proposal. In the case of 140 structures each one at least 50 feet taller than the tallest building in Kansas, sweeping an area of the sky larger than a Boeing 747, a mere few miles won't make much of a difference. For reasons far too numerous to enumerate here, the specifics of this proposal could potentially have a negative impact on every single person residing in Ellis County (perhaps excepting those few whose land they sit on). It's not just those living underneath the giant turbines that will experience the ill effects of them.
A more meaningful truth I have come to realize is that people who accuse someone of being a NIMBY obstructionist, do so thinking they are illuminating some great character flaw in the recipient. That being the case, if the accusation has merit, it certainly is an indictment of humanity as a whole. The thing is, people do and should care about what affects them, and those close to them. When this accusation is leveled, it is done so because of an agenda, in this case, a strong financial incentive and a wish to discredit those expressing concern. In reality however, it is a natural and healthy reaction for those who must live with the consequences of an action to proceed with concern.
I would propose that it is the actions of the "PITBY" (Put In Their Back Yard) variety that can be the most insidious and that must be scrutinized with tremendous caution. What would motivate a developer from the Denver area, representing the interests of a Spanish utility company, to place an industrial utility development covering almost 12,000 acres in the center of Ellis County on the doorstep of the most populated city in northwest Kansas?
Though the preceding truths I mentioned are significant, they pale in comparison to the most profound understanding I have come to through this journey. As I mentioned previously, I am without a doubt "guilty" of the NIMBY syndrome. Of greater consequence, I sincerely hope that as many people as possible will step forward to share my "guilt." Citizens taking responsibility to become involved in what happens around them is one of the core principles on which this great American experiment was founded.
Responsible citizens are compelled to watch over their backyard. For instance, we try to keep poverty, not poor people, out of our back yards by developing social programs, giving to the United Way and our local churches. We invest in public education programs to warn others of the dangers of addiction and other heath hazards. We endeavor to rid our society of child sexual abuse and spend our time and resources both caring for those victimized by sexual abuse and punishing those perpetrating it.
Many citizens have concerns about how this particular industrial development will affect them, their family and their community. At the present time, these concerns are so strong that they are compelled to declare to the decision makers, "Not in our backyard!"
Well-meaning people on both sides of any debate may differ as to the best course of action. In some situations there are no simple solutions. However, as luck would have it, this is not one of those situations. We need renewable energy to power the world. We also need to protect the health and well-being of those in our back yard. Fortunately, in this situation, we can have both. Build the turbines in areas of Kansas where it limits the impact on their neighbors, keeping them out of everyone's back yard. There are literally hundreds of sites in western Kansas where if need be, thousands of turbines can be built, with corresponding setbacks measured in miles, not feet, from residences.
If standing up for what I believe is the right thing to do for myself, my family, my neighbors and my community, results in some labeling me a NIMBY obstructionist, I for one will proudly wear that label. Perhaps in some small way these efforts will encourage others to exercise their voice as well. Conceivably, it also may result in a more productive conversation and produce a more collaborate effort to engage the issue at hand.
In the meantime, I will continue engaging my convictions and maintaining involvement in the discourse, in the effort to keep something that threatens the physical, social and economic well-being out of my community, and out of my backyard.
Tim Davis, Ph.D., is practicum coordinator and assistant professor of social work at Fort Hays State University.
Project would infringe upon neighbors' property rights
April 27, 2007
How would you answer this question? Where is the one place in this world that you can call your own? A place that you can physically point to, locate on a map and has your name on a document that proves - it is yours. For most of us, the answer would be our property, our land.
My home is my little spot on this earth that I can take refuge, relax and be myself. My home consists of a little under 5 acres, a two-story farmhouse built in 1917 and a horse barn. Owning your own home and property is the American dream, the quest that so many seek, the right passage from being "footloose and fancy free" to being grounded, steady and mature. Our homes and property define us somewhat. It gives clues to what we like, what we do and who we are.
I am free to so as I want with my house as long as I follow some basic commonsense rules and guidelines that keep my property and I on the right track. The first rule is that I cannot do anything on my property that breaks the law. The second rule is that I cannot do anything on my property that infringes on others' property or well-being around me. These two very basic rules and guidelines, everyone has the opportunity to own their little spot on this earth and live in peace. It is when one of these guidelines is not followed that out little place on earth that we can call our own - is threatened.
I, of course, am referring to the proposed wind industrial complex southwest of Hays. This complex that will cover more than 10,000 acres and overshadow many more, breaks the second rule - that of infringing on others' property and well-being. The infringement consists of living in the shadows of 400-foot machines, noise, increased lightning strikes, lessening of property values and the potential for health problems. The resources outlining these problems have been spoken about, written about and documented since this project has surfaced for those who care to find out the truth.
Persons in the position of making decisions regarding this proposal are supposed to protect us and our property from the infringements. These people have the duty and obligation, with what they signed on to do, to put any biases, potential for financial gain or basic local politics aside - and make a decision based on those two very simple concepts outlined above. The rule of thumb for most actions and decisions such as these is to "err on the side of caution." We can argue and debate how much it will affect those around this complex forever - but there is no question that it will affect those around the complex. So-based on that simple concept above - in that the wind industrial complex will affect homeowners surrounding it - the judgment or decision that must be made to, at the very least, "error on the side of caution," would be to disapprove of this proposal.
I hope that those who have found themselves in the capacity of making this very important decision will simply do what their role was created to do - follow the two rules outlined above and err on the side of caution - putting blinders onto any biases, financial gain or local politics.
Please help us all to hold onto the idea that we can have our own little spot on earth that is protected from the infringement of others.
Sheryl R. Butler
779 Golf Course Road.
Finally, a good use for the wicked west-Kansas wind
April 27, 2007
The most conspicuous item left out of Wednesday's Hays Daily News was the non-inclusion of the tallest structure in Ellis County within the Ellis Coalition's ad for " The Truth about Industrial Wind Energy," namely the TV tower at 23th and Hall.
Considerably taller then the Co-op building, at a conservative 900 to 1,000 feet and viewable from anyplace in Ellis Co., unless you are hiding in a hole somewhere.
As a farmer and lifetime resident of Rush and Ellis counties, I, along with many an "old" country boys I'm sure, would like to see this nemesis we call "The Wind" be put to some use that doesn't include blowing topsoil over into the neighbor's fencerow, tearing down windmills (few enough of those left, anyhow), tearing "Mom's" newly washed clothes from the clothesline (for the younger set, we did not have clothesdryers when I grew up, Mom hung the wash out on a clothesline in the back yard and let the wind and sun dry it), or creating havoc with semis along I-70, among other things. Up til now the only other really good I ever saw in it was powering sailboats, a favorite pastime in my younger days. Some may say that it helps dry the wheat at harvest time, which is true, but it also blows a lot of it down or tears it plumb out of the ground at the beginning of the fall growing season.
We could always be sure that someone had something to say about the wind blowing in western Kansas, and it usually started with $^%#*&. I know Granddad always said the wind wasn't really blowing unless you had to tie the log chains down to keep them from blowing away and then generally could tell the wind speed by the number of links that were popping off the end as it whipped around.
Gerald D Crotinger
1700 Dechant Road, No. 17.
Green energy is fine, as long as it's somewhere else?
April 26, 2007
For the past few weeks I have been reading with interest what the people in Hays and Ellis County have been saying about the proposed wind farm to be constructed west of Hays. I have talked to a few landowners in this area and can understand their concerns.
I have listened as they told me all the disadvantages to wind power. So far I have not heard anything new. The one thing I think most people agree on is that alternative energy is good; but not here.
Residents of Hays and Ellis County are not alone in their feelings towards alternative energy. If asked, most Americans will agree that alternative energy is good, but they can find many reasons to not support it.
Americans need to take a closer look at the world and how much energy they are using.
Some important facts about Americans and energy: (1) The more fossil fuel we use the more we pollute the environment. (2) Americans account for 5 percent of the world's population and own over half the automobiles in the world. (3) Our strong economy GDP is directly related to the amount of electricity we use. (4) The GDP is a plausible aggregate measure of the economic well-being or quality of life we have.
(5) Energy end use in the United States can be divided into four major sectors: transportation, residential, commercial and industrial.
(From Sustainable Energy, Choosing Among Options, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005.)
The quality of life we have in the United States depends so much on having a good cheap supply of energy that I can not understand why we don't do more to protect it. After giving this problem much thought I have come up with two reasons why we are not doing more to protect our way of life.
The first reason is (people plus politicians) times (people plus environmentalists) times (people plus big business) equals Zero Green.
What this means is that everyone has their own agenda for not using alternative energy even though they said they want it.
My second question is: What are we willing to give up to stop our high energy consumption the United States and start protecting the environment?
The answer seems to be clear, nothing.
517 Mission Mount, No. 2
Noise, health and property rights
April 18, 2007
Most of us have had the experience. You're waiting for the light to change to green, and you begin to hear the boom-boom-booming of the bass coming from some car nearby. Although late adolescent males often get the blame, it can be pretty hard to tell just where the sound is coming from.
Even though you have the windows rolled up, you cannot stop the sound from coming in. A low-pitched sound like that is pretty hard to stop. Bass notes are a relatively low frequency; yet they certainly are audible. Of course, it is because we can hear them - even when we do not want to - that we get annoyed.
Car stereos are not the only things that can produce low frequencies. In fact, some machines can produce "noises" that are so low we cannot even hear them. That is to say, there is a wave going through the air (or some other substance) just as it does when we hear a sound. Our ears, though, are not made to hear these low-frequency noises (or "LFN"). They are infrasonic.
Now there are two facts that in combination bring this concern with LFN to the surface:
Wind turbines produce LFN.
And the evidence is that LFN makes many people unhealthy.
Therefore, wind turbines contribute to making people unhealthy.
So the industrial wind power generation facility proposed for the area west and southwest of Hays can be a danger to the health of the people who live nearby.
This is true, but it raises a lot of questions. The first set would be about the production of the LFN by the wind turbines. What frequencies are generated? At what intensity? (We cannot really ask "how loud are they?" when we cannot hear them.) Noises - including LFN - are transmitted differently through different substances, so how much would they be transmitted through the particular kinds of soil and the particular strata of rock that these turbines will be built on? The LFN are also, by the way, transmitted through the air. This is all about asking just how far from the turbines people would be affected.
I hope we can get some idea of the answers to these questions in the next month or so, but we do not have them now. There are data available for other places that industrial wind power generators have been built, and we do know that some governments are advocating that no residences be within 2 kilometers (about 1.25 miles) of a turbine. But we do not know just how the LFN will spread from the proposed Yocemento site.
The second group is made up of questions about the health effects of long term exposure to LFN: What negative health effects does LFN produce? What length of exposure causes negative health effects? Are there particular frequencies that cause more trouble than others? How much of a population subjected to LFN is at risk?
We can find some answers - or the beginnings of answers - to these sorts of questions.
A number of people have been trying to answer these sorts of questions. One important source is the 2004 issue of the scholarly journal "Noise & Health," which was dedicated to the health effects of LFN. ("Noise & Health" is a peer-reviewed journal coming out of University College of the University of London.)
Furthermore, the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (or DEFRA) commissioned a team of investigators led by the British scientist Geoff Leventhall to bring together the results of the scientific studies that had been done on LFN. They published "A Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects" in May 2003.
There is evidence for a variety of negative health effects.
Two weeks ago in The Hays Daily News I referred to an article laying out one of the effects of LFN, an effect called "vibroacoustic disease." The article I referred to was from that 2004 issue of "Noise & Health." Vibroacoustic disease affects the heart and other parts of the circulatory system. Basically, it seems to be the body's response to the constant vibration of LFN by thickening the walls of the circulatory system.
Another of the serious effects of long term exposure to LFN is stress, the type known as "background" stress. There are both physical and psychological or psycho-social effects of experiencing this stress. The physical effects include a disruption of the body's normal circadian pattern of production of cortisol. "Children exposed to higher noise levels in the sample," notes the DEFRA study, "had significantly more problems with memory, concentration and sleep and also had higher cortisol levels." The levels of stress and sleeplessness in turn produce short-temperedness and some complications to human relationships. But I suppose we are all quite familiar with the effects of stress and sleeplessness.
About some of the other health-related questions we have fewer answers. Just what level of exposure to LFN is causing these things? We know that long-term exposure is much more harmful than a brief exposure, but how long is long? We do not know for sure.
Similarly, it seems that not all people react to chronic exposure to LFN the same way, just as some people can smoke cigarettes for years and not develop lung cancer. But why? We do not know exactly. We may be able to tell what the general responses are to long-term exposure to LFN, but we will need to do more research before we can find why Dick responds differently than Jane.
All this raises a third set of questions, questions about rights. Even if industrial wind power production produces LFN, and LFN in turn has negative health effects, what about the rights of the private property owner? What about the rights of people who live nearby? And does it make any difference if we have evidence of harmful health effects, but not definite proof?
Maybe we can look into that next time.
Paul Faber has been teaching philosophy at Fort Hays State University for 20 years.
Standing in the way of progress
April 3, 2007
We all know about dog whistles. They make sounds that are quite real, but so high-pitched that only dogs and small kids and others with amazingly good hearing can hear them at all.
And we all know about infrared and ultraviolet light. The light is real, but our eyes are not suited to register it. Of course, we can develop instruments that "see" this light, and the light can then be represented for us in ways we can see. But the actual infrared light is lower in frequency than the light we can see, and the ultraviolet is higher in frequency than the visible spectrum.
Again, the light outside of the visible spectrum can have quite real effects. Ultraviolet - often called "UV radiation" - is the main cause of sunburn, for example, and repeated exposure to the UV rays leads to skin cancer in many people.
Just as there is light too high in frequency to see and too low, and just as there is sound too high in frequency to hear, so also there is sound too low for us to hear. This is low-frequency noise, or "LFN." Too bad it does not have a catchier name.
Unfortunately, LFN is produced by wind< turbines. Even more unfortunately, CPV Wind Hays LLC has proposed putting 130 or more of these wind turbines within "hearing" distance of a number of homes to the west of Hays. And we live in one of them.
The lower the frequency, the farther the "noise" travels, even if it inaudible, and the more it travels through materials, including not only through the air, but through the ground and right through the walls of a home. In fact, just because of the way it will permeate things, the military has in fact used ultra-low-frequency sounds - these are sounds that are lower yet than those caused by industrial wind power production - as a means of communication.
Because the big windmills generate LFN, those who live within a mile or even 1.5 miles (depending upon ground conditions and topography) are subject to this "noise," even when it is inaudible.
Like dog whistles and UV radiation, LFN is quite real and can have quite real effects.
These real effects have been recognized by the military. The Toronto Star (of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and not the slightly smaller Toronto in Marion County, Kansas) in an article titled "The Cutting Edge: Military Use of Sound" reported that the Israeli army has developed a weapon using LFN to make people feel sick (June 6, 2005). "It has no adverse effects," writes the newspaper, "unless someone is exposed to the sound for hours and hours."
We have lived here for hours and hours - about 18 and a half years, actually, except for some time we had to move to town while the house was being rebuilt after the tornado of Oct. 16, 1998. And we hope to continue to live here for hours and hours.
Others have done studies of just what those adverse effects are when people are subjected to LFN for extended periods.
Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician from upstate New York who has her M.D. from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. from Princeton, writes about Wind Turbine Syndrome, which includes problems with sleeping, headaches (including increased number and severity of migraines for those who already are at risk for migraines), dizziness, exhaustion and associated anxiety, anger, and depression, and problems concentrating and learning.
Researchers in Europe (Castelo Branco and Alves-Periera) are making progress on understanding the actual physiological changes that one undergoes with repeated exposure to LNF. With that understanding of the causal processes, they are able to call it a disease, more particularly, "vibroacoustic disease" or "VAD." Their 10-year study of 140 people who live or work in LFN-rich environments revealed a very significant increase in heart or vascular related trouble as well as in the kind of clinical symptons Dr. Pierpont has pointed to: "depressions, increased irritability and aggressiveness, a tendency for isolation, and decreased cognitive skills are all a part of the clinical picture of VAD."
Generating electrical power by harnessing the wind is probably a good thing. I am not as confident about the economics of it as some are, and I am very, very concerned with the day when the wind power factory has outlived its economic utility to CPV Hays Wind LLC and all 130 or so windmills are abandoned. (Just do some research on how easy it is for an LLC, a limited-liability company, to have its assets transferred to the parent company so the LLC can go bankrupt and leave its responsibilities behind.) And there certainly are a host of other concerns. But the big problem for me is the health problem. If we can rely upon science - upon observed, analyzed and tested past cases - then we have to recognize that living near industrial wind power generators is dangerous.
I will not live here if they build them as proposed.
So it seems like there are two ways out. One: The industrial wind electrical generators could not be built at all.
Or two: They could be built, but built more than a mile-and-a-half from homes. I would recommend that they be built, but that they be built farther west in Kansas, where they can be built without abutting residential areas.
If the only way they can be built is where they are presently planned, then the developer, CPV Hays Wind LLC, should buy up the property of those who no longer will be willing or able to live in their homes.
To intentionally bring about disease and suffering to my family and my neighbors is wrong, even if it would provide more electrical power for the people of Hays or Denver.
Paul Faber has been teaching philosophy at Fort Hays State University for 20 years.
The answer, my friend
March 30, 2007
Kansans have cussed the wind ever since they plowed the sod on their first farms. Our agricultural history too often has been blighted by searing winds that burned succulent green crops to a dry brown, and sometimes buried the landscape in clouds of dust.
Now we learn that those accursed Kansas winds are an economic boon that can aid our state and nation's energy independence. And yet, we once again find that "they who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind."
Because, you see, some people don't want modern wind turbines in their communities. Their reasons? Wind turbines spoil the landscape. They kill birds. They upset the ecological balance of nature. They ruin land values.
I have filled a scrapbook with stories about wind plans and wind controversies, and I agree that we need to approach this new energy source thoughtfully. However, I don't want to argue the details today. Instead, I'd like to quote from a column that I wrote in the fall of 2002 under the headline of "Energy blowing in the wind."
These were my impressions then:
"At first, they looked like tiny toothpicks outlined against the hazy southern horizon ... and yet, my pulse quickened when I saw them.
"As I drove southward, they disappeared from view as I dipped into the Arkansas River Valley and passed through the town of Cimarron. Then the highway inclined slightly upward as my car passed a beef feedlot amid farming country. I could see them whirling in the distance.
"As my car drew nearer, there they were, appearing larger with each passing mile ... rows of them ... dozens, in fact ... more than I could count.
"The Gray County wind farm northeast of Montezuma. Modern windmills that generate electricity, surrounded by irrigated fields of corn.
"I grew up with windmills ... the type that pumped water into a tank for our livestock. On this sunny fall day in 2002, I was en route to Garden City to attend the southwest district meeting of the Kansas Press Association, but I had read about the new wind generators in Gray County and was drawn to them as if pulled by a magnet.
"They were quite different from the windmills of my mind. I saw rows of modern white sculptures with long whirling blades ... sculptures that, on a smaller scale, would be highly decorative on anyone's lawn. Clean and sleek, seemingly connected to nothing.
"A fellow newspaperman told me that they stood nearly 200 feet tall, and that the wind farm contained about 170 of them.
"Today, I wasn't interested in facts, but rather wanted to experience the subtler feelings of watching the windmills that towered over the landscape. Surprisingly, they didn't seem to tower at all. Driving down a graveled lane, I parked within 30 yards of one of the behemoths, shut off the engine, and stepped outside.
"This windmill stood on a round, white, pipe-like tower which tapered inward toward the top. Long triple blades turned lazily, much in the manner of the sleek propeller of an airplane. I was reminded of a large bird in flight, but the windmill was so perfectly proportioned that it didn't look large or overwhelming.
"A gentle breeze stirred my hair as I stood and watched the lazy clockwise rotation of the blades ... 30 revolutions a minute, as nearly as I could time them.
"The only sounds were the soft 'whoosh' of the blades as they rotated in the wind, and the gentle humming of machinery ... nothing more than a lullaby, a sound that might lull you to sleep.
"I saw the rows of windmills - some close above me and many farther away - but I saw little else except the fields of crops. The most interesting part of the scene was what I didn't see or hear. No electrical lines, so they must be buried. No people. No trucks or trains hauling fuel. No fuel tanks. No buildings. No roaring motors. No wisps of smoke. No sewage lagoons. Not even water.
"Nothing but the windmills and the wind.
"That's the beauty of this new development. No fuel is needed, and no pollution is created. Power from the wind, which will blow forever on the plains of Kansas. (And I didn't see any dead birds.)
"Down in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas, some environmentalists warn against building these new windmills there. It would spoil the landscape, they say. It would ruin nature.
"Maybe. But the Flint Hills have heard the whirring of windmills ever since the first white men established their ranches there. They might be surprised.
"For once, the demands of industry have been met in a graceful and peaceful manner that blends with nature. To me, on this pleasant afternoon in the fall of 2002, the Gray County wind farm looked like dozens of graceful birds that had alighted on the landscape in a peaceful and productive manner that was soothing to the soul as well as the pocketbook."
Call me naive, but hundreds of news stories and comments haven't changed my basic thinking. This is the cleanest, simplest and most natural source of energy that I've ever seen.
But I agree with the critics to this extent: This new source of push-button comfort and power should be pursued reasonably, and everyone deserves to be heard. It would be best not to clutter scenic vistas with wind turbines, and they might be too noisy for some localities. All of the questions haven't been answered.
However, reasonable people should be able to reach sensible compromises. After all, the energy that we all need is blowing in the Kansas wind - a benefit that our pioneer forefathers couldn't have imagined.
Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is the retired editor and publisher of the Smith County Pioneer.