The farm-wind alternative
Gigantic turbines on ridgelines generate huge and enduring controversy. Here’s a possible alternative: Instead, have intermediate-sized turbines in each of our several thousand farmers’ fields. Rather than subsidizing multi-state conglomerates to build the big ones, cut current extremely high subsidies in half, but give them directly to farmers. Give them a second crop in every field that would both help keep them in business, and lower food prices.
Wind may not be 24/7/365 on a single turbine but, compared with the fluctuations of weather, farm bills and energy prices farmers face, their own wind turbines would be very stabilizing — the wind probably wouldn’t stop blowing when milk prices plummet.
With the exception of high ridges, Vermont’s best farmland and wind resources coincide. Our best farms and winds are in the Champlain Valley lowlands. There’s a reason — the rougher the topography, the higher you have to go to get adequate wind — the top of Pikes Peaks may have the strongest winds, but the Short-Grass Prairie out east of it is one of the world’s greatest wind resources. Compared with the Adirondacks and Greens, the Champlain Lowlands are a little like the Short Grass Prairie.
An entire wind farm takes up a lot of real estate, compared with the amount of power it generates. However a single wind turbine generates a lot of power compared with the small footprint of its base. In a farmer’s field a turbine might displace a cow or one row of corn equivalent, but not much more. As long as the turbines sit on poles without guy lines, they might fit in the waste space farmers leave anyway — at the ends of their rows to turn their tractors around.
We usually analyze economics just in terms of cost vs. production. But this is more than dollar-cost economics — not just the power the turbines produce but the farms they help save, the disadvantaged kids that have less expensive milk to drink, a fuller food bank, a more-resilient distributive and home grown electric grid in an ice storm, paid employment in a new skill for farm kids to keep them on the land, and viewscapes that don’t grow back to stubble.
Far from degrading Vermont’s tourist appeal, in balance, farm wind turbines might enhance both tourism and our total well-being.
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