Windpower like an oil well that never goes dry

Windpower like an oil well that never goes dry by Bob Karolevitz At long last they�ve apparently found a use for South Dakota wind. They�re making electricity with it.

Unfortunately, other states are way ahead of us when it comes to harnessing the breezes. But, goodness knows, we�ve got more zephyrs than most of them.

Recently Phyllis and I were at Buffalo Ridge near Lake Benton, MN, where we gawked at the dozens of white windtowers as they twirled their giant 76-foot blades to make power enough to satisfy the needs of a good-sized community.

We were seeing modern technology in action as the quest to provide renewable energy proliferates � to free us from the dependence on Middle East oil producers.

But will it be feasible in the long run?

Will it make the Great Plains states � as the Smithsonian magazine asks � the Saudi Arabia of the future?

Of course we were a couple of electricity-illiterate lay-people who didn�t understand all the ramifications of wind-farming, but it made sense to us.

Actually it seemed that the 200-foot-high towers were just 21st century versions of the six-volt windcharger Phyllis�s dad erected on their farmhouse roof back on the 1930s. It provided electricity for two bulbs which replaced the Aladdin lamp. It also operated the vintage radio so they could listen to Ma Perkins and Amos and Andy.

Both Phyllis and her brother Jack remember how noisy that old windcharger was. Now, however, all those huge blades on the windtowers make just a semi-quiet swoosh which, they tell me, farm families quickly get used to.

Typically, though, South Dakota has been a little slow to take advantage of its air-borne natural resource, despite the fact that the state is said to be the fourth windiest in the nation. Right now there are a couple of windtowers near Chamberlain, but greater projects in McPherson County and on Turkey Ridge in the southeastern part of the state are still in the talking or negotiating stage.

You might know, of course, that a lot of controversy has already been stirred up. It�s worse than the ethanol squabble. I call it �B� Basketball Syndrome.

Some environmentalists don�t like the towers despoiling the landscape. To tax or not to tax is a big problem; and, needless to say, politics has raised its ugly head.

There�s concern, too, that large corporations will be involved. Enron, for instance, has been a big player in wind energy � and you know what a mess Enron is in.

Some also contend that the wind is unpredictable, and it won�t blow when it is needed the most. That reminds me of an old Black Crows record which included a segment on windmills. One interlocutor said they had two windmills on their farm, but there wasn�t enough wind for both of them, so they took one down.

The proponents argue that the picturesque tubular towers are tourist attractions, that wind-farming is more lucrative than corn and soybeans, and that the wind will go on forever. One farmer explained: �It�s like a big oil well that never goes dry.�

So the disagreement persists while South Dakota�s great gusts go wafting away, even without Loyal Gunderson�s windcharger benefitting from them.

Oh. well, Ma Perkins isn�t around anymore either.

� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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