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Wind farms — a brief history

A View From the Edge

Thirty years ago, Denmark was the first country to build offshore wind turbine farms. Fifteen years or more before that wind farms popped up all over America, Texas and California especially. In fact, it was the U.S. Energy Commission in 1975 that asked NASA to come up with a commercial design for wind turbines. Their designs were based on aeronautical helicopter research and are, essentially, the same designs being used today.

Ever since wind electric power generation was conceived and proved economical there have been nay-sayers, citing bird killings, environmental impact (huge concrete pads and transmission wires), sea-lane dangers, and, never least, the bugaboo of “not made in the USA” technology and manufacturing. The protests are fluid, complex in outreach and, always, passionate.

The truth in all this is simpler. There are risks in any energy manufacture. Birds take a while to acclimatize to the spinning blades (studies in California show it took a little more than two years for raptors to adapt). Fishermen off of Denmark fought valiantly against the wind farms using the argument of safety to navigation in poor visibility and storm danger scenarios (GPS and beacons solved those issues). What could not be calculated, at first, was that these offshore pylons actually encouraged marine life and harvests have increased. Similarly, many land farms in the California valleys and Texas have benefitted from cheap electricity to power water pumping, increasing farm yields where little or none was possible before. And, of course, land-based wind farms often turn wasteland into profit centers for ranchers and municipalities.

Today, Denmark is almost 100% sustainable energy and exports electricity to Norway every day and, in the event there is no wind, the same transmission line can carry Norway’s wind power electricity back to Denmark. In the past three years there has been an ebb and flow accounting — usually well in Denmark’s favor.

Henrik Stiesdal, the inventor of the first offshore turbine farm in Denmark (first globally, too), adapted the NASA design to work on a huge scale, offshore. Today they are constructing towers with blades that are almost 500-feet long. The tower stands just over 855-feet high. The largest single offshore turbine farm is actually off the coast of Hornsea in Britain, producing 1,218 megawatts — enough for 260,00 homes, year in, year out.

Of course, there is another public issue. Many feel the turbines are a blight on the “natural” landscape. But any protests against them spring from a misconceived idyllic view of our already man-made landscape. Name me one place, outside of designated wilderness or national park areas, where man has not already changed the landscape away from “natural.” 

Want simple examples? Do you like daffodils and tulips in your natural garden? Tulips came here from Central Asia and daffodils came from Iberia. Oh, and tumbleweed? That icon of the “real west” is Russian thistle brought here to increase quail cover for visiting hunters.

Done properly, esthetically, wind farms are a beautiful industrial sight, saving a sustainable planet for future generations.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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