Tilting at Windmills in the Fields of Dreams

Update, March 2017
This site shows how wind turbines use blades to collect kinetic energy—the top wind producing states are Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas.

October 2016
Wind energy, the fastest-growing source of electricity in the U.S., is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago.

March 2016
Iowa pulled in 31.3% of its electricity last year from wind generation. The state leads the nation in the percentage of electricity from wind–followed by South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

The blog below examines the goods, the bads, and the beauty of these high-tech crops on the fertile flatlands.

Commentary…Don Quixote Takes on Midwest Windmills

They say just about anything will grow in the fertile soil of central Iowa, and to prove that point, huge wind generators have taken root among the soybeans and hay fields. My parents’ farm is the fulcrum point for two banks of these wind turbines. Starting at our neighbor’s farm to the south, 100 windmills stretch for nearly 15 miles in a hodge-podge order. About a mile northwest of our land, another 100 cut through the air in a random-abstract line that reaches the horizon. For a kid who grew up on a quiet farm in the Flatlands, these machines have an other-worldly quality to them.

I’m not complaining. They apparently generate home-grown energy, rent money for farmers, and some tax revenue for local schools. Many say the wind turbines bring in jobs, lessen the need for foreign oil, and produce energy from a renewable source.

Other locals act more like Don Quixote when he first wants to attack the windmills in Spain. They question the energy efficiency claims and the amount of birds killed in the blades. Some mumble about nuisance factors, huge power lines, or even radio wave interference.

Thinking of energy independence, I hope the generators work in the long run, but I’ll leave the debate to others. I’m just glad they weren’t around back in our American Graffiti high school days. Misguided teens would be arranging parties under the more remote towers (“Hey, dig those flashing lights.”), or they might use the lonely maintenance roads for “extracurricular parking.”
And the temptation to climb might have been too much. For a few years in the late 60s, our small-town water tower became the Mt. Everest for crazies (“Why? Because it’s there.”). One school friend used the tower as his artistic message board, and another midnight climber managed to attach a Christmas tree to the light fixture at the very top. The wind turbines could have been sirens in the fields promising quixotic adventures.
Nowadays I’m more into the aesthetics of it all. Picture this: A warm, humid night in July, moon rising orange in the east, and a light breeze nudging gentle waves along the tops of tasseling cornfields. The old cottonwood tree near the barn creaks as it sways, but another sound surfaces, a low whirling white noise—an oscillating whoosh sound that is barely audible.
The towers stand as silhouettes along the horizon, and as the last rays of the setting sun fade away, windmill lights flicker in a slow, random sequence. With the stars adding a deep and endless canopy, the sweeping generator blades move in the shadows, and just as you’re about to slip into a zen trance, you begin to understand why Don Quixote unhitched his horse from reality and rode off into the land of illusions. 

by dan gogerty (drawing from mainlesson.com–g.a.harper)

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