When’d Windmills Change the View?

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Growing up in North Carolina was an unending lesson in nature. I enjoyed and grew accustomed to a diverse topography, from the rugged shores of the Outer Banks to nationally coveted falls in the Blue Ridge. Majestic magnolias lined residential roadways and miles of lush rolling hills helped pass time on family trips.

But that was home. And each summer, when my older brother and I would embark on long trips to visit our grandparents in northern central Illinois, I noticed something starkly different about the Midwest terrain – how flat it was!

Looking back, the monotony of flat farmland was beautiful in its repetition – corn rows, then soybeans in more lines than a kid could count – but back then, boring and plain were some of the words that came to mind. I secretly thought North Carolina had such a better landscape until recently, when I wanted boring back.

A few weeks ago when my mom was visiting from North Carolina, we made the 110-mile trek from Chicago to Long Point, where she now is in possession of the old house our family has owned for years. Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice one essentially different element of the historically flat and expansive landscape: wind turbines.

Hundreds of the massive tri-blade turbines lined Highway 17 east of Streator as we approached the small town. (How do wind turbines work?) Though turbines are quite an impressive sight and, while I support the overall ecological gain they provide, I couldn’t help but notice how much of an eyesore the monstrosities were. Where ragged red barns once solely dominated open fields now stand 300-foot-tall attractions, effortlessly upstaging the former farmland character.

The American Wind Energy Association ranks Illinois sixth in the nation in existing capacity of wind energy produced by turbines, and Streator, Ill., which used to provide us with the closest grocery store and movie theater, is now home to the impressive Cayuga Ridge South project.

The anticipated capacity of the project is 300 megawatts (MW). To give you an idea of how many wind turbines it would take to produce that amount of energy, most manufacturers of utility-scale turbines offer machines in the 700 kilowatt (kW) to 2.5 MW range.

A website dedicated to the history and preservation of the story of windmills in the state, Illinoiswindmills.org lists eyesores first on its list of “alleged impacts and potential hazards of wind turbines.” As someone who remembers the distinct character of a turbine-free Midwest, I’d have to agree.

- blog written by Virginia Brown, graduate student reporter, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

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Comments

I think the only way to avoid climate pollution is to provide a stimulate climate for community driven investment in wind and solar projects (i. e. through limited partnerships). However, the federal governemnt should also introduce a clear feed in tariff for renewable energies.

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