Solving the Fossil Fuel Problem
As global warming continues to become more of a problem for every nation, many countries are seeking to find alternative ways to generate electricity that are not fossil fuel related. In the United States, wind energy seems to be an alternative that could be used as a replacement to fossil fuels. However, wind energy is not a worthy pursuit for the United States as it many times marginalizes the people who own the land where the turbines are placed, it still hurts the natural environment, and that there are better energy alternatives that the U.S. should support.
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Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun which causes a “flow” of air. This “flow” of air is then harnessed as wind energy and has been used to accomplish different tasks since as early as 200 B.C. with Chinese water mills. Today, the process is much more complicated and extensive with huge wind farms, however, the main concept by which the kinetic energy is harnessed through huge blades is still the same. In order for wind turbines to effectively generate electricity, they must be located in very specific locations such as the tops of smooth hills, open plains, and mountain gaps. Due to the fact that wind energy is site specific, problems with the local populations who own the land can occur and cause opposition to the creation of wind farms.
Wind energy can marginalize the local populations where the wind farms are set up. Wind farms are huge, usually taking up a space that is tens of thousands of acres. Due to the immobility and site specificity of these huge wind farms, feelings of imposition on the local populations can occur with people who do not want to live with wind farms on or near their land for the foreseeable future. For example, in the 1980’s, Palm Springs, California, was an ideal location for a wind farm as it had windy areas at the end of the San Gorgonio Pass which would allow for the generation of huge amounts of electricity. However, the local population, along with preservationists, “resisted the establishment of the wind farm to the point where media attention rose, lawsuits ensued, and research studies were commissioned” (Pasqualetti 909). The problem, which is common throughout the U.S., was that the ideal location for the wind farm was located in an undisturbed natural landscape. This landscape was not only an area for wildlife preservation, but was also used to attract tourism, and “the last thing community leaders wanted was an industrial landscape that could interfere with the enjoyment of the visitors who were the backbone of the local economy” (Pasqualetti 909). The industrial landscape produced by the establishment of wind farms can also threaten the close relationship between the people and their land which many times is a huge part of their culture. For example, on the Isle of Lewis, in the U.K., the idea to create a wind farm on the Isle was met with extreme resistance by the local population. The reason for this was that the local people feared that a huge industrial change to the natural landscape of the land would “bring about a weakening of the cultural roots and conservative lifestyles that people had established” (Pasqualetti 910). Furthermore, wind farms are seen by poorer people as a means of economic marginalization. In Oaxaca, Mexico, where wind energy is a popular idea with the government and rich landowners, the poorer population resists the establishment of a wind farm because “they view the projects as someone else’s idea, for someone else’s benefit, and for someone else’s profit” (911). Although many times the social implications of establishing a wind farm are not taken into account, it is important to keep them in mind when considering if the U.S. should pursue wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Due to the fact that the establishment of wind farms will create feelings of imposision and opposition because of the permanent change to the landscape, the U.S. should pursue a different alternative to fossil fuel that is not wind energy.
Many people believe that wind energy is completely environmentally benign and –if the small threat to birds is ignored– this is entirely true, but only after the wind turbines are set up. Wind energy still hurts the natural environment due to the installation process of the wind farms. As stated earlier, wind farms take up huge amounts of space, and many times are set up in places that are environmentally undisturbed. The installation process of wind farms, whether offshore or not, can negatively affect the natural environment in which they are set up. On land, the installation process requires the creation of miles of roads (Hiserodt 18) in order to transport the large pieces of equipment that are needed to set up the turbines. Wind farms also need “miles and miles of trenching in the ground in order to install underground cabling that can reach the power grid which is usually located very far away” (Hiserodt 18). The wind farm itself then takes up huge swathes of land which can disrupt the natural environment. Furthermore, the whole installation process can take up to six months to complete (Hiserodt 18). During this entire time, the environment of the local area is threatened and the natural landscape is irreparably altered by the construction process. The large amount of human activity that takes place in these natural environments hurts the land and the animals that live there. However, many people will flat out ignore the environmental effects of wind energy citing the fact that for the most part wind energy is great for the environment and has the added bonus of being inexhaustible (U.S. Department of Energy 2). Yet most popular alternatives to fossil fuels are clean and inexhaustible, such as hydroelectricity, solar power, and nuclear energy, which means that wind energy should not be given any extra consideration over the other alternatives. If the U.S. wants to help preserve the natural environment by finding alternative energy sources other than fossil fuels, it must strive to find an alternative that is not as damaging to environmental landscapes as wind energy is.
Furthermore, the U.S. should not devote its funds and pursue wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuels because a better alternative exists: nuclear energy. “Nuclear energy is the cheapest, most reliable, and cleanest source of alternative energy” (Hiserodt 18). A large problem with wind energy is the amount of space and land of the natural environment that wind farms use, however, with nuclear energy this spacing issue would be resolved as “a single nuclear power plant could replace a 300 square mile wind farm that uses 2,200, 30-story wind turbines” (Hiserodt 18). Additionally, nuclear energy is not site specific and so can be located wherever it is deemed appropriate, unlike wind farms. Another reason why the U.S. should pursue nuclear energy over wind energy is that a nuclear power plant can produce energy at any time and in any given condition. Wind energy, on the other hand, will only produce energy when the wind is blowing hard enough for the turbines to spin. This characteristic of wind energy makes it not a viable option for a large scale production of power, which is especially important if the U.S.`s goal is to find a replacement to fossil fuels. Moreover, wind energy has the unique problem in that it is very difficult for wind farms to store electricity for large periods at a time (Barnhart 2804), a problem which does not occur with nuclear energy and makes it a better candidate for the replacement of fossil fuels. A popular argument for wind energy is that wind energy is cheap and the price of it will only go down as research and development into the industry continues (Ruegg 387). However, wind energy for massive amounts of people is cheap only in theory. When the city of Austin, Texas, a highly progressive city with many supporters of clean energy, offered electricity produced by wind to city residents through the Austin Energy Company, not many people signed up and the effort to have exclusively wind produced electricity failed (Hiserodt 16). This was due to the fact that the price of wind produced electricity was three times the cost of conventional power (Hiserodt 16). To add on, with research and development, any alternative way of producing energy will become cheaper, and so wind energy should not be given any extra consideration by the U.S. government and other alternative sources, such as nuclear energy should be considered instead. Nuclear energy solves many of the problems that wind energy would produce and is the best candidate for the replacement of fossil fuel energy in the U.S. thus, the U.S. should not pursue wind energy and instead should focus on the development of nuclear energy.
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The environmental problems created by fossil fuels demand that the U.S. find a suitable alternative source of energy. This alternative source of energy must be such an excellent alternative to fossil fuels that people would wholeheartedly accept it, the environment would not be harmed, and that it would be able to take up the huge hole in energy production if the U.S. stopped using fossil fuels. Wind energy would not be a suitable replacement for fossil fuels and so it should not be pursued by the U.S. Instead, nuclear power offers a better solution to the fossil fuel problem. One of the main reasons against nuclear power is that it is currently unfavorable to the popular opinion due in large part to the false association it has with the possibility of a nuclear explosion. If the U.S. were to pursue nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels instead of wind energy, the U.S. would be more likely to create sustainable, clean, and economically friendly way of powering our country.
Barnhart, Charles J., et al. “Energy and Environmental Science.” The Energetic Implications of Curtailing versus Storing Solar- and Wind-Generated Electricity, vol. 6, no. 10, 2013, p. 2804., doi:10.1039/c3ee41973h.
Hiserodt, Ed. “The Wind-Farm Eruption. (Cover Story).” New American (08856540), vol. 26, no. 22, 08 Nov. 2010, p. 17. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=54906185&site=ehost-live.
Pasqualetti, Martin J. “Opposing Wind Energy Landscapes: A Search for Common Cause.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 101, no. 4, July 2011, pp. 907-917. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00045608.2011.568879.
Ruegg, Rosalie and Patrick Thomas. “Tracing Government-Funded Research in Wind Energy to Commercial Renewable Power Generation.” Research Evaluation, vol. 18, no. 5, Dec. 2009, pp. 387-396. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3152/095820209X480689.
U.S. Department of Energy. “‘Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) Wind Energy Benefits.” WINDExchange: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, Jan. 2015, windexchange.energy.gov/maps-data.