OFFBEAT: More than tilting at windmills

I figured wind power stopped being pie-in-the-sky and had come down to earth when the farmers had more to say about it than the envi
Don Lee
May 24, 2010


I figured wind power stopped being pie-in-the-sky and had come down to earth when the farmers had more to say about it than the environmentalists.

That was at the wind power conference a couple months ago at BGSU Firelands, when the panel of experts included a guy from the Farm Bureau.

He wasn’t talking about clean power, or sustainability, or cutting the dependence on foreign oil or the other esoteric arguments I’d heard advanced up to that point.

He was talking about easements, and land-use payments to farmers upon whose land a windmill might be sited or wires strung across to take the windmill’s electricity to everyone’s light bulbs.  Real shovels-in-dirt, dollars-and-cents stuff, the kind of talk a farmer can’t afford to avoid. Sitting in the back of the crowd that night, I thought: This is finally for real.

Now I hear about businesspeople who want to invest in the hardware. A wind farm proposed in Seneca County. Another businessman who wants to build in Lorain County. The turbine at the Huron company or the one at the Bellevue train yard. People who invest dollars in expectation of getting dollars back.

This is what is going to make wind power real, whatever help it gets or doesn’t get from Gov. Ted Strickland’s economic program.

Only one thing bothers me so far: reducing our dependence on foreign oil depends on foreign windmills.

Ohio’s most famous windmills, the foursome sprouting from the Wood County Landfill west of Bowling Green, were manufactured by Vestas American Wind Technology, an offshoot of a Denmark company that is the world’s biggest windmill maker. You’ll hear Vestas’ name a lot, along with Siemens of Germany and Gamesa of Spain, when you’re talking about building wind turbines.

There’s a shipping facility at Becancours in Quebec, on the St. Lawrence River, where ocean-going freighters drop off turbines and tower parts, stacking them like giant steel cordwood. Smaller ocean-going freighters pick them up, stack their decks high, and head on up the Great Lakes, dropping the parts off at Duluth or Manistee to be trucked inland to the wind farms being built in the Midwest.

But the real green from green power will come when we wrap our brains around the idea that people who build cars can just as readily build windmills.

In other words, let’s start making the things. Tons of them.

It’s happening already; Vestas has started building plants in the United States to make windmills, including what it claims will be the world’s largest factory to make the towers which support them.

You’ll see the General Electric logo on the side of quite a few turbine housings; a couple months ago, it took an order to build 667 of them for a wind farm being developed by oilman T. Boone Pickens —  he of the recent push to get the presidential candidates to talk about alternative energy.

It’s not too hard to imagine those windmills being manufactured in Ohio. Maybe even here in Erie County, using some of that turnpike toll money that has to be spent within a mile of the toll road.

One other thing brought up at the BGSU Firelands wind power conference: Wind power won’t ever be the whole picture. There will still be a need for nuclear, solar, and yes, coal and oil.

But it will be a part of the picture. There’s money involved, now.

Let’s see if we can bring it home.