Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Wind Blows

As I'm throwing a bunch of stuff in the recycle bin, I'm looking through a stack of magazines just to make sure that there isn't a Barry Obama covered one in there (history, nostalgia, some crap like that. I'm certainly not saving them because I think I'm going to make a fortune selling them on eBay next week like the 40,000,000 other people in the country who have the exact same magazine. News flash folks: TIME Magazine has gone nationwide! It's true! Check it out at a newsstand today!), I see on the cover of the December 1, 2008 issue of TIME the question "Should You Buy a Windmill?" To which I did a Scooby-Doo head tilt and I thought, "Rooo? I don't know. Should I?" And I started to read. I should have just kept recycling.

Of course, inside on Page 71 is the story titled "Going Green" (which is just enough to make me see red these days) "Got Wind? These days, the coolest eco-savvy accessory is a wind turbine for your home." Huh. It is? Are you sure? I did not know that. And there's a reason why I didn't know that. It's because it's an asinine notion. It might be "cool" (if you're the little Dutch Boy, longing for the fields of Holland or something) and it most certainly would be an "accessory", but "eco-savvy" is questionable. "Useful" is a term that would not come to mind when speaking of the wind turbine notion. "Scam" comes to mind, though. "Softheads" comes to mind, too. And following those comes many, many questions.

Remember, I went into this with an open mind. I wanted to know if I needed a wind turbine. (I like to be prepared.) The story talks about this guy (who I'm not going to name because my comments are not exactly favorable. Granted, there's a full color photo of him that accompanied the story and it's not like you can't look it up online over there at TIME.com, because you can. I'm just going with "the guy" for now.) who "installed solar panels on his house (in Michigan) and was eager to get a little greener". (Now, I should have known when I saw the term "greener" that this would not bode well.) So he goes out and buy himself a 33-foot tall wind turbine with blades that span 7 feet in diameter and puts it 100 yards from his home.

The purpose of said turbine is to convert the energy of the wind into electricity. Electricity, as you know, is important. It's also freaking expensive because we're getting reamed by the utility companies (who have all been surprisingly quiet during this economic downturn...hmmm.....), so I could understand why someone would want to generate their own power. I'd love to put solar panels on the ol' walled-off compound roof here, but again, they're what? Freaking expensive, that is correct. So I'm still with this whole concept at this point and I'm also still waiting for the answer to the burning question "Do I need a windmill?"

According to the article (and I am not making this up), on days with a "decent wind" (and the dude lives in a place where he can feel the breeze from Lake Michigan, also known as the Breeziest of all Lakes or, if you're local, its simply Lake Really Breezy) the "wind turbine can generate 1.5 kWh" (that's kilowatts an hour for those of us not in the business of meter reading and who are simply in the business of yelling at the top of our lungs when our electric bill arrives each month). Wow! The prefix "kilo" means "thousand", so if this amount is in kWh then that has to be HUGE right? Well, that depends. It depends on whether or not you're Amish because 1.5 kWh is (and I freaking quote) "enough to power the average light bulb for 15 hours a day. Wait. What?

Correct. A light bulb. For 62.5 percent of the day. A light bulb. OK, well, then it has to be expensive right? You'll naturally be saving a huge pile of money, won't you? That depends and again, whether or not you're Amish because to run a 120V/75W light bulb for 24 hours will run you approximately (and this is just a rough estimate, so don't freak out or anything) twenty-two cents. For 15 hours a day, that's going to save you right around 13.75 cents a day! Oh, and did I mention that the turbine cost $16,000? I didn't? It did. Sixteen thousand dollars. Um, WTF??

At that rate, the thing should pay for itself after about, oh, say....313 years. That should do 'er! Are you kidding me?! I'm so confused by this article and by this concept and mostly by this guy who spent sixteen thousand dollars to run A light bulb!! The article says that "most household turbines will produce 10kW at most." Ooohh! Six and a half light bulbs! Who, other than that guy, thinks this is a good idea? Oh, let me guess. The people who make wind turbines, perhaps? Let's see, "US firms control 98% of the small wind market." Oh, this is all making perfect sense to me now. There's some air being generated here. HOT air.

Look, I understand that the more alternate sources of generating power that there are, the more stress that it takes off of the power grid. I totally get that and I am totally for that. I am also totally against paying sixteen thousand dollars to have a giant pinwheel outside the walled-off compound to run A light bulb or to save me a little over 13 cents a day! THAT I am against.

The article warns that "buying your own windmill isn't cheap". Really? Yeah, I kind of got that right around when I read that they were sixteen grand. Thanks for that. "A turbine that could produce most of your family's electricity might cost as much as $80,000 and take as long as two decades to pay back, depending on wind strength and state subsidies." Now, of course they have just mentioned earlier that most household windmills will produce 10kW at the most, but they're just throwing out the numbers for the magical windmill that will generate almost all of the power that you need? Why are they telling me that? Oh, and the 30% federal tax credit that is offered for small wind projects? Yeah, that's capped at $4,000, so if you want to maximize that, your windmill is going to have to be $13,333 or less, otherwise you'll still get the $4,000 tax credit, but it will be less than 30%. I love it when lawmakers do that. You know, make us think that they're doing something to help us out when in reality, the great numbers that they're giving us are at the low end of the scale for something that you'll need to acquire at the high end. Morons.

It goes on to say that "What's really held back residential wind power has been the lack of federal subsidies..." Um, NO, what's really held back residential wind power is a) you can't have a freaking pinwheel jutting thirty feet up in the air in a residential neighborhood, b) they cost, on the low end, over $10,000 for one of them and c) they power up A light bulb!! That is what has held back residential wind power! Not the lack of subsidies! Look at the picture below! That is what has held it back! Would you want that as your next door neighbor? Of course not!! No one would!!

Everyone that was quoted for the article was somehow commercially involved in the wind turbine business. Shocking that they were all very optimistic and enthusiastic about the future of wind as a realistic alternative energy generating source. This has the feel and the smell of the ethanol powered vehicles that were going to be the answer to shedding our dependence on foreign oil. Yep, I think the federal government purchased a fleet of about 190,000 of these vehicles that run on ethanol. The problem is that there are virtually NO ethanol fueling stations anywhere that the cars are. Thus, none of the cars have ever had ethanol in them (yet they were, naturally, more expensive than a regular car than runs on regular gasoline). Oh, and they were supposed to be such a wonderful fuel saver when, in reality, when running on gasoline, the vehicles would get around 24 mpg and when running on ethanol the vehicles would get around 18 mpg. What a great idea. Wow. Who was in charge of THAT debacle? Whoever he/she was, I'm sure they were re-elected.

Wind is not the answer to getting off of the power grid. Wind is not the answer to a low-cost alternative energy source. Wind is not the answer to generating your own power. Wind is just that. It's wind. It would be nice if we could do more with it for residential power needs, but we can't. Get over it. I'm sure that it can be used for plenty of other things that will actually benefit from the wind. I'm not saying stop studying how to harness the powers of the all mighty wind. That's not it. I'm saying stop putting all of this effort into pushing the ridiculously costly and highly inefficient wind turbines for residential homes. All of the hot air that's gone into that could generate more power than all of the wind turbines combined, I have the feeling.

Bottom line? Wind blows.

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1 comment:

La Belle Canadienne said...

Funny I saw a program on PBS the other week on this exact topic...

The Govenator of Cali..Arnie boy is quite a big fan of blowing hot air it seems...they have a ton of these windmills in the California desert...wanna be Dutch or Norwegians...

I'm with u...we'll be sticking with the foreign oil..although Canada has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, we import it from abroad cuz it's cheaper...
and it that freaky deaky thing on top of the house looks just plain weird...

Pretty soon they will be selling energy generating windmills that can be used as lawn ornaments at the local Walmart...now Mare there is a get rich quick scheme 4 ya...