Friday, December 31, 2010

"BLOW HARD": How not to win an argument.

This is a recent post in our local newspaper's discussion forum, just as I found it - you'll have to add your own (sic)s to it for all the mistakes:
That’s right a major windmill farm is being proposed for eastern Delaware County (approx. along the Albany Selma Pike) and with them all of the inherit problems which range from a major government subsidy just to build them to the intermitted and limited generation (too little or too much wind).   There are also problems with the attraction and killing of bird to noise as they reach their maximum RPM which is about 23 mph.   Yes noise the same issue opponents of the proposed Desoto standby generation used to defeat that project.   Noise is more of a problem with wind turbines than it is with standby generating stations, as the turbine reach their maximum RPM the tips of the blades approach supersonic speed that if reached will cause the turbine to self destruct.   What is so ironic about this project is one of its promoters was one of the main opponents of the earlier Desoto project.   Her only objection to this project is no turbines can be built on the farm she lives on. 
Unfortunately, this is what passes for reasoned discussion these days. Technical errors (there are many) notwithstanding, note that no evidence is offered to support the claims and that value- and emotion-laden words (when the right words are used) are selectively employed to maximize rhetorical effect. These are tactics followed by the mainstream media where thinly disquised commentary and opinion is presented as straight news.
What follows is my response:
Well, let's try something a little more fact-based and objective:

Here's a link to the article that describes the project more objectively. You'll see here the project is only in its exploratory and land-acquisition phases. Actual construction is a ways off. For background, here's a link to Horizon Wind's page for its big wind farm in NW Indiana. Here's the product literature for the turbines used on that farm: the Vestas V82. These are pretty common and a typical design.

Here's a Wikipedia article that discusses
turbine design generally. Also here. Tip speeds of current rotor designs do NOT approach supersonic speeds, even at destruction, which almost never happens. The Vestas V82 has a rotor diameter of 82 meters and a nominal speed of 14rpm. This results in tip speeds of 60m/s or 134mph, which is about 1/6 of supersonic. I think the machine would shut down or fall apart well before the tips went supersonic.

Here's one that deals with
bird mortality by wind turbine. Most of the bird fatalities that are always cited as a con-wind argument happened with older windmill designs that used smaller rotors that turned much faster. Similarly, the noise issues (you didn't mention the low-frequency vibration issue, either) you cite are also associated with smaller faster rotors.

I've stood within 100 yards of several of the big machines up north and in the big farm in Illinois near Bloomington - closer than any farmer would have his house. While running, all you hear is a low whooshing sound that gets a little louder as the tips go by. I don't know if I'd want to listen to it all day, but like I said, no one would be very likely to have their house that close to a turbine. And since sound power diminishes as the square of the distance, you don't have to get far away to not hear much at all.

Wind power is almost utterly benign when compared to the alternatives. The DeSoto gas-fired peaker plant (this project was canceled before construction could begin, partly because of public protest, but more likely because the economics of peaker plants was already making them untenable), while much cleaner and quieter than most power generators, would have still made air pollution, sound pollution. used precious water and posed a potential groundwater contamination problem (from the diesel-powered emergency generator).

The only valid objection to wind farms is visual blight, and that's pretty subjective. I find them no more ugly than a grain elevator or high-tension transmission tower, yet we seem to have no problems living with THOSE...
Of course, my argument isn't perfect either, but I tried very hard to substantiate my claims and keep the tone neutral. By the way, those are pretty decent links to some good general information on wind power. They're worth a quick scan.

The point here is that the original poster had a very clear anti-wind bias - at least as much as I have a pro-wind bias - but because his bias may have been based on perceptions and misinformation, he could not (or chose not to) include any references to support his claims and argument. Rather, he relied on appeals to emotion by referring to 1) general anti-government sentiment, 2) supposed hypocrisy of a proponent, 3) fear of technical failure.

These are tactics used in political debate; they are not applicable to a proper discussion of issues that are primarily technical in nature.

There is a reason the rest of the developed world quietly chuckles as they eat our technology lunch right out from under us...

For the New Year, I suggest we reach out and try to combat these destructive attitudes by realizing we all want the same thing - to be happy in the best way we each know. When we have to have a discussion about something, we should focus on the issue, not the person. Do your homework and bring supporting facts to the discussion. Don't let the discussion become overly emotional, even if you are passionate about the issue. The winning position is not always obvious, and it may not be either yours or that of the other party. You may (probably will) have to compromise.

Compromise is not losing.

Happy New Year!

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