Saturday, June 13, 2009

Caring for the Land and Serving People: The trip home through the land of Alternative Energy

Work took me to Eastern Oregon this past week, out to visit La Grande and Starkey Experimental Forest and Range. La Grande is a pretty, wide-open, quintessential western town with wide strrets, tree-lined neighborhoods, bungalows, and a different pace of life. The Oregon Trail followed the Grande Ronde valley and European settlers started coming in numbers in the 1860s. It's currently a rail hub, ranching and farming center, and home to Eastern Oregon University. Boise is about to close the last sawmill in town, but logging and lumber used to be big.

I like the land out there. Big ponderosa pines, meadows, vistas. It's pretty rocky and sometimes building a fence takes more effort than one might be used to. Check out these fence post supports! Of course, the fence is designed to exclude cattle and elk from an experimental area at the forest and that takes some fence.

On the way home I stopped at Boardman to fuel up the car, but I passed on the Bozo Burger available at the C&D DRIVE -IN

North central Oregon and south central Washington have become a haven for wind energy farms. The winds that sweep off the high plains and up the Columbia gorge provide the sort of constant, medium velocity resource that makes wind-farming pay. We spend a bit extra each month on our electricity bill to support these developments. Supposedly that means we are using "green power" but hey, electrons are electrons and who knows where ours were generated at any given time. And "green power" more accurately describes the greenhouse gas emissions associated with generation; I haven't seen a complete analysis of how long it takes to overcome the environmental costs of manufacturing, transportation, installation, and maintenance of a far-flung dispersed generating network. This particular farm was built by Suzlon and everything except the rotor blades is manufactured in India or China and shipped to Oregon. I did see a dozen or more trucks moving pieces of towers east as I drove west. A posting in Wikipedia says the carbon payback time is a matter of months, I suppose compared to coal generation. The Wiki posting did seem pretty pro-wind.

Green is also of variable shade depending on whether you are a bat or not. Wind turbines take a toll on bats and other critters. Bat lungs may explode if they fly through the area of low pressure associated with the blade tip. Birds may also bite the dust at rates of up to 4 birds per turbine per year (again according to the wiki posting). You can get an idea of the size compared to the tractor-trailer on the highway in the picture.

From time-to-time, they take a toll on neighbors and families. The newspapers are full of stories of friends and families torn apart over disagreements stemming from obstructed views and constant noise associated with wind chargers. But, driving along, I have to admit that they seem attractive to me in a sort of 21st Century way.

They pop up on the horizon as I drive east on I-84. I suppose in a few years they will seem no more foreign than the cattle, fences, grain elevators, center-pivot irrigation rigs, hydropower dams, interstate highways, fast food joints, and hybrid poplar plantations that we've lived with for various decades.

They actually seem sort of peaceful to me, turning away out there. I grew up in Ohio in a time when coal was the major source of energy for almost everything. Mr. Boone stoked the boiler at Fairwood School with coal, the power plants burned coal, Ford and Chevy burned coal, people heated their houses with coal, and the towns smelled like coal smoke. I'd rather have these.

Not much further down the river, I passed the John Day dam. It seems a lot more violent with the water coursing through the turbines and spillways, and I'll bet it's loud down there. And those dams are pretty tough on anadramous fish trying to make it up river to spawn. And those dams are large, concentrated pieces of infrastructure. And, it would take more than 1,000 wind chargers to equal the generation capacity of the dam. But, when the wind isn't blowing, the water's still flowing...

1 comment:

Newsman said...

Cripes! Those fence supports would make a person think that there are some fierce critters out there, eh?

And the Bozo Burger sign is in reference to whom, exactly?