Wind turbines and property rights

TRACKSIDE © by John D’Aloia Jr.

December 30, 2003

The Great Wind Turbine Debate has landed smack dab in the middle of Oz. I have very mixed emotions regarding wind turbines. The problem is one of conflicting rights - the right of a land owner to do what he wants with his land, a keystone to our freedom, versus the rights of neighbors not to be subjected to a nuisance. Also involved is the small matter of economics; commercial wind farms have a fatal flaw. They are economically feasible only with taxpayer subsidies, but that is another story, complete with pages of mind-numbing numbers.

One aspect of the debate is a non-issue. If a land owner wants to erect a wind turbine to provide on-site power, the only public concerns should center on the safe construction of a tower of "X" height and, if the system is going to interface with existing power systems, whether or not the installation is made with the appropriate electrical safeguards. All other arguments that are made against private wind-turbines should be rejected. It is no different in concept than a farmer putting up a windmill for a stock tank. The land-owner is spending his own money on his own improvements. If the site is such that the proper wind flow cannot be obtained, the land owner is not going to spend hard-earned money on a system that will not produce electricity. The real debate about such an installation should be limited between the land owner and his insurance company.

Historically, large wind turbines have a reputation for being noisy - gear noises and the low frequency thump of the blades. The literature says that better designs can eliminate these problems. I have heard large wind turbines emit a very low frequency beat that is almost felt more than heard, much like the low frequencies emitted by a large diesel. Very annoying. The problem can be solved by invoking the Golden Rule - establish noise-level standards at the edge of a wind turbine farm property which are of such a level that neighbors would not be assaulted by the noise. The owner would have to live with the noise, his neighbors would not.

The visual eye sore issue is emotional, much harder to deal with. I would sure hate to see the Flint Hills vista marred by what I consider to be ugliness, but then it is not my property. If land owners want to make beneficial use of their land, so be it. For the citizen benefiting from the wind turbines, they would be beautiful. In too many places in our country, land owners are being deprived of use of their land by governments imposing scenic vista limitations on how they can use their land. I do not want to see it happen here. Some citizens have claimed that their property rights include the right to see only what they want to see, that their property rights gives them a lien on their neighbors’ property that prevents a neighbor from doing anything that offends their sense of aesthetics or beauty. This is an outrageous stretch of the concept of property rights but there is, within the free market, a precedent that provides an option for those who want to protect the Flint Hills vista - easements. If people want to protect their vista, they can purchase vista easements from the adjoining land owners. The purchasers would be thus placing a concrete value on their desire to have a vista not marred by wind turbines and the adjoining land owners would still be obtaining beneficial use of their land, not from wind turbine farm leases, but by the vista easement contract.

What is the possibility that wind turbines can be a reliable source of electrical power for the country? The wind turbine farm in Gray County, Kansas, has a name plate capacity of 112.2 megawatts, obtained using 170 turbines spread over 12,000 acres. The national electrical generating capacity, based on Department of Energy data, is on the order of 770 gigawatts. Wind turbine farms have an effective generating rate on the order of 25 percent of name plate capacity (not all turbines are operational at any one time and the wind does not conveniently blow at optimum speed all the time.) The total area of the lower 48 states is 3.02 million square miles. Mash these numbers and you come up with the need for 4.8 million turbines spread over 18 percent of the country to generate the amount of electricity we use. Double the capacity of each turbine? You still need 2.4 million turbines and 270,000 square miles of country-side for the wind farms, an area equivalent to the total area of Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, plus a little in some other state..

See you Trackside.


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