On Air discusses pros and cons of wind energy

(By: Autumn Mariano)

Renewable energy production is in high demand and gaining momentum across the globe. Weber State University hosted On Air: Alternative Energy, a lecture by Kirk Hagan, WSU department chair of engineering, on Wednesday in the Wildcat Theater to spread information about wind energy in particular.

Six different types of renewable energy sources are available for use: solar, marine, hydro, bio-mass and wind. Of these sources, wind power is not only the cleanest, but one of the most reliable and renewable sources of energy available for human use.

“In the United States, the West Coast has the highest amount of wind power than any other coast,” said Kirk Hagan, department chair of engineering at Weber State University. “Thirty-two out of our 50 states can provide almost 25 percent of their own electricity from wind power alone.”

Wind energy works when giant wind turbines capture the natural wind in the atmosphere and converts it into mechanical energy, then converts that into electricity. These turbines vary in range and size, but most are 80 feet tall and have two or three blades. A single turbine can generate enough electricity to power a single house.

Centuries ago, people started to use wind power by harnessing the wind with windmills, although it wasn’t originally used for electricity. It was used to grind grain and for other labor.

The two different types of wind turbines used today are horizontal and vertical. Both generate electricity from wind energy, but the location or space available decides what type of turbine will be used.

The three major types of wind power are utility-scale wind, distributed or “small” wind, and offshore wind.

Utah’s latest policy set a renewable portfolio goal in 2008 for utilities to use wing energy for 20 percent of their 2025 adjusted retail electric sales.

Wind turbines are normally placed in wind farms, designated locations where constant flow of air will generate electricity.

As of 2013, the amount of electricity produced through wind power provided to Utah is up to 1.2 percent, which powers roughly 50,000 homes.

Utah is one of the states to use wind energy to its maximum potential. Numerous canyon valleys along the Wasatch Front mountain range provide reliable and predictable wind power, which could generate a constant flow of electricity. The Utah Renewable Energy Zone Task Force estimated it could range up to 9,000 megawatts of clean energy.

However, not all energy produced in Utah wind farms are used for electricity needs in Utah. For example, the Milford Wind Farm, owned by Rocky Mountain Power, uses its wind power to generate electricity for Southern California and operate under normal operating conditions, which is close to 64,000 homes.

“I personally just wish it were more economically feasible,” said Jill Ericson, director of the Student Success Center at WSU. “By the time you make a profit, you need to replace the parts for the turbine. Ultimately no business, let alone a household, could own or operate one.”

Hagan said there will always be pros and cons with renewable energy. “You have to weigh both of them and really determine if it’s worth it in the long one,” he said.

The lecture focused on five main points. First, turbines are one of the cleanest forms of renewable energy. They produce no form of greenhouse gasses, because they don’t burn other resources, such as coal or gas, to generate electricity.

Second, wind energy competes for land use, as turbines take up a lot of space and need to be placed in specific areas.

The third point focused on aerodynamic and mechanical noise. Turbines are basically giant generators, which sound like gears grinding. There are also safety risks associated with the giant blades that are 80-100 feet in the air, which could have mechanical failures. Parts of them could also fall and damage property or injure people.

Hagan’s fourth point dealt with personal issues. Residents complain that wind farms or turbines are eyesores and disrupt the beauty of the environment, messing with the natural habitat.

The last issue is with birds. While no statistic is available, birds of all species die from flying into the blades of a turbine.

“Honestly, I think wind farms need to be put in better locations,” said Alison Shepard, WSU freshman. “I feel bad for those poor birds who die, and . . . the turbines are just plain ugly to look at.”