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Yogi Berra and Wind Energy

In theory there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.

Who doesn’t love wind energy, in theory? The idea of harnessing nature’s gentle zephyrs to replace nasty tankers bringing crude from foreign shores appeals to everyone.*

As Yogi Berra said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”

In other words, sometimes theory has a brutal collision with reality. And reality usually wins.

The town of Falmouth, MA is learning the difference between theory and practice the hard way. Several years back, voters approved the installation of a pair of giant wind turbines at the town’s water treatment plant. Now that the turbines are installed and operating, many residents regret that decision.

“It gets to be jet-engine loud,” said Falmouth resident Neil Andersen. He and his wife Betsy live just a quarter mile from one of the turbines. They say the impact on their health has been devastating. They’re suffering headaches, dizziness and sleep deprivation and often seek to escape the property where they’ve lived for more than 20 years. …

The first turbine went up in 2010 and by the time both were in place on the industrial site of the town’s water treatment facility, the price was $10 million. Town officials say taking them down will cost an estimated $5 million to $15 million, but that is just what Falmouth’s five selectmen have decided to move toward doing.

If approved at an April town meeting, Falmouth residents will decide at the polls in May whether to levy a new tax to finance the removal of the turbines. Until then, the turbines are shut down from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Twelve hours of operating a day is not sufficient to cover the operating costs.

Most alternative energy sources work quite well on a small scale. Difficulties arise when we attempt to scale them up. Our country uses huge quantities of energy — almost 100 quadrillion BTU per year. Most of that comes from fuels that are dense in energy content: oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. Energy from wind and solar is not dense, so the installations must be extensive, often intruding on the human environment.

When you have a giant turbine whoosh-whoosh-whooshing a quarter-mile from your bedroom window, you’re at Yogi’s interface between theory and practice. And a good night’s sleep is going to trump saving the planet nine times out of ten.

* In practice, oil is mainly a transportation fuel. Wind and solar exclusively generate electricity. Wind turbines don’t reduce the need for imported oil.

Cross-posted at my energy blog.

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