October 19, 2011 • Current Events, Energy's Lighter Side, Sustainability

Driving past windmills on the way to the Windy City

by Roger Durham

My wife and I were on our way to Chicago for a long weekend. We were taking in the sites, wondering if we should stop in Lafayette on the way back to see Purdue University’s campus when we came around a bend in I-65 and saw something completely disorienting. Actually, the disorientation was not immediate.

“Look,” my wife said, “there are some windmills over there, giant windmills.” We made this trip to Chicago a

Close Encounters

couple of years earlier and didn’t see any windmills. It was like they had just appeared overnight. They were pretty cool looking, for the first couple of miles. But those few windmills become dozens and those dozens became hundreds. They were spinning slowly, majestically and some of them were very close to the interstate.

“What happens if they come loose?” my wife asked. Her imagination always seems to take her to the worst-case. “Awfulizing” is what I call it. But she had a point. Those blades are enormous, at more than 125 feet long and 7 tons in weight according to one source. What if they came spinning off? I moved over to the fast lane and sped up.

The farther we went, the stranger the scene became. It felt as if we were in the middle of a sci-fi film, or as if we were in the initial stages of an alien invasion. These windmills are tall, white, sterile, efficient, disinterested monsters reaching as far as the eye could see on both sides of the interstate. The majestic gave way to the eerie, and it was really quite distracting. I found myself wondering if the accident rate had increased along this stretch of interstate since the windmills had appeared, like wild mushrooms popping out of the ground.

They're Everywhere

I also wondered who funded them, and what kind of economic impact they have had, and how much power is being generated, and why Indiana, and how have the farmers embraced the concept, and how did all of this happen without me knowing something about it?

It was an eye-opening moment. My wife and I Googled Indiana wind farms as soon as we checked into our hotel in Chicago. There they were, complete with a YouTube video. As it turns out, it was not a single wind farm, but several that we encountered. And there were anywhere from 600 – 1,000 windmills stretched out across the landscape, halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago. And apparently, there is such a thing as too much wind.

Is renewable energy becoming mainstream? If windmills in Indiana are any indication, I would say there is an argument to be made for it. At the very least, you have to think that the concept of energy sustainability is gaining traction in the heartland. And there is the added advantage of a welcome, if somewhat unsettling, distraction from the endless stretch of flat and monotonous farmland between Indy and the Windy City.

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