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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Windmills On My Mind

Windmills windmills windmills by Sam Beebe / Ecotrust

I didn't take my camera..., and I would need many hundreds of photos to show the number of windmills we saw on the trip.

My brother Larry and I were on our way in his car to Newport, OR for the wedding of his son Bert.  Larry and I only see each other once a year at best, now that our parents are gone..., so the trip was a good excuse to spend some time together.  I flew from Forks, WA to Lewiston, ID and Larry met me there.  I saw some windmills from the plane..., and we were a few miles west of Pomeroy, WA when the giant sentinels began appearing.  Larry..., as always..., knew a bit about them and filled me in on what he knew.  We talked about them and marveled at what a huge undertaking the project must have been.  We had worked together on a big Bonneville Power line job back in the 80’s when we were partners in Spence Brothers Logging, so we weren’t just idling speculating.  Those big windmills  were impressive and intimidating..., but they did nothing to prepare us for the immensity of the scene in the Columbia River Gorge.  Hundreds upon hundreds of windmills..., mile after mile after mile of them. 

Larry has always been of the mechanical persuasion..., while I have been more aesthetic in nature.  He prefers cars, trucks and machinery..., I prefer horses, dogs and poetry.  But we both agree that we have reached peak oil, peak debt, and are well past peak economic growth prospects to pull us out of the hole the whole world has dug in the form of debt in an attempt to stimulate growth.  We discussed it all as we powered down Interstate 84..., fueled by a few measly gallons of that liquid magic called gasoline..., in his Toyota Corolla.  While we were being passed by luxury model 4-wheel drive SUV’s..., we speculated about the viability and sustainability of windmills.  And about who..., and how..., they were financed.  
I couldn’t get the windmills off my mind..., so I did a little research.  Here’s a link from an article from October of last year.  The figures are a bit outdated by now..., and I am not sure they account for the windmills on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
Eastern Klickitat County's wind energy boom has utterly transformed the landscape. In the past four years, 624 wind turbines have risen along the crest of the Columbia Hills and on ridges south and east of this town of 90, each the height of a 41-story building as measured from the ground to the tip of the highest turbine blade. That number is likely to reach 1,000 when and if all the projects that are under construction or working their way through the permitting process come on line.”
Larry doesn’t read as much as I do..., but I sent him a copy of Kuntsler’s “The Long Emergency” a few months back.  I think he read it, based on some of our discussions.  Kuntsler says, “Fossil fuels allowed the human race to operate highly complex systems at gigantic scales. Renewable energy sources are not compatible with those systems and scales...The wish to keep running the same giant systems at gigantic scale using renewables is the heart of our illusions about solar, wind, and water power.”  

John Michael Greer at says the same thing..., that wind power on a small limited scale is great..., but isn’t a large scale answer.
Still, it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that very little of this wealth of practical information receives much in the way of attention nowadays. Instead, the concept of wind power has been monopolized by a recently minted industry devoted to building, servicing, and promoting giant wind turbines that provide electricity to the grid. The giant turbines have their virtues, no question; compared to most other energy production technologies, certainly, they’re safe and clean, and their net energy yield is a respectable 8 or 9 to 1, which beats the stuffing out of most other alternative energy sources. Still, the idea that serried ranks of giant wind turbines will enable us all to keep on using energy at today’s extravagant rates runs headlong into at least two difficulties.”
I didn’t tell my brother what I was really thinking when we discussed all this.  What I am still thinking now.  

That we are living on Easter Island.


  1. Great essay! I read Kunstler back in the nineties when he came out with The Geography Of Nowhere". That book was his best work and he mentioned the spectre of "energy depletion" making our way of life unsustainable in the long run.

    Very Presient!

  2. Most recent link:"Somewhere in New Mexico Before The End Of Time"

    1. Thanks your comments Mike..., I knew Guy when he was just a pup, but playing like a big dog against much older dogs on the ball fields of Weippe. I commented to him on his Blog that there must have been something in that Weippe Water that instilled our similar views. I am much looking forward to your film and hoping that it instills in a wide audience the vision of the future we are facing and the need to prepare for it. As I tried to make clear in this piece..., I don't think the preparations being forwarded by our government is the answer.

  3. Wind turbines were on my mind today as well. I have a job interview in Forks on Monday (a real rarity these days, I hear) and was thinking about how this small logging town is going to stay rooted with the deterioration of its lumber-intense economy in a "going paperless" world. I read somewhere that Forks sees more of her share of wind energy, but decimating the local forests to erect hundreds of wind turbines doesn't sound viable either. What about something more local that focused on smaller, home-sized wind turbines? Surely the locals would love to see their electric bills fizzle out and even put some cash in hand from selling tot he grid? God knows solar is never going to be the best option in the wettest place in the US. I just don't accept that Twilight t-shirts are the best option we can come up with.

    1. Thanks for the comments partner..., and good luck with the job interview tomorrow. Yeah..., Forks has changed a lot since the heydays of the timber industry. And your thoughts on wind power are pretty much spot on..., but I don't think that a small home-scale operation would put out enough electric power to heat water, run cloths dryers and other 220 volt appliances..., let alone put power back on the grid. But it could keep the lights on..., and the beer cold :)

      I wrote a bit about Forks and the changes it has undergone in another blog piece: Shipping Our Jobs Overseas Here's a snip:

      " In 1987 I went to Forks, WA to cut timber during our normal spring lay-off in Idaho. I liked it in Forks and we had the Skagit and other equipment we acquired paid off, so I decided to sell out to Larry and ended up staying in Forks. There were three saw shops in Forks, three parts houses, six bars and restaurants..., and plenty of work. For a while.

      By the 90’s things were significantly slowing down. To hear most of the folks in Forks tell it, the problem was the spotted owl controversy..., but in reality, there were many factors that I was oblivious to at the time. Off to southeast Alaska I went. Julie followed along behind me and we spent four seasons in a cracker box size camper in a remote logging camp on Prince of Wales Island. The slow down in the timber industry made it to Alaska..., not far behind us..., and we returned home to Forks. I found work cutting timber again..., but the writing was on the wall..., that even I could read by then. The first four years I had been in Forks I had seldom worked more than a half hour ride to work and I was mostly cutting big export grade timber. In 1994 I was riding two hours to work..., and back..., and cutting second growth timber. There was one saw shop in Forks, one parts house, half the number of bars and restaurants. It was time to make a serious, structural change in my lifestyle. All those timber jobs were being “shipped overseas”.

      Yeah..., I am being quite factious here. OK..., call it hyperbole if you like..., but my point is, that the timber industry is indicative of the loss of the manufacturing jobs that have been plaguing this country for three decades."

      And thanks again for the comments and checking out the blog.