Small time?

October 18, 2011

Things change. Two or three decades ago, the notion of using wind power to fuel our modern conveniences seemed absurd. Windmills, after all, were those massive structures in Holland used for pumping water out of the low parts of the country.

These days, though, the idea of pumping less oil out of the ground and then paying high prices to unfriendly nations for it seems absurd and wind power seems worth another look. That's what's happening on a farm in Black Horse. The farm that has become something of a local landmark thanks to its U.S. flag that lights up at night is also being studied to determine if wind power could be used to generate electricity to run part or all of the farm's operations.

What's in place is testing equipment that will show what the winds are like 100 or more feet off the ground. It may turn out that the Amish a few miles to the north have been on to something with those relatively modern wind towers they use for providing mechanical power on their farms.

Granted, the wind doesn't blow all the time, and it may be blowing when power isn't needed and still when there is a need. But just like modern wind mills wouldn't be recognizable to the Dutch of a few centuries ago, the technology for providing power has changed. It may turn out that an answer to the matter of becoming a nation as self-sufficient in energy as it is in food will be the result not of a few massive generating stations like we rely on these days, but on hundreds of thousands or even millions of small rooftop wind generators and solar panels. Today the wind is strong here so a local farm sells power back to the power grid. Next week, the winds may not be as strong locally, but the farms in central Pennsylvania might be generating more than they need. The technology for keeping track of electricity as it enters and leaves a power grid was relatively new a few decades back, but it seems the necessary micromanagement is a reality these days.

Such notions are typically politically charged, which is unfortunate. If an idea works and generates or saves a few dollars, it's foolish to reject it because of a disagreement over politics. To re-adapt an old saying, politics doesn't put food on the table. Wind generators don't put food on the table either, but it may well prove that they make it easier to do so. And if that's the case, a later step might be in the direction of national energy independence.

It may never happen, or maybe it's decades in the future. Or maybe it's right around the corner, but the day may well be approaching when our electricity is as homegrown as our food in this country, and it may well end up coming from some of the same places, farms like the one in Black Horse.

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