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Not turning knight-errant

In to the Wind

December 27, 2011
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Once stately, once proud, the old hulk stands as a sentinel, as if waiting to be pressed into a service -- long past. It was electric pumps as well as rural water and the long pipes laid in the ground that invited its demise and caused it to be left unattended to the elements. Now vaneless, tailless, and idle, the old windmill, or what's left of it seems diminutive in the shadow of the new wind turbines dotting the landscape. The landscape is changing; a new era and new technology has finally sealed the ancient windmill's fate. Although now derelict, it may well stand for another century as testimony to what once was.

Ours is perhaps a placid little community at some crossroads. At the intersection of two major highways on the path to wind generator builds, pieces and parts of the giants ply our roads and take those turns.

Each vane is carried on a trailer and pulled by a semi with an escort. The hulks are huge oversized loads. If you see the first one, you will usually see the others caravan by in short order. watched in amazement one day as this parade traversed the roads in our town. On a short stretch of highway 63, the road takes a zigzag. The tractor trailers swung way left to negotiate a right hand turn, just missing a road sign with the tail of the vanes. The trailers on which the vanes were mounted articulated independent of the front wheels of the tractor. This is the only way the load could have made the right angle turn. Traffic in both directions had to stop as the slow motion parade eased around the turn.

Article Photos

The reluctant old windmills are being replaced by an army of hulking machines that would strike fear in the heart of Don Quixote, or for that matter lesser persons. They flirt with the air as they slap the sky in their slow droning dance. Much less fanciful than the old homestead windmill, they stand hulking, yet awe inspiring in size and machination. While the old windmills have a certain allure, a romantic bridge from an idyllic past to the cerebral cortex, the frenzied whirl of the dervish windmills has been replaced by the mirthless whump, whump, whump of slow animated behemoths.

They toil, not for an individual feed lot, but instead to feed the insatiable appetite of some distant city. Lost in the annals of progress, technology has leaped to confront a particularly unsavory dilemma: to feed a growing demand for cheap energy without feeding the monster which is our dependence on foreign oil.

America's dependence on foreign oil for our energy needs is the greatest risk to our national security we now face. It's not Al Qaeda, it's not the Taliban, it's not insurgents in Iraq or Egypt; insatiable thirst for oil threatens us most. We send billions of dollars to counties who don't even like us very much. We pump billions of dollars into a region rife with insurgency and civil unrest and where we are viewed as the great Satan.

This all comes at a price. Dependence on foreign oil makes us vulnerable. A fact of geography is that most world oil reserves are in volatile regions of the world. Every time an oil worker is killed in Nigeria, the market reacts by raising the price of crude oil. Venezuela, another major producer of oil has a socialist, Castro emulating leadership which grows increasingly hostile to the western world. Saber rattling by western governments towards Iran drive prices even farther. All it would take is for further civil unrest, or a terrorist act against the world oil supply to put the market over the edge.

We have to solve our energy needs domestically and look to new technologies to bring about a transition from depending on oil barons to creating our own energy to meet our needs. Not only will doing so lessen the threat to our national security, it will also stimulate OUR economy instead of the economies of those countries which merely tolerate, or outright hate America.

These wind generators now dotting the landscape are making great inroads into this goal.

Do you think it is possible to manipulate the energy markets?

Careful readers will remember a caution I issued in a past column.That caution is the petroleum industry, after collecting record (and obscene) profits could subsidize prices at the pump, regardless of the price at the barrelhead. A couple years of this price "fixing" could put the whammy on alternative fuel production including our own homegrown ethanol industry. You think the petroleum industry doesn't have the muscle to accomplish this? Think again.

The psychology of gas pricing sees us all gleeful of recent cuts at the pump, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the long term ramifications. Yes, family budgets are strained when gasoline prices near the three dollar mark, but allow a good margin of profit for the alternative fuel industry, including per bushel pricing on corn. Lower fuel prices will drive ethanol prices lower, resulting in driving the per bushel price of corn lower. Iowa farmers now have a glut of recently harvested corn in the system.

Absolute certainty and resolve accelerates change.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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