November 22, 2016
“For they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind”
One of the beauties of the Bible, no matter your faith, is that its words lay bare the foibles of humanity. Our myriad imperfections and hypocrisies provide the context for the lessons included within its pages. The words found in Hosea advise us to be cautious in what we do and say for there will be consequences. A contemporary example of this adage that we can all understand might be, “If you don’t vote, the person you didn’t want to win just might”. Fortunately, the biblical admonishment was more personal in nature. You do something nasty and something bad is going to happen to you. A direct kind of cause and effect type of relationship if you will. However, in terms of data centers and wind power, the whole reaping and sowing thing just might be a little out of synch.
A case in point may be found with Facebook’s $1 billion investment in wind power for its three, and soon to be four, data center campus in Ft. Worth, Texas. At the present time, the result of this investment, the Shannon Wind Farm in Clay County Texas, consists of 119 wind turbines that each generate 1.7MW for a total production of about 204MW. In this scenario, we can consider Facebook to be acting in the role of the proverbial “sower”.
[ASIDE: This author likes the fact that the “wind farm” in question is actually installed in one of the recommended locations for sustained wind power per the Department of Energy (as opposed to all those feel good solar farms on the rooftops of oft-cloudy, Northern New Jersey). Texas is one of the few locations where the market is very efficient with its own grid and a deregulated purchasing market. For those of you who don’t believe in market efficiency, there was even an event in the last couple years in which the producers of wind had to briefly PAY users to take the energy off the grid versus the other way around! If only we used these common-sense approaches to wind and solar instead making ourselves ‘feel good’ about subsidizing in places where wind and solar don’t make economic sense.]
On the “whirlwind” side of the ledger is a number of Clay County, Texas residents who have formed an organization, Clay County Against Wind Farms (CCAWF), to advocate against the wind farm’s on-going construction. Now I have been to Clay County, and its largest city, Wichita Falls, and it’s hard to imagine that 100 or so 212 foot towers with 116 foot blades can have an adverse effect on the local surroundings, but there’s no accounting for taste. Anyway, the CCAWF has continued to advocate against construction, citing the detrimental effects on the rural landscape would drive down property values; the huge blinking red lights at night and the possibility that the Texas state government might abuse its eminent domain rights whenever a wind farm needs to be expanded. I think the group’s sentiments on things is best expressed by Clay County resident, Jack Pickett, who said, “That climate change is man-made is one of the biggest lies forced on the American people”. Don’t sugar-coat it my friend. For those whose sentiments may differ from Mr. Pickett’s, they might be easier to understand if someone wanted to build a 326-foot monolith in your back yard.
For those of you old enough to remember, the concerns of the good people of Clay County are reminiscent of those of the residents of Nantucket, Massachusetts at the time of the proposed Cape Wind project that was going to erect a few turbines in Nantucket sound. Naturally, the locals were a little concerned about the impact of the project on home values and their scenic vistas. Walter Cronkite was quite unhappy, as was Senator Ted Kennedy and Robert Kennedy Jr. even went so far as to pen an op-ed for the New York Times declaring that he was a big fan of wind power in general, but just not this project. Apparently, there were some issues regarding the views from the Kennedy compound. Ultimately, the whirlwind reapers for this project were the guys and gals of the project who made the mistake of confusing environmental concern with plutocratic privilege.
The efficacy of wind power remains a hotly debated topic with vocal supporters and detractors on either side of the argument. Despite the controversy, the thirst for alternative sources of power for providers such as Facebook will not be satiated in the foreseeable future. From the perspective of the communities that will be asked to serve as the locations for the business ends of these alternative technologies, it appears that our biblical proverb now comes with a caveat: It all depends on who is doing the sowing and the reaping.