I’ve never been up close to a windfarm, having only seen them in pictures. Like many engineering and infrastructure projects, they are pretty remarkable in terms of what the clever ape is able to accomplish, transforming the environment to suit his needs, usually with the true costs unknown and delayed in their effect.
Most criticisms of alternative energy report that because we’re still in the era of cheap oil and coal, the economics of producing energy via nuclear, solar, or wind sources are not yet advantageous. That’s the short view. The long view is that the economics of energy production will change soon enough (for the worse) so that alternatives must be brought online now, with no delay, lest we experience shortages for lack of foresight and planning. The option of doing without is unthinkable.
Another criticism is that windfarms are not scalable, especially if they were needed to supply all anticipated demand. This was addressed in the response to a question at The Straight Dope about whether windfarms could alter the weather. Admittedly, the answer is pure extrapolation, but it gets at the heart of the issue with a few telltale facts:
It’s estimated that meeting world energy demand (not just electricity) is going to take something like 44 terawatts of capacity in 2100. There’s talk of generating 10 percent of that with wind power — 4.4 terawatts … The Department of Energy estimates that meeting 20 percent of the country’s electricity demand with wind power in 2030 will require 300 gigawatts of generating capacity. That translates to 150,000 turbines in 46 states.
Could so many windfarms alter the weather? The conclusion, based on scientific modeling, was yes. I don’t find that astounding, but many who believe the volumes of the atmosphere and oceans too large for mankind to affect substantially often do and may even go so far as to deny the possibility despite plenty of evidence accumulating. To me, it’s merely the proverbial death by a thousand cuts inflicted on the body, only in this case, the body is the planet. Even when we know the disastrous effects, we still plunge headlong into the abyss, as described in this article at The Daily Mail Online, which describes offshore windfarms being built in the North Atlantic.
So what is a windfarm like up close? According to the folks in the documentary film Windfall (based on the trailer anyway, since I’ve known about the film for some time but not yet watched it), living in proximity to even one wind turbine is subtly unnerving. I suspect subsonic sound, known to create a sense of unease, is produced by those spinning blades, and disturbances to light and shadow would cause the human nervous system to react reflexively as if to movement. I can only imagine what a whole field or seascape full of them would be like. Depending on whose interpretation can be trusted, the movie is either a cautionary tale or a surrealist mock-horror documentary. The surrounding issue — where is our energy going to come from? — could also be understood as either cautionary or surreal.