While electric generating windfarms such as the Altamont Pass Wind Farm — about 40 miles west of San Francisco, California
— are a relatively recent phenomenon the use of windmills to convert wind energy to mechanical energy may go back to 2000 B.C. in Babylon. In the 10th century A.D. windmills were used to grind grain in what is now Iran and Afghanistan. In the U.S. windmills pumping water from below ground made it possible for steam locomotives to travel transcontinental routes and for beef production in arid sections of the west.
There were hundreds of thousands of electricity producing wind turbines in the U.S. before the Rural Electrification Administration extended central power to small farms in the 1950s. Interest in wind energy was rekindled after the 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo in response to escalating fuel prices.
Federal and state tax incentives in the 1970s and the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 — which required utilities to buy electricity from non-utilities — encouraged the development of "wind farms." California's attractive electricity buy-back rates and sparsely populated mountain passes have resulted in some of the nations largest wind farms being located there.
The biggest advantage of wind power is that it's a non polluting, renewable resource — the wind will continue to blow as long as the sun continues to heat the earth causing air to rise and pulling cooler air in to replace it. Wind farms are a cost effective source of wind power because of siting, installation and maintenance issues. Wind farms can also be built faster than coal, nuclear or hydroelectric power plants.
Disadvantages of wind power and wind farms include a limited number of sites with consistent high wind, noise, danger to migrating birds, impact on views and cost of installation. While newer designs are less likely to kill birds the age of many Altamont Pass Wind Farm towers and turbines has raised enough concern that regulations requiring replacement of older machines and idling 50% of them during peak migratory season have recently been adopted.
What would be the nation's first-ever offshore wind farm
and its largest renewable energy installation is planned for Cape Cod, but has yet to be approved as these concerns are weighed against the competing issues of global warming — fossil-fuel plants produce nearly half of U.S. carbon emissions — and dependence on foreign oil with its related political implications.
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