Passing Wind: the Wind Turbines Along Indiana’s I-65
By: Tim Bean
Years ago, I used to drive a delivery route through White County, zooming back and forth on State Road 24. Nearly every day, I would get pigeonholed by an escorted semi carrying hunks of wind turbines. Cursing came first, obviously, but that always fell away as I watched the world’s largest fan blades crawling their way through narrow, two-lane turns. Pretty cool to see.
On my way home, I’d shoot up I-65 and pass through the wind farm of north central Indiana. I’d always think the same thing: Damn, they look like those windmills in that creepy Teletubbies show. The ones that command the alien-bear things. Creepy.
Located in White, Jasper and Benton counties, those wind turbines form the Meadow Lake Wind Farm, one of the largest in the country. As of early 2018, it sports 303 turbines and produces over 500 megawatts (MW) of power, roughly as much as a unit of a coal-fired power station. The wind farm has completed Phase V of its intended construction, with a stated goal of producing 1,000 MW by Phase VI by the end of 2018. The average wind speed in those counties hovers around 7 to 8 meters per second (m/s). To put that in perspective, that’s higher than the average wind speeds around Chicago, which has long been known as “The Windy City”. And anyone that has ever driven through those counties (especially in a box truck like yours truly) knows those wind speeds can slap you around like a game of Whack-a-Mole.
The newest wind turbines there are Vesta v110 2.0 MW models, which have been designed to produce power even when the wind speed drops as low as 3 m/s, or continue producing at speeds as high as 20 m/s. These turbines can vary in height, depending on the tower’s design, but range from 80 meters to 125 meters tall (264 to 413 feet), with blades 54 meters long (178 feet). Even with that monstrous height, they produce maximum sound levels of 107 decibels, roughly the same as a chainsaw. That’s not bad. Here’s a link to the company’s brochure if you’ve got a few million dollars lying around and REALLY want to annoy your neighbors.
There’s little debating the use of wind turbines for clean energy, but conservationists have been concerned with the effect on flying birds. There’s no contest between even the largest snow goose and a 54-meter fan blade. Researchers estimate roughly a quarter of a million birds are killed each year by wind turbines.
That’s a tragedy, of course, far smaller than the number of birds killed by domestic cats (about 2.4 BILLION in the US alone). Wind farms are working with conservationists and adopting strategies to minimize the effect on migratory birds. Strategies include tracking mass migrations by radar and turning off turbines on route, using turbines only at high-wind speeds (when birds generally don’t fly), or simply minimizing turbine use at night during peak seasonal migrations. How much land is used by a turbine? The utilized acreage varies between companies, but ideally, each wind turbine occupies an area of about 150 acres (before someone complains about that number, I admit, I am doing some VERY back-of-the-envelope math). That number can increase or decrease depending on the circumstances. By there is no question on property line regulations; in the United States, a wind turbine can be no closer than 1,000 feet to an adjacent property line.
Some companies restrict payment information, at least on an individual level. Since most landowners aren’t fond of other people counting their money, we’ll have to talk generalities. First, landowners are paid a flat rate for the acreage leased for the turbine’s construction and use, which can vary from five dollars to ten dollars an acre in Indiana.
After construction, landowners are paid for the electricity generated. The higher the average wind speed, the more electricity generated, the more money made. Again, the rates vary greatly, but an landowners making $6,000 to $8,000 a year per turbine is reasonable. The only catch is the length of the contract. No wind farm wants to go to the trouble of putting up a turbine for just a few years. Contracts are typically twenty to twenty-five years long. You can debate the coal versus nuclear versus solar versus wind stuff all you want, the reality is that wind farms are only growing in Indiana. Since the first one arrived in Goodland, Indiana, in 2008, wind farms have become a popular and profitable method of providing clean, renewable energy. And, as technology improves, they’ll only become more reliable and efficient. Over 2,000 MW of Indiana’s energy comes from wind sources, or about 5% of the state’s use, putting us in 12th place in the nation. That’s pretty impressive.
What’s even more impressive are the turbines themselves. I can toss out all the facts and figures I want, but the coolest thing about the turbines is watching them go around and around and around, big white pinwheels straddling I-65. To me, they look like the backdrop of a science fiction film. Some think they spoil the countryside, but if you drive that stretch of I-65 on a regular basis, then you probably appreciate the break in flatness. I do.
I just wish I could stop thinking about the creepy Teletubbies every time I drive by. Those things give me the creeps.