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Sustainability, Offsets, and Climate Change

The growing winds of sustainability

The Crow Lake Wind Farm efforts at sustainability

The wind blows pretty steadily across the plains of South Dakota, making it an obvious choice for wind farming. The Crow Lake Wind Project near Chamberlain, SD is the largest cooperative owned wind farm in the US with 108 wind turbines, creating about 192 MW of electricity, enough for about 129,000 homes. Since its construction, the wind farm has significantly contributed to local economic development; its has created 120,000 jobs from the local labor pool, increased payments across landowners within the vicinity of the project, and given locals involved the ownership of their own energy source. The project has also been accredited by VCS and is owned and operated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

The Crow Lake Wind Project is part of a growing investment in wind energy. According to the Department of Energy, more wind energy was installed in 2020 than any other energy source and it now accounts for 42% of new energy capacity nationally. This increase is likely because wind is a very clean and sustainable source of energy. It is more efficient than solar and is highly cost-effective; it is one of the cheapest sources of energy available today. Furthermore, electricity from wind farms is sold at a fixed price over time so it is less subject to the variation in cost and uncertainty of traditional forms of energy.

Some misconceptions about wind

What if the wind isn’t blowing?

A 2015 study by the American Wind Energy Association showed that wind farms actually contributed to the stability of the grid and were even more reliable than conventional power plants. It’s true that wind doesn’t always blow, but it’s likely always blowing somewhere. The grid does not just take energy from a single source, but rather balances out across the network to ensure a stable power supply. That is why when conventional power plants shut down for maintenance there isn’t a power shortage. Instead the energy is taken from elsewhere. The same can be true for wind farms.

What about bird collisions?

It’s true that wind farms and associated electrical infrastructure can be harmful to birds, but sources agree that a wind farm in a location that minimizes contact with wildlife is less harmful to birds than the prospect of climate change. Keeping wind farms away from known wildlife sanctuaries and migration routes ensures the least amount of damage to bird populations.

What about the noise and aesthetics?

Personally, I find wind turbines quite beautiful, and a symbol of hope for the planet. As for the noise, have you ever been near one? They are actually rather quiet and create little noise pollution.

What’s interesting to us about this project

Sustainability is often confused with being environmentally friendly or green. This project is both; it helps fight climate change and is sustainable. The real definition of sustainability lies in the root of the word; something that is sustainable can sustain itself. It doesn’t need exterior involvement to continue. This project produces energy for the local community which in turn supports it. One of 108 turbines was given as a gift to the Mitchell Technical College and the college uses it for hands-on training as part of its Wind Turbine Technology Program. The program gives students the critical experience they need to bolster both their careers and the renewable energy industry. Furthmore, it expands the local labor pool and ensures the continuity and sustainability of the project.

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