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By Jon Boone, posted by Sherri Lange

Reuben Goldberg (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist famous for conceiving very complicated and impractical machines that accomplish little or nothing. The term “Rube Goldberg” has passed into the lexicon as shorthand for describing such machinery and their products and services. Contemporary industrial wind turbines epitomize this
concept. Physically, they are taller than many skyscrapers, with 300-foot rotors that move nearly 200 miles per hour at their tips. They are usually placed in a phalanx numbering five to eight per mile, which, if erected on forested ridge tops, also require the clearcutting of at least four acres per turbine, with another 35-65 acres needed for infrastructure support. Functionally, they produce little energy relative to demand and what little they do produce is incompatible with the standards of reliability and cost characteristic of our electricity system. Moreover, wind plants are unable either to mitigate the need for additional conventional power generation in the face of increased demand or to reliably augment power during times of peak demand. Ironically, as more wind installations are added, almost equal conventional power generation must also be brought on line. Crucially important, however, wind technology, because of the inherently random variations of the wind, will not reduce meaningful levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide produced from fossil-fueled generation, which is its raison d’etre.


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