The Wind Beneath My Wings "Altamont Wind Farm"
【Summary】Livermore ranks as hallowed ground for clean energy enthusiasts. This wildly beautiful wind farm was erected back in the 1970’s. In 2016, it’s still the largest wind farm in the world in terms of the concentration of the individual wind turbines. It’s easy to see why this archetype green pioneering technology was built in this part of the nation. Bay Area people are concerned with ecology and alternative energy. They’re capable of thinking outside the box.
By Anthony C. LoBaido
LIVERMORE, California – The stars are gleaming brightly in the San Francisco Bay Area night as I pull over at the summit of Altamont Pass. There's the Big Dipper, Orion's Belt and Beta Carina. The stars seem so close, as if I could just pick them out from the sky and place them in a scrapbook for safekeeping. The wind is brisk. Sunrise is still nowhere to be found. This is truly the dead of night and it's positively eerie. Long ago, in 1969, the Rolling Stones played a concert here that went horribly wrong and made global headlines. One can still seemingly hear the faint echoes of an evening that in effect ended the 1960's counterculture movement. But just as one era ended that night at Altamont, another era began – the rise of clean and green energy.
Livermore ranks as hallowed ground for clean energy enthusiasts. This wildly beautiful wind farm was erected back in the 1970's. This was around the time the Arab-Israeli 1973 Yom Kippur War led to the infamous oil embargo which rocked the economic foundations of the United States of America. At one time this was the largest wind farm in the world in terms of energy output. In 2016, it's still the largest wind farm in the world in terms of the concentration of the individual wind turbines. It's easy to see why this archetype green pioneering technology was built in this part of the nation. Bay Area people are concerned with ecology and alternative energy. They're capable of thinking outside the box.
This diagram details how wind power can be harnessed for commercial purposes
Similarly, people in ancient Egypt were thinking outside of the box 5,000 years before the Three Wise Men journeyed from Mesopotamia to Bethlehem to present gifts to the Christ child. The Nile River was home to boats given their impetus by wind power. Windmills turned into water pumps in China around 200 B.C. (These were the so-called "vertical-axis" windmills.) In Ancient Iran – Persia -- wind power was used to grind staple crops like grain. They caught on in the Western world. Between 1850 and 1970 over one million small windmills were installed in the United States of America. The wind was understood to be clean and cheap and available.
As it turns out, in postmodern times, these wind turbines were dangerous for birds, and almost 5,000 are killed annually. Even the American Golden Eagle is not exempt from the carnage, leading to calls for a more "bird friendly" apparatus. That clarion call has been met, and the newest wind turbines will hopefully be kinder to the fliers of the not-so-friendly skies.
The majestic sight of these wind turbines seems almost other-worldly. George Lucas got some of his Star Wars film franchise ideas from the cranes operating on the docks of Oakland. And the Ewok racing scenes were garnered from the giant Redwood forest north of San Francisco. It would be hard to describe the feeling of seeing the world's largest collection of wind turbines for the very first time. It's magnificent and amazing.
This journalist had the chance to interview a man who actually cleans these wind turbines. Newbies are called "White Knuckles" because they're grabbing their support apparatus so tightly in fear. If you can make it to the rank of supervisor, you'll literally cleanup at around US$ 200 per hour. You'll be on the road a lot, but these kind of hearty outdoor types don't really seem to mind. Theirs is an important job as similar wind turbines will power the Googleplex in Mountain View which is a stone's throw from Livermore. (Well, a bit farther than that.)
As for the science and energy part of the equation, the wind turbines here are truly remarkable.
These days, if you were combine the power of all of the world's wind turbines, it would account for roughly 70,000 megawatts of electricity. That's enough electricity to power about 17 million homes. Just think of the potential of wind power in terms of the vast open spaces in the Gobi Desert, Siberia, Arizona, Australia and similar landscapes. By 2050, wind turbines could account for one-third of the world's energy needs. One excellent website details all of this here. This wind power project map is also an excellent resource.
Altamont Wind Farm was the world's first of its kind.
(Photograph by Anthony C. LoBaido)
How will wind power impact our lives in the coming decades? Will it finally catch on and become "normalized" in terms of how we view the industry as a whole? Yes, wind turbines are indeed an eyesore. They are dangerous to birds and bats. They are expensive and difficult to clean. That said, imagine if mankind is somehow able to harness the winds of Antarctica, or the winds of a hurricane like Katrina? Combined with research on cold fusion, it is possible that the rise of wind farms in the United States and around the world has already unleashed a revolution in green energy technology.
Anthony C. LoBaido is a journalist, ghostwriter and photographer. He has worked in 53 nations around the world – from Laos to Lebanon, from Belize to Botswana and from Nepal to Namibia. He also published a book on the Kurds. Some of LoBaido’s favorite stories include attending the British Army’s jungle warfare training in Central America, retracing Lawrence of Arabia’s World War I trek through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, investigating the blood diamonds of Sierra Leone as popularized in the Leonardo DiCaprio film by the same name, meeting “CNN hero” Aki Ra at one of his landmine digs in northern Cambodia, working with Time Magazine’s “Hero of Asia” Lek Chailert on her crusade to assist injured and abused elephants in Southeast Asia, rescuing HIV/Aids throw-away babies in the garbage dumps of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as visiting a leper colony in Myanmar. LoBaido’s articles have been cited by Ivy League universities such as Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. As a photographer, LoBaido made National Geographic in 2014.
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