Windy houses and a sunny school

So far, we haven’t seen any large-scale shift in American energy habits (the closest I’ve noticed are the stats about many drivers cutting down on their gas usage). But little changes are making news, like these two recent items about renewable energy coming to our area.

First, there’s the interesting fact that Albemarle County is thinking about letting folks put up wind turbines to power their own houses, barns and other buildings. We aren’t talking about so-called wind farms here; we’re talking family-scale power generation. I suppose you could liken the idea to the way most rural households use wells instead of public water lines; in this case, they’d be getting off the grid at least partially, cutting down on pollution and relying more on their land’s own resources than on public infrastructure.

It’s certainly not a perfect solution. A Daily Progress story (about the county Planning Commission meeting in which the turbines were discussed) hints at the fact that the towers are potential eyesores. This FAQ page by the American Wind Energy Assocation seems to indicate that towers are commonly 80 to 120 feet high (yikes!), but then again this Caroline County man is doing pretty well with a 33-foot tower. And both sources agree that would-be turbine owners are looking at a hefty investment up front: $6,000 to $22,000, according to the AWEA. But hey—Albemarle’s got its share of residents with money to burn, and anyway, what’s the price of clean air and mountaintops left intact in West Virginia?

The second little bit of renewability is over at Henley Middle School, which is getting a $7,500 grant from Dominion Virginia Power to put up solar panels for their hot water heaters. (That won’t fund the entire project, mind you—the total tab is estimated at $33K. You’ll be happy to know that the bake sale is still a viable means of fundraising at public schools: Henley’s planning one to make up the $25,500 shortfall, along with a golf tourney and a fun run.)

It’s a nice thing for Dominion to do, but I’m not one to give a free plug to a utility giant without at least mentioning a couple of their bigger projects: a proposed coal-burning plant in Wise County and the 40-mile, 500,000-volt transmission line they’d like to build in Northern Virginia. Let’s just say both have their critics.

So, folks, what do you think? Would you be upset if a neighbor installed an 80-foot tower, or even a 33-foot tower? Would you put one up on your land? And what kind of cookies are you hoping to score at Henley Middle School?

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