EarthTalk: I heard that some wind farms use
fossil fuels to power their generators when the wind won‘t.
Doesn’t that defeat their whole renewable energy purpose?
Why not let the wind power it or not? Also, I‘ve heard
that the low-frequency sounds generated by these turbines
can harm people and animals. Is this true?
-- Ryan Lewis, Plainwell, MI
wind energy companies have developed back-up systems
that can spin turbines even when the wind isn't blowing,
thus optimizing and keeping consistent the power output.
Colorado-based Hybrid Turbines Inc., for example,
makes systems that marry a natural gas-based generator
to a wind turbine. Even with that fossil fuel usage,
the electricity produced is much cleaner than burning
© Jorge Lascar, courtesy Flickr
one of the major drawbacks to wind power is the fact that,
even in windy locations, the wind doesn‘t always blow.
So the ability of turbines to generate power is intermittent
at best. Many turbines can generate power only about 30
percent of the time, thanks to the inconsistency of their
order to overcome this Achilles‘ heel of intermittent
production, some wind companies have developed back-up systems
that can spin turbines even when the wind isn‘t blowing,
thus optimizing and keeping consistent the power output.
For example, Colorado-based Hybrid Turbines Inc. is selling
wind farms systems that marry a natural gas-based generator
to a wind turbine. “Even if natural gas is used, the
electricity produced…is twice as environmentally clean
as burning coal,” reports the company. Better yet,
if a user can power them with plant-derived biofuels, they
can remain 100 percent renewable energy-based.
some wind energy companies may want to invest in such technologies
to wring the most production out of their big investments,
utilities aren‘t likely to suffer much from the intermittent
output if they don’t. Even the utilities that are
most bullish on wind power still generate most of their
electricity from other more traditional sources at the present
time. So, when wind energy output decreases, utilities simply
draw more power from other sources—such as solar arrays,
hydroelectric dams, nuclear reactors and coal-fired power
plants—to maintain consistent electrical service.
As such, reports the American Wind Energy Association, utilities
act as “system operators” drawing power from
where it‘s available and dispatching it to where it
is needed in tune with rising and falling power needs.
just because generating wind power all day long isn‘t
imperative doesn‘t mean that suppliers aren‘t
doing all they can to maximize output. To wit, turbine manufacturers
are beginning to incorporate so-called Active Flow Control
(AFC) technology, which delays the occurrence of partial
or complete stalls when the wind dies down, and also enables
start-up and power generation at lower wind speeds than
conventional turbines. The non-profit Union of Concerned
Scientists lauds AFC for these capabilities, which in turn
can help system operators create a more reliable electric
grid less dependent on fossil fuels.
to whether or not noise from wind farms can harm people
and wildlife, the jury is still out. New York-based pediatrician
Nina Pierpont argues in her book, Wind Turbine Syndrome,
that turbines may produce sounds that can affect the mood
of people nearby or cause physiological problems like insomnia,
vertigo, headaches and nausea. On the flip side, Renewable
UK, a British wind energy trade group, says that the noise
measured 1,000 feet away from a wind farm is less than that
of normal road traffic. Here in the U.S., a Texas jury denied
a 2006 noise pollution suit against FPL Energy after FPL
showed that noise readings from its wind farm maxed out
at 44 decibels, roughly the same generated by a 10 mile-per-hour
Turbines, Inc.; American
Wind Energy Association; Union
of Concerned Scientists; Nina
Pierpont’s Wind Turbine Syndrome.
EarthTalk: My neighbor told me to pour bleach
down my drains every week to keep them clear. Is this safe
-- Trish Osterling, via e-mail
is a useful cleaner and disinfectant, but pouring
it down the drain will not do anything to help keep
the drains clear. In fact, you could cause a dangerous
chemical reaction if it comes into contact with other
household products you might be using.
Bleach is a useful
cleaner and disinfectant, but pouring it down the drain
will not do anything to help keep the drains clear. In addition,
you could cause a dangerous chemical reaction if it comes
into contact with other household products you might be
bleach, also known as chlorine bleach, is a liquid compound
of sodium hypochlorite, which is a combination of sodium
chloride (a salt) with water and chlorine. It’s often
used to whiten laundry or to disinfect kitchen surfaces.
Bleach is also an ingredient in other household cleaners,
like those used for bath and toilet cleaning. (A different
sort of bleach, known as oxygen bleach, is used for laundry
stain removal and does not have the same disinfecting/cleaning
properties as chlorine bleach.)
the Household Products Database at the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services (DHHS), chlorine bleach is corrosive
to the eyes; injures skin and mucous membranes on contact;
and is harmful if swallowed. Bleach is “a lung and
eye irritant,” warns the Washington Toxics Coalition
(WTC), a Seattle non-profit that advocates for green friendly
household products. Even used alone, fumes from chlorine
bleach can irritate the lungs, so it should not be used
by people with asthma or lung or heart problems, says the
group. It is also “reactive” with ammonia and
acids, forming more harmful fumes.
the most common home accidents is the mixing of products
containing chlorine bleach with those containing ammonia,”
says WTC. The combination creates chloramine gas, which
is highly irritating to the lungs. Since many cleaning products
contain ammonia, the inadvertent mixing must be avoided.
Mixing bleach and acids results in the release of chlorine
gas, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and
Senior Services, exposure to which can cause coughing and
breathing problems, burning eyes and, at high levels, vomiting,
pneumonia and even death. Products containing acids include
vinegar, some glass and window cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners,
drain cleaners and rust removers. An “incompatibility
chart” listing many chemicals that will react with
bleach is available at the Chlorine Institute’s cl2.com
is not necessarily hard on the environment. When use as
directed, it will break down mostly into salt water in wastewater
treatment or septic systems, says WTC. A dilution of bleach
in water is effective as a disinfectant, and can be scrubbed
onto non-porous food-contact surfaces like plastic cutting
boards or refrigerator shelves and left to air dry. The
Clorox Company recommends a solution of one tablespoon bleach
per gallon of water for sanitizing.
So, what are
the better ways to keep drains clear? Home drains in the
kitchen and bath generally get clogged by grease, food waste
and hair, none of which will be effectively dispersed by
bleach. WTC recommends carefully pouring a kettleful of
boiling water down the drain to free up a slow drain, or
using mechanical methods such as a plumber’s snake,
plunger or hose-end bladder to clean a clogged drain.
Products Database; Washington
Toxics Coalition; New
Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services; Chlorine
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