John Mott-Smith Credit: Davis Enterprise

This column on wind energy and our campaign for ‘One Cool City’ is by John Mott-Smith, a member of Cool Davis and is cross-posted from the Davis Enterprise.

When we think of renewable energy in Davis or Yolo County, we (or at least I) think almost exclusively of solar, with a bit of biofuels thrown in. But the county is currently assessing the potential for wind energy in the Dunnigan Hills and recently organized a combination symposium and field trip to explore the topic.

Basically, at this point the county and potential wind farmers are looking at whether there is enough wind enough of the time to make it profitable to build up to 400 turbines, each 360 feet tall. And those who live in the hills are determining what impacts this might have on their lives and property.

California has limited potential to generate electricity from wind. Texas and Iowa are the big leaders in wind power in the United States, while China, Germany, Spain and India are the pace-setters in wind energy worldwide.

Wind energy has several desirable attributes: It’s a form of renewable energy and it provides a pretty much guaranteed and steady source of electricity with little or no price volatility over the 20- to 30-year lifetime of the turbine. Once you build it and turn the turbines on, there are few external variables to compromise supply.

“Wind energy … provides a pretty much guaranteed and steady source of electricity with little or no price volatility over the 20- to 30-year lifetime of the turbine”

In addition, it’s clean, with zero greenhouse gas emissions and no waste generation to cause disposal problems. Its cost-competitive (in areas where the wind blows) and doesn’t require a water supply (like nuclear and large-scale solar).

In general, wind energy can be “deployed” rapidly. The technology and construction are much simpler than that required for financing and building a huge power plant. However, there is one wrinkle here, and this was one of the main reasons for this symposium/field trip.

Decisions on siting wind energy projects are not generally made by the federal or state government; they are made by local government. So, in addition to figuring out if there is enough wind blowing enough hours at a high enough velocity, you need a permit from, in the case of the Dunnigan Hills, Yolo County.

Packed symposium

Hence, the packed house at the symposium — with both county officials and land owners well represented. In fact, technically, the “symposium” was a joint meeting of the Yolo County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

Presentations were made by wildlife experts about the potential impact on birds and bats and these were of great concern, as was the issue of possible erosion of the delicate soils of the Dunnigan Hills, but what seemed to be the predominant worry on the part of the land owners was the potential for noise and visual blight.

It’s safe to say that no agreement was reached between the parties, but the field trip down to the wind farms in the Montezuma Hills in neighboring Solano County did establish a common information base from which to go forward. It also provided an opportunity to make clear the visual impact these very tall turbines can have, especially when there are hundreds of them dotting the landscape.

Though they only take up about 1 to 3 percent of the land (leaving the rest for farming or grazing), you just can’t miss or ignore the turbines: They, rather than the hills, really do become the dominant feature of the landscape. And at night they each have lights to alert planes to stay clear. It is also at night that the “hum” of the blades slicing through the air is most noticeable. It is not by accident that large-scale wind farms are sited in sparsely populated areas.

What is a Cool City?

What is a cool city? A wind of a different sort is blowing in Davis and is gradually building up speed and strength. The Cool Davis Initiative, begun a couple years ago, has grown and is now a robust effort involving dozens of committed volunteers on the verge of launching a “One Cool City” effort to engage 75 percent of Davis residents in actions and activities to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and implement the city’s Climate Action Plan.

At a recent meeting, the planning group took a step back and asked itself the question: “What is a cool city?” not in the sense of trendy or chic, but in terms of energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions.

Here are some of the responses. “A city with a high happiness index.” “A place where all citizens have the choice to live a healthy, affordable, low-carbon lifestyle.” “A place that sources most of its basic needs within a radius of about 50 miles.” “A place that is carbon-neutral and the carbon footprint is approaching the global average.”

“A collaboration between the residential community and businesses, building a strong and sustainable economy.” And, “A place where we all embrace the need to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and enjoy looking for ways to reduce our consumption, make our homes more energy-efficient, ands use alternative transportation. Also, we have fun comparing our carbon footprints with others.”

Do try this at home. It’s an interesting exercise to encapsulate an answer in a sentence or two, and the Cool Davis folks are soon going to be asking all of us to answer this question for ourselves.