Harvesting the wind

Published 10:19 pm Friday, November 7, 2008

The Suffolk City Council set itself at the forefront of the alternative energy movement Wednesday, when members voted to allow residents to build small wind turbine systems on their own property. City officials had been asked by at least three residents, including former mayoral candidate Roger Leonard, to consider making a change to Suffolk’s zoning laws that would allow the construction of small power-generating windmills.

Federal government estimates of Suffolk’s potential to use wind as an energy resource are not kind to the idea. The U.S. Department of Energy rates the city as a 1 on a scale of 7 for its resource potential. In fact, most of Virginia receives the same “poor” ranking, as wind power and speed are relatively low in all portions of the state except for the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas.

Still, as Leonard pointed out to a reporter this week, there are certain parts of Suffolk that get more wind than others, and homeowners in those locations could take advantage of Suffolk’s new zoning rules to build what would in effect become natural generators to supplement, or even replace, their consumption from the electric grid.

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As an energy consultant, Leonard knows a thing or two about the topic. And the whole zoning discussion started because he wanted to build a turbine and learn a little more about using the power of wind.

Considering the volatility of energy prices and the dangers inherent in our national dependence on foreign oil, every minute of studying alternative power sources is worthwhile. Congratulations to city leaders for looking far enough into the future to see the potential importance of the things that Leonard and other wind-power experimenters could learn.

And congratulations to Leonard and others like him for their quest for knowledge. If we someday break our dependence on foreign oil, it will be because of people like him, whose thirst for knowledge sometimes leads to society-changing breakthroughs.