Wind

Horse of a Different Color

By Cynthia Cassel

Well, it’s getting close to that special season again; when our view of the world around us goes from sepia to brilliant color and little flowers sing a welcome to us when we step out the door.  Oh, wait, either I’m having those annoying delusions again or I’m confusing real life with a certain movie.

Either way, I’m pretty happy that when twister season begins we can see it happen in all its powerful glory.  You may think I’m crazy (having delusions was kind of a hint), but I love to watch storms and particularly ones that portend a tornado.   Our tornado drill earlier this week also brought this to mind, although it was a bit strange to look out the window at fields of snow as sirens blared. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.  When the sirens beckon, I reluctantly take my snarling cat and my purring husband down to our safe place in the basement.  Maybe I got that last sentence backward, but you get my drift.

But before I head downstairs, I love to sit on the back porch and watch the sky.  The towering cotton balls of cloud standing in bas relief against a deep grey sky signal the beginning.  As the sky darkens, I’m always transfixed by how many shades of purple-slate nature’s ceiling can take on.  The best of all is when everything turns that bilious yellow-green like a dragon about to heave his last meal.  It’s scary and wondrous all at the same time.

And I watch with utter fascination as a line across the sky sends tendrils of cloud downward toward the earth.  I watch the bottom line of those clouds carefully and patiently to see which of those tiny tendrils might descend and grow, heralding the beginning of another anxious season.  I always feel a thrill when before my very eyes I witness the birth and death of a tornado as a tendril forms, descends, then is sucked back into its mother-cloud.

What makes twister season so enthralling to me is the overwhelming power of it all.  The simple fact that a cool breeze becomes a strong wind then becomes a force of such great destruction that it flattens whole towns.  I’m always gob-smacked by that feeling of breathlessness when suddenly the wind stops dead; the air becoming thick and heavy.  The humbling effect of clouds that are so very beautiful to behold can become so alarmingly black that street lights come on in a display of confusion.  How a lovely sunny day turns into an angry hissing mess that makes adults run to hide like little children. 

We are forced to take cover, and yet, there is a longing deep in my heart to watch it all play out.  My husband thinks I should have chosen meteorology as my career path.  I have no desire to stand in a TV studio blathering on about the weather-I want to watch as it unfolds.  If I had to watch a screen I probably would watch the beautiful site Casey shared last year, where you can literally watch the wind from your computer.

Don’t even get me started about our booming Kansas summer thunderstorms.  I get up in the middle of the night to traipse out to the back porch and just sit in amazement at the show.  It helps that Mother Nature hasn’t included any obnoxious commercials with this fabulous production.

So, my friends come join me sometime while I watch and listen to one of the most amazing and terrifying events that our atmosphere has to offer.  I’ll put on a pot of coffee and you bring the cookies.  To really appreciate what’s happening you have to be willing to sit patiently for a while.  There’s plenty of room on my back porch and I’d welcome your observations in the “Merry Old Land of Oz”, home to over 3,700 tornados.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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30mph/365 – Living in the Windy State

By Cynthia Cassel

I was born in the great state of Kansas and I will most likely die here too.  While there are some good things to say about Kansas, what I say next may be shocking to you.  I love and hate this place simultaneously.

Whether you are cold-natured or one of those folks who walk around in shorts and flip-flops all winter long, there is no getting around the single most uncomfortable and annoying aspect of this state; the never-ending, never even waning…wind.    You can bundle against the cold, you can strip like Gypsy Rose Lee when it’s summertime but you can never ever,  ever get relief from this gawd-awful wind.

Chicago is nicknamed ‘The Windy City’ but that’s really a misnomer.  Chicago got that bad rep due to an editorial in the New York Sun in the 1800’s referencing the hyper-loquacious nature of Chicago politicians.  Since the nickname could be applied to every U.S. city, this must be the windiest planet in the galaxy–but I digress.

In a recent Kansas City Star article about the Flat Ridge Wind Farm being built in southern Kansas,  John Graham, CEO of BP Wind Energy said, “Kansas is blessed with very strong winds.”  I don’t think the words blessed and strong winds belong in the same understatement, but that’s just my opinion.

What occurred to me this afternoon, as I desperately tried to keep my feet connected to the ground, was the possibility of another  Great Dust Bowl era.   As I write this,  the wind is blowing a steady 26.4 mph from the West Southwest.  We’ve had a couple of years of miserably dry summers and relatively dry winters. While farming practices have changed and improved since 1930, we still have daily gusts that could scour the paint off your car.   What will happen to the land?  According to an article in the K-State Research and Extension News written by Kathleen Ward  (Windy? Kansas? Well, Yes. And No 1/30/06), that during the Dust Bowl, “Experts estimate western Kansas also lost twice the dirt moved in digging the Panama Canal.”

The other downside is that I keep getting accused of having bad posture.  It’s not bad posture that makes me walk like Grouch Marx.  I’m a small-ish person – it’s the only way I can keep from being blown over backward.

But back to the wind farms.  Whether you are a proponent of wind energy (in other words, you’ve got a big  gob of land you’d like to lease for a tidy profit), or a proponent of a form of energy that doesn’t thwack pretty songbirds into a stupor, you’ve got to admit Kansas will suffice as a good source of wind. Less dependence on middle eastern oil is the upside and the 274 wind turbines at Flat Ridge-2 can supply 1,600 homes with electricity.  Another plus is that projects like Flat Ridge and Flat Ridge-2 bring dollars into the state.   And even a curmudgeon like me has to admit that hundreds of snow white turbines all spinning at once looks like a lovely in-place ballet.

Another bit from the K-State Extension news article about wind:

A Lakin Eagle newspaper writer joked that a 2-gallon funnel could gather enough Kansas “zephyrs” to drill a 180-feet hole in solid sandstone – easily producing a well with “condensed air.”

Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Find a way to make those turbines catch that wind, channel it into a great big funnel and use it for yet another positive purpose.  It wouldn’t be able to blow all of our lovely Kansas soil from here to New York and I could finally walk like a normal human being.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Watching the Wind

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Hurricane season is upon us and Isaac has been dumping vast amounts of rain along its path.  In the Midwest we might see the rain aftermath of Hurricanes but as far as I know, we don’t have any regular Hurricane Drills.  We do, however, have Tornado Drills – quick, run to the basement!  When I think of a tornado, I think of wind, wind, and more wind.

hint.fm/wind August 29, 2012

In that vane (pun intended) check out the great visualization work at http://hint.fm/wind/.  The authors created a “personal art project” with surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database.  I often reflect on the maps I’ve made and I think they lack a certain artistry that made me love maps in the first place – hello National Geography.  This wind map, to me, is the best of both “big” data and artistic visualization.  The hint.fm web map visualization presents a tremendous amount of data in an incredibly artistic way – AND ITS ZOOMABLE?

hint.frm/wind August 29, 2012

There are many more data visualization and analysis tools available.  They may have more meaningful information but I still love the majesty of the movement.  Just as a side note, NASA has a similar visualization using surface currents.  View the youtube video here:

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dust in the Wind

A couple years back I wrote a blog entry for Greenversations entitled the Wind in the Winnebago.  Guess what?  It is still windy here on the plains and therefore not surprising that the song Dust in the Wind is from the rock band Kansas.  It should also not be surprising that Region 7 states have tremendous wind energy potential; Kansas is second in the nation, Nebraska is fourth, Iowa is seventh, and Missouri is fourteenth (Source: DOE).   My boys got to see some windmills while visiting friends in central Kansas.

For the techies among you, earlier in May, EPA released a new version of its Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).  This database is a comprehensive source of data on environmental characteristics of electric power generated in the United States, including wind generated power.  The nice thing about this data set is that it includes latitudes and longitudes associated with facilities, which makes it a snap to bring into a map….which brings me back to wind.

There are a lot of maps out there which, while nice to look, sometimes struggle to simply convey the concepts the creator had in mind (this is actually true for maps of all types).  Thankfully, there are some really nifty things being done in the area of map visualizations lately, including a particular cool one related to wind.  Check out the visualization below where some folks took surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database and displayed it in a fantastic way.  If you don’t see any motion on the map shown below you are probably using IE7.  Instead open the following link in Google Chrome:  http://hint.fm/wind/.  If this cool map doesn’t put some wind in your sails I don’t know what will.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The “Greening” of Superfund: Purchasing Wind Energy to Support Superfund Remediation

By James E. Woolford

Like many Americans, my family adopted a “greener” lifestyle – for both environmental and economic reasons. My daughter, learning a great deal of environmental issues in school, picked up a new career as part of the recycling and energy police– rescuing items that “can be recycled Dad!”

So now you might be thinking “that’s very nice, but what does this have to do with Superfund and the cleanup of contaminated properties?” Like many Americans, the Superfund Program, the nation’s primary program for cleaning up the most contaminated sites, is also undergoing a “greening” of daily life. Purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to support cleanup activities is one effort.

A REC is the environmental benefit (e.g., reduced pollution or greenhouse gases) associated with generating one MWh (megawatt-hour) of electricity from a renewable energy source.

Recognizing that “green” efforts could be adopted in the remediation field, an effort began four years ago, with the federal, state, tribal, local, and the private sector, to “green” our cleanup practices. While the Superfund Program is, inherently, a “green” program (cleaning up contaminated land for productive use), we rely heavily on construction and remediation techniques. to achieve our goals. Cleanup technologies like pumping contaminated ground water to treatment facilities can be energy intensive – 200 fund-financed sites are currently at this stage of cleanup .

To balance this energy use, the Superfund Remedial program purchased 100,000 RECs from wind facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota to be used at sites across America. The RECs are Green-e certified and estimated to cover the electricity needs of projects not already being powered by renewable energy sources for 2012. We estimate our RECs will remove greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to emissions produced by approximately 18,000 cars annually or the emissions generated from about 11,000 average American homes each year.

For additional information on Superfund, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/renewableenergy. For additional information on ways to incorporate green remediation practices into your cleanup, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/greenremediation/.

About the author: James E. Woolford is the Director for the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and is responsible for long-term cleanup of sites under the Superfund program and also promotes new technology and approaches to managing sites.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Power to the People

Over the last few weeks, I have toured sites that hold an exciting potential for the next chapter in America’s energy future. Most people don’t look at landfills, contaminated industrial sites, or parking lots with a twinkle in their eyes, but I do. I hope you will too.

Solar Panels

Solar PV array at Brockton Brightfields installation in MA

As a solar person, I am always on the look-out for prime sites for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. In addition to solar resources, I look for a few simple things: clear southern exposures, flat or gentle grades, and close proximity to power lines. In general, I am looking for space, whether it is an open rooftop or an abandoned rail yard.

With over 13,000 sites and nearly 22 million acres of EPA-tracked potentially contaminated and underutilized properties nationwide, I see an untapped potential for large-scale deployment of renewable energy. That acreage receives a whole lot of sunshine and, in some cases, gets its fair share of wind. For communities interested in renewables, these sites offer a unique value proposition.

In many cases, these properties have blighted the community for years. From the perspective of a renewable energy developer, these sites are attractive due to their proximity to existing distribution or transmission lines, favorable zoning, and potentially lower land costs.  With this redevelopment approach, I see the potential to turn these liabilities into community assets by remediating the site and deploying pollution-free energy facilities.

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and remediation experts here at EPA, the RE-Powering team converted our collective knowledge into new tools to guide state and local governments, site owners, clean-up project managers, and other stakeholders through a process for screening potentially contaminated sites and landfills for their suitability for future redevelopment with PV or wind energy.

This knowledge is now bundled in a simple decision-tree format to enable communities to screen sites without needing renewable energy expertise. We built the screening tools to provide quick feedback on whether or not a site could be viable based on technical or economic criteria. The tools provide a thorough check than my quick check during a site walk. Throughout the process, we provide context for each of the criteria and point to additional tools and references to work through the evaluation process. Our goal is to empower communities to bring their vision of a solar array or wind farm one step closer.

While site walks at brownfields and landfills don’t always offer inspiring views, they are the next step in an inspired approach to expanding our American-made, renewable energy generation. Screen your sites. Take a walk. RE-Power America’s Land.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS Science & Technology fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry partnerships.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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