What do bridges have in common with renewable energy?

Guest Blog | September 30, 2013 | Energy Policy, Wind
Sidney Lanier Bridge

The brand new Jekyll Island Convention Center recently hosted the 8th Annual Georgia Environmental Conference in Georgia. I was fortunate enough to be a speaker on a panel about renewable energy myths. Every morning, when I drove to Jekyll Island for the conference, I was greeted by the Sidney Lanier Bridge. It’s simply gorgeous. It’s so gorgeous in fact, there are small paved pull-offs along the road to Jekyll Island for people to stop their cars and take pictures. Before my talk at the conference, I did a little research to find out how tall the bridge is. It’s 480 feet tall. The bridge is so tall, that it juts way above the landscape and was especially striking against a summer’s storm clouds. All along the bridge were street lights, and flashing red aviation lights, along an otherwise dark waterway; this made the bridge a sight to see not only in daytime, but nighttime as well. Jekyll Island, on its own merit, is a beautiful place; but I just couldn’t get over how beautiful that bridge is. And I don’t think folks would be as willing to jump out of their car and brave the hawk-sized mosquitoes to take a picture of that particular stretch of swamp, if it were not for that pretty bridge. But even after that effort, pictures don’t do it justice.

Just up the road from Jekyll Island is the Talmage Memorial Bridgein Savannah. An equally impressive bridge, and architecturally similar to Sidney-Lanier. Further up the coast is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston – that bridge is nearly 100 feet taller than the Sidney-Lanier. But the South’s skyscrapers tend to dwarf even these tall bridges.

So what do bridges have in common with renewable energy? A fair bit, actually.

In fact, the Sidney Lanier and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridges are about the same height as wind turbines. They’re also equipped with similar red lighting, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. Engineers have to deal with higher wind speeds the higher they go (the wind may not be apparent at ground level, but may push you around at 40 stories up). People also tend to be impressed by the structures and even go so far as to get out of their cars to snap some pictures. And some people, like me, consider bridges and wind farms beautiful.

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, there are certainly a lot of beholders that want more wind energy. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65 percent of Southerners believe the U.S. should place “more emphasis” on domestic wind energy production (in regions where wind farms are familiar sights, support rises to 75%). Perhaps when people see wind farms, they realize how beautiful they really can be.

Courtesy: NREL (Buffalo Mountain Wind Project, Tennessee)
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