Gone with the wind? The potential tragedy of the common wind.

Author:Lifshitz-Goldberg, Yael
  1. INTRODUCTION II. UNDERSTANDING WIND AND ITS IMPORTANCE A. Wind's Role in the Environment B. The Importance of Wind as a Source of Energy 1. How Wind Turbines Create Electricity 2. Benefits of Wind Power 3. Technological Improvements and Limitations 4. Future Development III. PROPERTY INTERESTS IN WIND A. Wind as a Private Property Interest B. Wind as a Common Property Interest IV. THE POTENTIAL TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS A. When is the Tragedy of the Commons Likely to Occur 1. Property Allocation 2. Rivalry in Consumption--The Question of Subtractability a. Wind is not Endless--The Shadow Effect b. Small Wind Projects- The Growing Influence of the Shadow Effect V. PROTECTING THE PROPERTY INTERESTS IN WIND A. The Shadow Effect on Neighboring Properties B. Sustainability and the Public Trust Doctrine VI. CONCLUSION I.


    The gentle cool breeze brushing through the trees on a summer's eve, the howl of a blizzard on a cold winter night, the twirling of leaves on an autumn morning and the scent of fresh cut grass on a spring day--all these are made possible by the wind. It is a powerful force of nature, with an essential role in our natural environment. It affects our daily lives by changing the weather conditions. It serves as a means of recreation whenever we fly a kite. It even carries the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning. In recent years, the wind has also enjoyed a growing role as an essential source of energy. In light of the rising concerns over global warming, and the exhaustion of fossil-fuel resources, wind energy presents a clean, renewable alternative for energy production. Wind is an asset. It is an important environmental and financial asset. And due to the recent winds of change, it is time we examine this valuable asset closely.

    Given the importance of wind in the present and its expected significance in the future, this article explores the property interests in the wind, the potential problem of overuse and possible ways to avoid it. The second Part discusses the importance of wind to the environment and as a source of energy. The third Part examines who holds the right to harvest the wind, arguing that wind-rights are allocated to the private landowners, but also to the public as a whole, thus creating a mixed property regime. Given this complex property regime, and the unique nature of wind as an asset, the forth Part discusses the potential tragedy of the commons that might occur. This Part will look at the typical characteristics of the tragedy, and argue that they could possibly occur with wind. Finally, the fifth Part discusses two possible ways to protect this valuable asset, on a private level and as a public interest.



    Wind is the movement, or the flowing of air on the surface of the earth. The movement of air is created by differences in air-pressure, caused by alterations in temperature together with the rotation of the planet. (1) Warmer air is less dense than cooler air, and rises above it. The cooler air then rushes to fill the low pressure areas, thus creating wind. (2) As opposed to the numerous discussions regarding air pollution, this paper is not concerned directly with the chemical components of the air particles, but rather with the movement of these particles and its effect on the environment.

    1. Wind's Role in the Environment

      Although the movement of air is invisible, we see evidence of it nearly everywhere we look. It is a powerful element--it sculpts rocks, and shapes the landscape by moving the terrain from one area to another. Consider, for example, the desert sands, which clearly bear the finger-prints of the blowing wind, or the snowy slopes of the highest ridges formed over time by forceful howling winds. (3)

      Described as the workhorse of weather, winds can greatly affect the climate of a region. Wind has the power to move storm or fair-weather systems around the globe, and lift water vapor upward to where it can condense into clouds. Onshore winds in the summer carry moisture, cool air and fog into coastal regions, whereas offshore breezes carry with them warmer and drier air. Winds can pleasantly cool us off on a hot day or cause us to shiver. (4) Wind also influences the water on earth--it makes waves. Just as air blowing over the top of a water-filled pan creates tiny ripples, so waves are created as the blowing wind transfers energy to the water. (5) These waves can change in shape and form as they are affected by the wind's properties. In general, the greater the wind speed, the greater the amount of energy added, and the higher the waves will be. (6)

      Furthermore, wind has an important effect on vegetation. At times, wind can have a negative impact on plant life--strong winds can twist the branches of trees or damage tender vegetation thus decreasing crop productivity. (7) Yet wind also assists the reproduction of plants--it moves leaves, transports heat, moisture, dust, insects, bacteria, and pollens from one area to another. (8) By moving small particles downwind of their point of origin, the wind aids plants and other immobile organisms in dispersal and reproduction. Although wind is not the primary form of seed spreading in plants, it provides dispersal for a large percentage of the biomass produced by land plants. (9) There is no doubt that without the wind our plant life would be quite different.

      Wind also plays an important role in the environment by shifting polluted air in the downwind direction, thus scattering the pollution from one area to another. (10) This of course could be an advantage to those living upwind, but a problem to those in the downwind direction. Wind also has an important recreational role in our lives, from kite flying to wind and wave surfing. A breeze can even sharpen our appetite when it blows the aroma from the local bakery in our direction. It is clear that the wind follows us wherever we go, affecting human life in varied and significant ways. Recently, the impact of wind upon society has expanded dramatically, as it has become a growing source of energy.

    2. The Importance of Wind as a Source of Energy

      Energy is a key factor in the economic endurance of modern societies (11) Dependable energy sources encourage the economic growth of a nation, and are necessary to improve the lives and wellbeing of its citizens. (12) In recent years, wind has become an increasingly more valuable and prevalent source of energy. The increased concerns about climate change have encouraged the development of wind technology. (13) In addition, traditional energy sources are becoming more and more precious, especially in light of the geopolitical tensions in oil-rich areas, (14) inspiring states to pursue measures that will reduce dependence on fossil fuel supplies. (15) In view of these difficulties, wind energy presents a renewable, clean alternative.

      Because of its many advantages, wind has been used as a source of energy throughout history. Early civilizations migrated over hundreds of kilometers using elementary sailing craft. (16) Sailing ships were used by Phoenician sailors (17) and by Egyptians as early as 3100 B.C. During the Roman Empire and through the Middle-Ages sailors continued to develop new sailing expertise, and even today the innovation of new sailing technologies carries on. (18) Wind energy was first captured by the Persians with land-based windmills in the seventh century CE in order grind grains for bread, (19) and the technology was later perfected by the Dutch. (20) Aside from milling, people used wind power to draw water from wells, fly hot-air balloons and eventually to create electricity. Yet the number of wind-based machines declined rapidly as rural electrification swept the world. Lately however, there has been a revived interest in wind energy. (21)

      Wind power technology, increasingly revisited as human society struggles to cope with the modern energy demands and environmental concerns, (22) has grown significantly more popular in the last decade. Today wind power is considered to be the fastest growing source of energy in the world: (23) wind power capacity over the world has tripled in the last few decades with an annual growth rate of roughly twenty percent. (24) Wind power in the 1990s was mostly dominated by Europe. For example, the Schleswig-Holstein region in north Germany derives ten percent of its electricity from wind power. (25) This rate is expected to grow even further and spread through the EU members as the European Directive (26) aims to ensure that the share of renewable energy in the EU reaches at least twenty percent by 2020. In the US, wind energy still supplies only a small percentage of the electricity capacity, although data show increases: over 8500 megawatts (MW) of new wind generating capacity was installed in 2008, bringing the total installed capacity to 21,017 MWin 35 states. (27) The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that wind farms in the US generated approximately 25,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy in 2008, just over 1.25 percent of US electricity supply, powering the equivalent of over 5.7 million homes. (28) Further growth is expected in the near future, (29) and it is estimated that US wind resources are potentially large enough to produce more than the total electricity required in the US. (30)

      1. How Wind Turbines Create Electricity

        As opposed to a household fan that uses electric energy to generate wind, a wind turbine utilizes wind to create electricity, by converting the kinetic energy locked in the wind--to electric energy. (31) A typical modern large-scale wind turbine includes a set of three feather-shaped blades attached to a metal tower. (32) The wind causes the blades to turn, which then in turn, rotates a connected "shaft. The shaft is attached to a generator by a gearbox, which by spinning large magnets transforms the kinetic energy previously locked in the wind into electric energy...

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