The downside of wind energy on Gujarat’s coast is that the continuous motion of the blades creates a constant interplay of light and shadow, and occasional oil leaks can cause unpleasant odors.
Manisha Patel still vividly remembers seeing students fall asleep in her classroom in 2011. When Patel woke them up, they would be irritable. A few were simply unable to focus on their studies.
“Initially, I could not understand what was happening,” said Patel, a middle-aged, bespectacled woman who travels from a nearby village to teach science at a government primary girls school in Jangi, a windy village in Gujarat’s Kachchh district. Jangi is 10 km inland from the Gulf of Kutch, on the westernmost coast of India, separated from the sea by flat, white salt pans and marshy creeks.
When Patel asked her students why they were falling asleep, what they said startled her: noise from the newly-installed pavan chakki – windmill – was keeping them awake all night.
Two years earlier, in 2009, the people of Jangi had watched with fascination as giant-sized machinery arrived in the village: long, white blades, and an even longer white pole, which was split into three big parts, each transported on a different truck. Once installed, each pole was around 20 metres tall, or as tall as a six-storey building. Three blades were attached to a rotor atop the pole. Almost immediately, they cut through the windy air, generating electricity, but also making swishing sounds: zoop-zoop-zoop.
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The first windmill near Jangi was set up close to the shoreline, a few kilometres from most of its homes. But over the years, the giant machines crept closer, and the noise grew louder.
It was loud enough in the day. At night, as the village fell silent, it was unbearable. Residents began inserting cotton buds in their ears, shutting their doors and windows, which they once left open. And schoolchildren started dozing off in school. “I let them sleep,” said Patel, who realised children could not concentrate on their studies if they didn’t get enough rest.
Now, a windmill literally towers above Maliben Ahir’s home – the movement of the blades causes an incessant play of light and shadow. “The noise is loud at night. Sometimes the oil leaks and stinks,” said Ahir, who is 50 years old.
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