When the Wind Whispers, Whose Name Does it Call?

Source: MATTHEW L. WALD, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Maple Ridge Wind Farm in Martinsburg, N.Y., has a typical moniker.

Associated Press. The Maple Ridge Wind Farm in Martinsburg, N.Y., has a typical moniker.

Acciona, a big renewable energy company based in Spain, says it is naming its new 32-megawatt wind farm in Oklahoma “Big Smile.” The name is an oblique reference to an Acciona employee who died last year, the company says.

That makes the wind farm one of the few in the United States not named for its location or a nearby geographic feature. Google lists 102 operating wind farms of 120 megawatts or more in this country, plus two under construction and 24 proposed, none of which are named after anyone, although some bear the name of a town that was named after a person long ago.

From the Buffalo Ridge wind farm in Minnesota to the Grand Ridge wind farm in Illinois, from Crow Lake in South Dakota to White Creek in Washington State, from Bent Tree in Minnesota to Leaning Juniper in Oregon, the naming convention for wind farms is clear.

Other kinds of generation stations are named after people, however. The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River is named after the country’s 31st president, although Hoover initially opposed it; the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia is named for the legendary Nez Perce leader. Then there are nuclear plants like Robert E. Ginna, near Rochester, N.Y., and H.B. Robinson, near Hartsville, S.C., both named after executives of area utilities, as are coal plants like Dean Mitchell in Indiana, Philip Sporn in West Virginia and W.S. Lee in South Carolina.

The Alvin W. Vogtle nuclear complex in Georgia, which will be the largest in the country if the Southern Company’s construction program is completed as planned, is named for a former company chairman who was a World War II aviator and the model for the character played by Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” (He never jumped a fence with a motorcycle, according to plant executives.)

Ronald Reagan has airports, buildings and bridges named after him, but not a wind farm.

Why aren’t wind farms named after people? Perhaps because they are built by companies that are not old enough to have retired executives they wish to lionize. Or maybe the builders think the geographic names will make them more popular than other kinds of names. (The nuclear industry has plants named Millstone and Turkey Point, names possibly not chosen with likability in mind.)

Readers are invited to suggest someone whose name might grace a wind farm, or to ruminate on these naming conventions in general.