Catching the wind: it's not such a breezy undertaking
''People have the right to capture the wind,'' declares Robert Landing of Pleasant Hill, Calif., ''just as they have the right to sunlight, air, and water.''
Since 1974 Mr. Landing, a retired civil servant, has been using wind power to produce electricity at his home in the suburban town some 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. But some of his neighbors have complained about the presence of his wind power system in the residential neighborhood.
Although Landing had no trouble obtaining permission from city officials to put up the 80-foot tower supporting a 23-foot wooden blade and generator, public hearings on the complaint will be held. And if municipal officials change their minds, he might have to dismantle the 10-kilowatt system that supplies most of his electricity.
It has happened to other windmill owners in thickly settled areas nearby, and in other parts of the United States. Across the country, numerous communities are looking harder at aesthetic and other possible factors before issuing wind power permits.
A few miles north of Pleasant Hill, across the Sacramento River's Carquinez Straits in Solano County, a company called Windfarms Ltd. and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) are cooperating in a project that calls for 146 windmills to be installed in a 5,000-acre tract chiefly owned by PG&E.
The utility company is erecting a prototype windmill on the site. The Boeing-built MOD-2 wind turbine has a hollow steel rotor blade 300 feet in diameter, mounted on a 200-foot tower. It is expected to produce 2,500 kilowatts in winds of 27.5 to 35 miles an hour.
When the 146 windmills go on line in 1989, the wind farm is expected to produce 350,000 kilowatts of power - 1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year. It would take an oil-burning power plant about 1.6 million barrels of oil to produce the same amount of power - equivalent to the annual electric consumption of about 150,000 California homes, says PG&E.
This is the largest wind farm yet on the planning boards, but by no means the only one in the Unite States. But there is a cloud on the horizon for wind power.
Gene Valentine, a spokesman for Windfarms, points out that the Reagan administration is considering elimination of tax credits for solar installations in its drive to cut the federal deficit. (Wind power is by definition solar energy, since wind is caused by the sun's heat and the rotation of the Earth.)
Mr. Valentine explains that, although the federal government has spent $300 million so far to get wind power projects going, and although private investors are getting into the industry, the withdrawal of the tax incentive at this point could seriously set back development of this alternative source.
In Washington, D.C., some 60 senators and more than 230 members of the House of Representatives have rallied behind the energy tax credit. They have signed a proposed resolution urging the administration to continue the tax incentives - for individuals such as Robert Landing as well as for commercial operations like Windfarms.