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Click to see a simulation of the proposed wind plant atop Backbone Mountain in Western Maryland
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Notable Quotes


"It would take thousands of these clean-energy, landscape-marring machines [wind turbines] to generate only a slice of the region's [Maryland's] power needs." "Consider a recent Department of Energy Study. It shows that nationwide, moving to 10 percent renewable energy would still see coal burning increase substantially—because of rapidly growing electrical demand."

—Tom Horton, staff environmental writer of the weekly column, On the Bay, The Baltimore Sun: "Wind farms a problem, too," February 27, 2004.

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Dear Molly Ivins:

While I appreciate the way you generally combat the oleaginous cant of those who perpetuate our society's rampant greed and prodigious waste, your recent paean to the windpower industry was an exercise in bill of goods punditry. That windpower is cradled by giant corporations (GE) and has an industry trade group to distribute self-serving PR should have set your BS detector screaming. You especially should know that ENRON was big into wind energy and many of its former executives are still working in this arena.

Opponents of the wind industry's gospel who challenge its unbridled expansion are portrayed as elitist "know nothings" or linked with the environmental galoots of the Bush administration. But the reality is that many average folks are upset by wind energy developers who bulldoze local concerns as well as beautiful forested mountaintops to erect a multitude of gargantuan wildlife-killing machines.

Unfortunately very little development is occurring where wind energy is optimal, the Upper Midwest prairies, and far too many projects are being pushed in regions with relatively little wind energy, such as the East. With few exceptions these projects don't require federal permits and consequently are exempt from safeguard provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. In other words there are virtually no regulatory checks on industrial wind energy siting and development.

Because there is no regulation, these huge structures can be built along avian flyways, contrary to your assertion they will not be. Appalachian ridgetops are now a prime development target, despite the fact that this mountain chain is a major migration corridor for birds and bats. The deadliest bird and bat kills ever found at a wind energy complex are now taking place at one of the largest windplants in the East—in West Virginia.

And your notion that wind energy is not heavily subsidized is a myth, for wind energy is currently the most heavily subsidized source of electricity on a kilowatt-hour basis. Those guys from ENRON still know how to pick taxpayers' pockets!

It's discouraging your fine sensibility succumbed to a bill of goods after only two sessions at a corporate windpower conference. One of the many rhetorical dislocations about the windpower issue involves perversions of scientific procedure. Yes, windtowers themselves are made from high-tech metals with advanced engineering principles to optimize wind potential. Moreover, the windpower industry uses sophisticated sensing devices to identify the best locations for wind. But at the same time, it applies back-assward (and self-serving) "scientific" methods for siting its turbines, the most egregious of which involves secret "post-construction studies" monitored by its own employees to determine adverse effects. Suffused with the trappings of science, the industry has worked hard to seduce a scientifically illiterate public into believing the technology is wholly benign. And those with genuine environmental bona fides who express concern, such as Chandler Robbins and Robert Kennedy, Jr., are characterized as obstructionists or worse. The whole enterprise seems bizarre.

Yet it is compatible with the political/economic/corporate daffiness which defines much of our contemporary public discourse. Your indisciplined acceptance of the claims of this industry compounds the problem. Perhaps because you know the dangers of continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels, you have in desperation rushed to judgment about a "cleaner" alternate energy source. But such wishful thinking is not an adequate substitute for wisdom.

Windpower in the scheme of things will always be an intrusive sideshow technology. Perhaps tax credit incentives for it should be tied to reductions in fossil fuel plants. If that were the case—and the industry was regulated to ensure responsible siting in ways that protected wildlife and important heritage views—I could support the industry's experimentation. However, corporate windpower fastidiously resists any regulatory control. And the sad reality is, even if windpower generated ten or even twenty percent of our nation's electricity supply over the next twenty years—requiring 200,000-400,000 sky-scraper sized turbines—not one coal-burning electrical plant would close.

Molly, there are no magic bullets here, alas. The only humane short-range solution to the problem of global warming must combine effective conservation efforts with much higher efficiency standards—heavy lifting indeed for the most wasteful culture in the history of the planet.

Jon Boone, Oakland, MD

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