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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


"Not only are we sacrificing the beauty of our landscape, but our wildlife as well. As you are aware, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern about the suitability of the Allegheny Front for wind farms due to its use by migratory birds and raptors as well as bats." High wildlife mortalities recently recorded at a recent wind installation in West Virginia "underscore the fact that this area has serious drawbacks as a suitable site for wind farms."

—Rep. Alan Mollahan, West Virginia, in a January 21, 2004 letter to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

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Today's Challenge for Responsible Wind Citizenship

Without the promise of risk-free profit made possible with government subvention, wind developers and their investors would likely wither away. The temptation for profit without restraint is overwhelming. At the same time, many of the negative effects of irresponsible windplant implementation are now far removed from the everyday lives and experiences of wind investors—and the politicians who encourage them. And the understandable desire to reduce the toxins caused by reliance on fossil fuel combustion pushes otherwise sensible people to support windpower initiatives at any cost, without any rigorous investigation about potential negative consequences.

Given substantial government-induced subsidies for the windpower industry, and probable increases for rate payers that will benefit a relatively few investors who seek tax avoidance opportunities at the expense of average tax and rate payers; given the relatively small amounts of electricity (meaningless, really in the larger effort to reduce the effects of global warming) that will be produced; given the various nuisances likely to be generated in the vicinity of the facility; given the violation that will occur to historic scenic; and given the likely adverse impacts on wildlife, there are few initiatives more worthy of the sobriquet "irresponsible development." The history of environmentalism chronicles the effort to restrain corporate excess and mitigate the unintended consequences of uninformed decisions wrought by wishful thinking. The public and its political representatives should take the time to learn about the wind industry in this context, for if something seems too good to be true (as was the case for another green renewable, hydroelectric dams), it almost always is.

Perhaps there are laws and regulatory measures which would severely penalize wind developers for making promotional claims they did not deliver once their facility was built. But there don't appear to be any such proscriptions. No negative consequences seem to attach to the industry for making a cascade of promises that unlikely will be fulfilled, such as providing significant new jobs and local revenues while contributing to US energy independence; such as improving air quality by reducing current levels of fossil fuel combustion; such as causing no nuisances and actually enhancing nearby property values. What, for example, would the penalty be in most jurisdictions if the wind developer's promises about the amount of local taxes a community would receive failed to materialize because of an arcane legal tax offset known only to skilled accountants? Or, what is the sanction against the ridiculous claim that scores of thousands of homes can be "powered" by an unreliable energy source that at best provides only a fluctuating amount of energy, averaging only about 30% of rated capacity?

Wind companies are well aware of the problems their technology creates; many wind energy developers have tacitly acknowledged these problems by including various exculpatory "nuisance" easements in "confidential" turbine leases. People who may experience problems because of the windplant, including adjacent owners whose property may be degraded and devalued, will have to seek a remedy in the courts—at their time and expense. The public should insist that regulatory agencies and political leadership do everything possible to avoid this circumstance—or be held accountable.

Unless Congress and the relevant regulatory agencies work in concert to restructure financial incentives for the wind industry—emphasizing an optimal fit with the environment rather than maximizing profits, the public interest will not be served. Responsible wind citizenship means that those who lead and support the industry would seek, among other things:

  • Appropriate siting criteria, environmental review, natural resource oversight, and full public participation at every level, especially at the beginning of the process. Such a review would investigate thoroughly little understand problems related to such phenomena as electrical discharge through the ground.
  • Development that steers away from little-disturbed natural areas like contiguous forested ridgetops and toward settled areas such as farm fields and strip mines, with substantial set-back requirements to avoid inflicting noise and strobing effects on residents.
  • Site planning that does not intrude upon historical natural views or disturb nearby residents.
  • Federal and state tax incentives for wind that are indexed to actual reductions in the mining and combustion of fossil fuels
Above all, none should continue to drink from the well of wishful thinking.


Epilog

Our society has much the same dependence upon power from fossil fuel combustion as a three pack a day Marlboro smoker has with nicotine. Although each gets a "lift" from the experience, the mounting evidence for both demonstrates dire health and quality of life risks resulting from the behavior. Industrial windplants, in their current incarnation, are to the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels as the smoker who seeks to mitigate the dangers of smoking by switching to three daily packs of Marlboro Lites.

If the wind industry were fully deployed in the uplands of the eastern United States, with thousands of windplants over the best wind areas, coalplants will still be puffing away despite all the gigantic wind turbines permeating the landscape and killing wildlife, destroying culturally significant viewsheds, devaluing nearby property, while creating major nuisances for proximate neighbors. And, because of the region's relentlessly increasing demand for electricity, likely resulting in the combustion of ever larger amounts of fossil fuels, the air quality will likely deteriorate, people would be getting sicker as a result—while paying more in rates and taxes. I submit this is not enlightened public policy.

The only humane short-range solution to the problems of global warming and air quality must combine effective conservation efforts with much higher efficiency standards—heavy lifting indeed for the most wasteful culture in the history of the planet. The wind industry, as it targets huge powerplants along the uplands of our region, is a placebo solution to these problems, distracting from the necessary level of discourse—and political action—for achieving genuinely functional responses.

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