Another Voice in the Wind Debate

While we're obviously big fans of wind power development, we certainly can't deny that, worldwide, the installation of wind turbines and farms has almost always led to fierce debates among those living close to these projects. Too often, many of us cast the opposing sides on these debates in the most extreme terms: radical environmentalists vs. self-centered NIMBYs. Author, activist and occasional Grist contributor Charles Komanoff wades into this heated debate in the October issue of Orion, and presents a rationale, nuanced argument for wind development while giving opponents their due. For each side, Komanoff argues, wind turbines are much more than technology for generating electricity: they're symbols that represent ideas ranging from sustainability and respect for natural limits to intrusions by faceless corporations and far-off populations bent on feeding their own greed and overindulgence. While noting his own desire to keep natural areas he loves pristine, Komanoff argues that wind power is an absolute necessity in the face of global climate change, and that both sides of the argument must respect the urgency of acting forcefully now:

The energy arena of old was local and incremental. The new one is global and all-out. With Earth's climate, and the world as we know and love it, now imperiled, topping off the regional grid pales in comparison to the task at hand. In the new, ineluctable struggle to rescue the climate from fossil fuels, efficiency and "renewables" (solar and biomass as well as wind) must all be pushed to the max. Those thirty negawatts that lie untapped in the kitchens and TV rooms of Adirondack houses are no longer an alternative to the Barton wind farm—they're another necessity.

In this new, desperate, last-chance world—and it is that, make no mistake—pleas like the Adirondack Council's, which once would have seemed reasonable, now sound a lot like fiddling while the Earth burns. The same goes for the urgings by opponents of Cape Wind and other pending wind farms to "find a more suitable site"; those other suitable wind farm sites (wherever they exist) need to be developed in addition to, not instead of, Nantucket Sound, or Barton Mines, or the Berkshires.

There was a time when the idea of placing immense turbines in any of these places would have filled me with horror. But now, what horrifies me more is the thought of keeping them windmill free.

Regardless of your position on wind development, read Komanoff's essay. Not only does he address every area of debate that springs up regarding wind power (land use, bird and bat kills, noise levels, etc.), but he manages to do something few of us have accomplished: look at the big picture with both objectivity and compassion. ::Orion via Gristmill