North Carolina Senate Bans Mountaintop Wind Turbines


Photo via Blencartha

When news first broke that North Carolina was considering banning wind turbines from being installed on mountains--on the grounds that they were too ugly--it generated some lively debate. But now, it appears the debate is over and the state senate has voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ban (a stunning 42 to1). And thus, large wind turbines will be left out cold--along with two thirds of the state's potential wind power capacity.From Green Inc:

The 42-1 vote on Thursday represents the strongest stand against wind turbines taken by lawmakers in any state. The bill would amend a 1983 "ridge law" to allow only turbines that are 100 feet or smaller to be placed on ridgelines above 3,000 feet. This effectively bars industrial-sized turbines — which can reach several hundred feet in height — from the windy mountaintops.
Now, the bill still has to head to the state House of Reps, but it's not looking good for the future of mountaintop wind turbines in North Carolina. And though we're only talking about one state, this vote could have a large influence on renewable energy policy nationwide. It's the first time a state government has voted to ban wind turbines--doing so not because of ecological concerns, or because of questions of the technology's value, but because of the appearance of the structures themselves.

According to Green Inc:

The potential blanket ban on big turbines "is very much an issue about do people want to look at wind turbines in the mountains of North Carolina," Mr. Urlaub said. "It's not about the state's commitment to renewable energy or lack of commitment." He acknowledged, however, that the vote "has had the effect of raising concerns about North Carolina's commitment to clean energy."
So it looks like this debate--originally mostly an amusing hypothetical 'will renewable energy powerhouses like solar plants and wind turbines mar our landscapes?'--has just gotten dead serious. If the ban passes the NC House of Reps, it will effectively prevent the state from realizing 2/3 of its potential capacity for wind power. Is it worth sacrificing vast clean energy potential to keep mountaintops wind turbine-free?

For the record, this is not a snidely framed 'well-of-course-it-is' hypothetical question--peoples' ability to be inspired by the beauty of nature is important, too, and worth protecting. But at what cost, the issue remains. We've got to weigh the specific value the turbines present (how much wattage could the turbines create? how many North Carolina coal plants could they replace?) against the value of keeping the ridges turbine-free (how many people hike in those mountains? how visible are the turbines, generally, and how unpleasant do hikers find them?), and I'm afraid the senators have not really done this--according to a report from a local paper, it seems like the ban passed due on more emotional-driven, reactionary grounds. I hope the House looks at the issue thoroughly before passing the ban.

Otherwise, if the ban catches the attention of other skeptical states, we may very well see renewable energy become a Not-In-My-Backyard issue with damaging effects to the developing clean energy economy.

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