Wind Turbines Generate Electricity and Controversy: a series on whats in the wind.
Opponents objections and concerns regarding wind turbines can be listed in eight distinct categories: Visual, Altering Vegetation,
Noise (part 1), Bird/Bat deaths (part 2), Intermittent Power (part 3), Fire, Ice and Pollutants (part 4). In this article, Wind Farm – Cons, Part 5 the discussion is Altering Vegetation and Visual Pollution.
Detractors of wind energy development are quite vocal about bird deaths, fire hazards, loss of sleep caused by wind noise, illness due to sub-aural vibrations and unreliability of generating power. The underlying and most often heard complaint about wind farms is that they are an eye sore. Wind turbines have been called ugly, monstrosities, behemoths. These people simply do not want to look them. They say they ruin the natural landscape.
Consider the opinion of Louise Gudas from Benton County, who wrote to her local paper the Pharos-Tribune in Logansport, Indianna, U.S. : “These turbine towers stretch from the east side of the county along Ind. 18 to the west side approximately 20 miles, with even more in the planning stages. Along U.S. 41, north of Boswell, is an area of rolling hills created by glaciers and once inhabited by prairie Native Americans. These hills will soon be covered with these grotesque towers; ruining the landscape that created a vision of what life was like on the prairie many years ago. Along these Benton County highways there were only telephone poles, barns, homes, and an occasional wooded area; thus allowing an unobstructed view of the horizon in all directions.”
The Daily Mail a British newspaper has long been grinding out stories that discredit wind farms with stories such as this Landmarks Blighted Forever where they show pictures of historic sites with a nearby turbine. Do wind turbines belong near ancient castles? Trying to reach renewable energy goals set by the government, Scotland’s beautiful countryside in the north is being impacted much more than other parts of the county. Alan Darbyshire who relies on tourism for an in income and owns a bed and breakfast inn near Inverness has this to say “I can well envisage someone of a future enlightened generation standing on a mountain top amid the rusting remains of windmills and the thousands of tons of decaying concrete of a long abandoned wind farm. They will wonder at the folly of their ancestors in squandering so much of the nation’s wealth on such an act of environmental vandalism for so little benefit.”
It is not only the hills and countryside of Scotland that are having scenic vistas impacted but the seaside views as well. In April of 2012 real estate tycoon Donald Trump confronted the Scottish Parliament and demanded that an off shore wind farm be stopped because it would spoil the view at his exclusive new ($1.2 billion) golf resort. “Scotland, if you pursue this policy of these monstrous turbines, Scotland will go broke. They are ugly, they are noisy and they are dangerous. If Scotland does this, Scotland will be in serious trouble and will lose tourism to places like Ireland, and they are laughing at us.” Trump said.
Scotland’s tourism agency said its own research shows 83 percent of UK visitors will not be turned off by turbines. “We are both reassured and encouraged by the findings of our survey which suggest that, at the current time, the overwhelming majority of consumers do not feel wind farms spoil the look of the countryside,” said VisitScotland chief Malcolm Roughead.
Other high profile controversy has also happened at the off shore Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the U.S. Year round and summer residents expressed concerns over the location of the project saying that the project will ruin scenic views from people’s private property as well as views from public property such as beaches and ruin popular areas for yachting. Commercial fisherman claimed the local fisheries would be ruined. Opponents have included some prominent individuals such as the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Governor Mitt Romney and businessman Ed Koch (who has donated $1.5 million to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound).
Proponents suggest that some of this opposition is motivated in part by private ownership of real-estate on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard and that it raises issues of environmental justice. Robert Kennedy, Jr., whose family owns the Kennedy Compound is within sight of the wind farm, wrote an essay for the New York Times stating his support for wind power in general, but opposing this project. This doesn’t represent the view of most Massachusetts citizens: in a 2005 survey, 81% of adults supported the project, 61% of Cape Cod residents supported it, and only 14% of adults oppose it.
Once again I ask the question: are wind farm opponents trying to pull a con with CONvoluted arguments of concern for birds, fire, noise ‘syndrome’, and degraded landscapes or is this another instance of Not In My Backyard – NIMBY?
In my opinion I think people are frightened and intimidated by these wind turbines. Do they appear as some Orwellian nightmare reminiscent of War of The Worlds, as if these machines were not built by man but deposited on the landscape by some alien beings? It is the shear scale of these slender towering forms unlike anything of familiarity or conscience memory that makes them seem so out of place. If a single skyscraper such as the Jin Mao Tower in Shaghai or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar were transplanted to a corn field in Iowa or a ridgeline in France they might appear equally as terrifying. As is often the case it is the unfamiliar and foreign that we fear and scorn.
Turbine towers are tall, with heights as much as two and three hundred feet so that they can reach the wind stream unobstructed. They are built in places known for prevailing winds and are most often in rural locations. They do impact the visual landscape but so do barns, fences, telephone poles, cellphone towers and railroad lines. I am an outdoorsman a lover of nature and the wild untrammeled places. I find no beauty in urban sprawl, concrete highways or the pylons for electric transmission that steadily increase and encroach on an environment once free of the works of man. I firmly believe that there are places that should be left in their natural state and should be protected but I am also a realist and understand that space and services are required for a growing population. It is not wind farms that are the greatest threat of visual pollution and altering vegetation but the exponential growth of the human population and modern society.
Wind turbines and wind farms are built to produce and provide electricity. There are some that argue these facilities are simply a way for these new energy producing companies to take advantage of current subsidies and reap profit. Make no mistake the product and service they deliver is electricity. Is there any group or individual out there that is vehemently opposed to electric power? Would they have us revert to water wheels for industry and candles for our homes? What would they say to a coal fired power plant next door or an atomic reactor?
Generating Electricity can be produced by several means such as wind generators, solar, hydro plants at large dams, atomic reactors and the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil or coal. All of the these methods have an inherent risk and impact the environment. The Exxon Valdez in Alaska, the BP Deep Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, unparalleled devastation at the Alberta Tar Sands, mountaintop removal in the Appalachian mountains, flooding at the Three Gorges Dam in China, water resource pollution at Pennsylvania fracking locations, Chernobyl in Russia and Fukashima in Japan are all familiar consequences associated with energy production but these are localized occurrences. On a global scale climate change caused by warming will affect every human, plant and animal on the planet unless energy production and in particular electric generation can be done without increasing greenhouse gases like CO2. Operational wind farms produce no CO2.
Altering Vegetation. Wind farms are constructed in locations that are known to have consistent wind conditions for efficient and steady operation. Predominantly these are open grasslands and plains, sometimes hillside ridgelines and increasingly off shore locations. Off shore sites pose challenges to anchoring and maintenance but have little effect on vegetation and have usually increased biodiversity in fish populations. Mountain top and ridgeline construction require removal of trees and shrubbery to allow enough room for service roads to be built. This in no way resembles clear cutting of forests for timber harvest operations or mountain top removal as done by coal extraction companies. Grassland, range and farm locations which are the most common can be reseeded and planted after construction and quickly recover to previous conditions.
The most significant potential impact of the environment is to the geology and soil, notably during the construction phase. The potential impact on soil includes surface sealing, soil compaction and soil erosion. Construction also requires opening tracks on often uneven terrain, involving substantial volumes of of excavated earth. Erosion control is another factor. Ground and surface water are highly worth protecting and during construction water loss and runoff risks must be considered where there are earthworks or steep slopes. Flora and fauna are most affected during the construction phase. Heavy machinery, earthworks and access roads cause damage to the environment. Workman and staff must be sensitized to avoid unnecessary destruction of flora and fauna. The environmental impact on the operational phase is potentially very low.
Visual Pollution. This is not about the ecosystem. This is not about habitat loss or clean air and available water. This is about perception. It’s an aesthetic issue. In the urban environment excessive billboards, junk yards, graffiti and litter are examples of what are considered to be visual pollution. In the wider context it refers to unattractive man-made elements that impair the ability to enjoy a view or vista of the landscape. There are people on both sides of the fence when discussing the wind farms. Studies have shown that reactions differ according to proximity. The further the turbines are in the distance the less objectionable are the reactions. Another factor to consider is that judgement is often passed on what the tower represents rather than anything to do with the line and shape of the objects. To some the mere sight of a wind turbine makes them uncomfortable and has political overtones or perceived threats to employment and income. Others have expressed a feeling of awe and hope that renewable energy sources will ensure a healthy sustainable future.
For myself, I relish the time I can spend in the wild places away from the constructs of man. I need the quiet of nature and the open spaces to recharge and rejuvenate my spirit. I still get frustrated when trying to photograph a scene that is dissected by thin black power lines but as for the wind farms and turbines I see only grace and beauty. Blades set in motion by the same breeze that cools my face, a breeze which is abundant and forever.
Should wind farms be allowed to be built where ever some corporation or land owner chooses? Certainly not. The sites should be chosen with study and wisdom with all due consideration for birds and flora and water and the earth itself. Will people and vistas be affected? Undoubtedly. There will have to be compromise. After all there are now seven billion people on the planet. I am sure that most of them would like to have the benefits of electricity that I enjoy. Seven billion people is the question to grapple with. Not all of them can say NIMBY.