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When Wind Power is a Bad Idea When Wind Power is a Bad Idea

When Wind Power is a Bad Idea

by Ben Jervey
October 7, 2010

The following New York Times article and video focus on residents of the remote island of Vinalhaven, Maine, who are unhappy with the noise of their new wind turbines. A normally progressive community finds itself divided over alternative energy.

I'm generally pretty critical of NIMBYism, as I was with Cape Wind, the controversial offshore wind project off of Cape Cod that was finally approved after 9 years of debate earlier this year. In that case, I think the complaints are overblown and the project could be a big stepping stone for large-scale offshore wind development. And I generally feel that we need to bring online as much carbon-free energy as quickly as possible.

But plopping clean energy in any form indiscriminately in neighborhoods across the country doesn't make a heck of a lot sense either. There's no better way to slow the development of clean energy than to turn some of it's best potential supporters against it. And with every mainstream media story like this one, wind power seems like a sillier idea to the average American. I mean, look at this headline: "For Those Near, The Miserable Hum of Clean Energy." 

So what's the difference between this sort of NIMBY and Cape Wind sort of NIMBY? Well, first of all, the Vinalhaven turbines weren't even powering the entire island of about 1,200 people. Cape Wind will power 20 percent of Massachusetts. The Vinalhaven turbines are on the island, less than half a mile from the nearest home. I've actually seen the Vinalhaven turbines in person, and was pretty shocked by how they dominate the quaint island landscape. The Cape Wind turbines will appear to residents on Nantucket the height of a thimble at arm's length. In fact, Maine offshore wind advocates are learning from Cape Wind and proposing massive turbine farms over 20 miles offshore, beyond the horizon line.

Now I'm certainly not saying that a wind turbine in a middle class community is the same thing in terms of NIMBY legitimacy as a coal ash slurry in impoverished Appalachia or an oil refinery in a poor urban community. But I wouldn't argue for sticking a 123-foot diameter wind turbine next to an elementary school in Sundial, West Virginia or in Los Angeles either.

To my mind, only rooftop solar, geothermal, and possibly small-scale biomass facilities make sense as clean, renewable energy sources in actual residential areas. (I'm talking only about sourcing energy—obviously, as I've said a hundred times and will say a hundred more, retrofitting American homes is urgent and essential.) Maybe small-scale wind or micro-hydro could prove themselves, but let's see that work first.

So, let's stop trying to cram massive turbines in places where they're only going to annoy people. There's plenty of space where they'll only annoy the few that really make the decision to be annoyed by them.

If you want to be even more frustrated by this story, read the overwhelming enthusiastic reaction of the community in this piece filed upon installation of the turbines.

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