[permaculture] Wind Power Is Energy for Optimists

Saor Stetler saor at ycbtal.net
Sun Sep 10 17:37:12 EDT 2006


    Wind Power Is Energy for Optimists


          By Charles Komanoff, Orion Magazine
          Posted on September 9, 2006, Printed on September 10, 2006
          http://www.alternet.org/story/41426/

It was a place I had often visited in memory but feared might no longer 
exist. Orange slabs of calcified sandstone teetered overhead, while 
before me, purple buttes and burnt mesas stretched over the desert 
floor. In the distance I could make out southeast Utah's three 
snowcapped ranges -- the Henrys, the Abajos, and, eighty miles to the 
east, the La Sals, shimmering into the blue horizon.

No cars, no roads, no buildings. Two crows floating on the late-winter 
thermals. Otherwise, stillness.

Abbey's country. But my country, too. Almost forty years after Desert 
Solitaire, 35 since I first came to love this Colorado River plateau, I 
was back with my two sons, eleven and eight. We had spent four 
sun-filled days clambering across slickrock in Arches National Park and 
crawling through the slot canyons of the San Rafael Reef. Now, perched 
on a precipice above Goblin Valley, stoked on endorphins and elated by 
the beauty before me, I had what might seem a strange, irrelevant 
thought: I didn't want windmills here.

Reprint Notice:
This article appears in the September-October 2006 issue of Orion 
magazine, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, 888/909-6568, 
($35/year for 6 issues). A free copy of the magazine can be obtained 
through Orion's website at oriononline.org <http://www.oriononline.org>.

Not that any windmills are planned for this Connecticut-sized expanse -- 
the winds are too fickle. But wind energy is never far from my mind 
these days. As Earth's climate begins to warp under the accumulating 
effluent from fossil fuels, the increasing viability of commercial-scale 
wind power is one of the few encouraging developments.

Encouraging to me, at least. As it turns out, there is much disagreement 
over where big windmills belong, and whether they belong at all.

Fighting fossil fuels and machines powered by them, has been my life's 
work. In 1971, shortly after getting my first taste of canyon country, I 
took a job crunching numbers for what was then a landmark exposé of U.S. 
power plant pollution, The Price of Power. The subject matter was drier 
than dust -- emissions data, reams of it, printed out on endless strips 
of paper by a mainframe computer. Dull stuff, but nightmarish visions of 
coal-fired smokestacks smudging the crystal skies of the Four Corners 
kept me working 'round the clock, month after month.

A decade later, as a New York City bicycle commuter fed up with the 
oil-fueled mayhem on the streets, I began working with the local bicycle 
advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, and we soon made our city a 
hotbed of urban American anti-car activism. The '90s and now the '00s 
have brought other battles -- "greening" Manhattan tenement buildings 
through energy efficiency and documenting the infernal "noise costs" of 
Jet Skis, to name two -- but I'm still fighting the same fight.

Why? Partly it's knowing the damage caused by the mining and burning of 
fossil fuels. And there's also the sheer awfulness of machines gone 
wild, their groaning, stinking combustion engines invading every corner 
of life. But now the stakes are immeasurably higher. As an energy 
analyst, I can tell you that the science on global warming is 
terrifyingly clear: to have even a shot at fending off climate 
catastrophe, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fuel 
burning by at least 50 percent within the next few decades. If poor 
countries are to have any room to develop, the United States, the 
biggest emitter by far, needs to cut back by 75 percent.

Although automobiles, with their appetite for petroleum, may seem like 
the main culprit, the number one climate change agent in the U.S. is 
actually electricity. The most recent inventory of U.S. greenhouse gases 
found that power generation was responsible for a whopping 38 percent of 
carbon dioxide emissions. Yet the electricity sector may also be the 
least complicated to make carbon free. Approximately three-fourths of 
U.S. electricity is generated by burning coal, oil, or natural gas. 
Accordingly, switching that same portion of U.S. electricity generation 
to nonpolluting sources such as wind turbines, while simultaneously 
ensuring that our ever-expanding arrays of lights, computers, and 
appliances are increasingly energy efficient, would eliminate 38 percent 
of the country's CO2 emissions and bring us halfway to the goal of 
cutting emissions by 75 percent.

To achieve that power switch entirely through wind power, I calculate, 
would require 400,000 windmills rated at 2.5 megawatts each. To be sure, 
this is a hypothetical figure, since it ignores such real-world issues 
as limits on power transmission and the intermittency of wind, but it's 
a useful benchmark just the same.

What would that entail?

To begin, I want to be clear that the turbines I'm talking about are 
huge, with blades up to 165 feet long mounted on towers rising several 
hundred feet. Household wind machines like the 100-foot-high Bergey 
10-kilowatt BWC Excel with 11-foot blades, the mainstay of the 
residential and small business wind turbine market, may embody 
democratic self-reliance and other "small is beautiful" virtues, but we 
can't look to them to make a real dent in the big energy picture. What 
dictates the supersizing of windmills are two basic laws of wind 
physics: a wind turbine's energy potential is proportional to the square 
of the length of the blades, and to the cube of the speed at which the 
blades spin. I'll spare you the math, but the difference in blade 
lengths, the greater wind speeds higher off the ground, and the 
sophisticated controls available on industrial-scale turbines all add up 
to a market-clinching five-hundred-fold advantage in electricity output 
for a giant General Electric or Vestas wind machine.

How much land do the industrial turbines require? The answer turns on 
what "require" means. An industry rule of thumb is that to maintain 
adequate exposure to the wind, each big turbine needs space around it of 
about 60 acres. Since 640 acres make a square mile, those 400,000 
turbines would need 37,500 square miles, or roughly all the land in 
Indiana or Maine.

On the other hand, the land actually occupied by the turbines -- their 
"footprint" -- would be far, far smaller. For example, each 3.6-megawatt 
Cape Wind turbine proposed for Nantucket Sound will rest on a platform 
roughly 22 feet in diameter, implying a surface area of 380 square feet 
-- the size of a typical one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Scaling 
that up by 400,000 suggests that just six square miles of land -- less 
than the area of a single big Wyoming strip mine -- could house the 
bases for all of the windmills needed to banish coal, oil, and gas from 
the U.S. electricity sector.

Of course, erecting and maintaining wind turbines can also necessitate 
clearing land: ridgeline installations often require a fair amount of 
deforestation, and then there's the associated clearing for access 
roads, maintenance facilities, and the like. But there are also now a 
great many turbines situated on farmland, where the fields around their 
bases are still actively farmed.

Depending, then, on both the particular terrain and how the question is 
understood, the land area said to be needed for wind power can vary 
across almost four orders of magnitude. Similar divergences of opinion 
are heard about every other aspect of wind power, too. Big wind farms 
kill thousands of birds and bats...or hardly any, in comparison to avian 
mortality from other tall structures such as skyscrapers. Industrial 
wind machines are soft as a whisper from a thousand feet away, and even 
up close their sound level would rate as "quiet" on standard noise 
charts...or they can sound like "a grinding noise" or "the shrieking 
sound of a wild animal," according to one unhappy neighbor of an upstate 
New York wind farm. Wind power developers are skimming millions via 
subsidies, state-mandated quotas, and "green power" scams... or are 
boldly risking their own capital to strike a blow for clean energy 
against the fossil fuel Goliath.

Some of the bad press is warranted. The first giant wind farm, 
comprising six thousand small, fast-spinning turbines placed directly in 
northern California's principal raptor flyway, Altamont Pass, in the 
early 1980s rightly inspired the epithet "Cuisinarts for birds." The 
longer blades on newer turbines rotate more slowly and thus kill far 
fewer birds, but bat kills are being reported at wind farms in the 
Appalachian Mountains; as many as two thousand bats were hacked to death 
at one forty-four-turbine installation in West Virginia. And as with any 
machine, some of the nearly ten thousand industrial-grade windmills now 
operating in the U.S. may groan or shriek when something goes wrong. 
Moreover, wind power does benefit from a handsome federal subsidy; 
indeed, uncertainty over renewal of the "production tax credit" worth 
1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour nearly brought wind power development to a 
standstill a few years ago.

At the same time, however, there is an apocalyptic quality to much 
anti-wind advocacy that seems wildly disproportionate to the actual 
harm, particularly in the overall context of not just other sources of 
energy but modern industry in general. New York State opponents of wind 
farms call their website "Save Upstate New York," as if ecological or 
other damage from wind turbines might administer the coup de grâce to 
the state's rural provinces that decades of industrialization and 
pollution, followed by outsourcing, have not. In neighboring 
Massachusetts, a group called Green Berkshires argues that wind 
turbines" are enormously destructive to the environment," but does not 
perform the obvious comparison to the destructiveness of fossil 
fuel-based power. Although the intensely controversial Cape Wind project 
"poses an imminent threat to navigation and raises many serious maritime 
safety issues," according to the anti-wind Alliance to Protect Nantucket 
Sound, the alliance was strangely silent when an oil barge bound for the 
region's electric power plant spilled ninety-eight thousand gallons of 
its deadly, gluey cargo into Buzzards Bay three years ago.

Of course rhetoric is standard fare in advocacy, particularly the 
environmental variety with its salvationist mentality -- 
environmentalists always like to feel they are "saving" this valley or 
that species. It all comes down to a question of what we're saving, and 
for whom. You can spend hours sifting through the anti-wind websites and 
find no mention at all of the climate crisis, let alone wind power's 
potential to help avert it.

IN FACT, many wind power opponents deny that wind power displaces much, 
if any, fossil fuel burning. Green Berkshires insists, for example, that 
"global warming [and] dependence on fossil fuels ... will not be 
ameliorated one whit by the construction of these turbines on our 
mountains."

This notion is mistaken. It is true that since wind is variable, 
individual wind turbines can't be counted on to produce on demand, so 
the power grid can't necessarily retire fossil fuel generators at the 
same rate as it takes on windmills. The coal- and oil-fired generators 
will still need to be there, waiting for a windless day. But when the 
wind blows, those generators can spin down. That's how the grid works: 
it allocates electrons. Supply more electrons from one source, and other 
sources can supply fewer. And since system operators program the grid to 
draw from the lowest-cost generators first, and wind power's "fuel," 
moving air, is free, wind-generated electrons are given priority. It 
follows that more electrons from wind power mean proportionately fewer 
from fossil fuel burning.

What about the need to keep a few power stations burning fuel so they 
can instantaneously ramp up and counterbalance fluctuations in wind 
energy output? The grid requires this ballast, known as spinning 
reserve, in any event both because demand is always changing and because 
power plants of any type are subject to unforeseen breakdowns. The 
additional variability due to wind generation is slight -- wind speeds 
don't suddenly drop from strong to calm, at least not for every turbine 
in a wind farm and certainly not for every wind farm on the grid. The 
clear verdict of the engineers responsible for grid reliability -- a 
most conservative lot -- is that the current level of wind power 
development will not require additional spinning reserve, while even 
much larger supplies of wind-generated electricity could be accommodated 
through a combination of energy storage technologies and improved models 
for predicting wind speeds.

With very few exceptions, then, wind output can be counted on to 
displace fossil fuel burning one for one. No less than other 
nonpolluting technologies like bicycles or photovoltaic solar cells, 
wind power is truly an anti-fossil fuel.

I made my first wind farm visit in the fall of 2005. I had seen big 
windmills up close in Denmark, and I had driven through the big San 
Gorgonio wind farm that straddles Highway I-10 near Palm Springs, 
California. But this trip last November had a mission. After years of 
hearing industrial wind turbines in the northeastern United States 
characterized as either monstrosities or crowns of creation, I wanted to 
see for myself how they sat on the land. I also wanted to measure the 
noise from the turning blades, so I brought the professional noise meter 
I had used in my campaign against Jet Skis.

Madison County occupies the broad middle of New York State, with the 
Catskill Mountains to the south, Lake Ontario to the northwest, and the 
Adirondacks to the northeast. Its rolling farms sustain seventy thousand 
residents and, since 2001, two wind farms, the 20-windmill Fenner 
Windpower Project in the western part of the county and the 
seven-windmill Madison Windpower Project twenty miles east.

At the time of my visit Fenner was the state's largest wind farm, 
although that distinction has since passed to the 120-windmill Maple 
Ridge installation in the Tug Hill region farther north. It was windy 
that day, though not unusually so, according to the locals. All 
twenty-seven turbines were spinning, presumably at their full 
1.5-megawatt ratings. For me the sight of the turning blades was deeply 
pleasing. The windmills, sleek, white structures more than three hundred 
feet tall sprinkled across farmland, struck me as graceful and 
marvelously useful. I thought of a story in the New York Times about a 
proposed wind farm near Cooperstown, New York, in which a retiree said 
that seeing giant windmills near your house "would be like driving 
through oil derricks to get to your front door." To my eye, the Fenner 
turbines were anti-derricks, oil rigs running in reverse.

For every hour it was in full use, each windmill was keeping a couple of 
barrels of oil, or an entire half-ton of coal, in the ground. Of course 
wind turbines don't generate full power all the time because the wind 
doesn't blow at a constant speed. The Madison County turbines have an 
average "capacity factor," or annual output rate, of 34 percent, meaning 
that over the course of a year they generate about a third of the 
electricity they would produce if they always ran at full capacity. But 
that still means an average three thousand hours a year of full output 
for each turbine. Multiply those hours by the twenty-seven turbines at 
Fenner and Madison, and a good 200,000 barrels of oil or 50,000 tons of 
coal were being kept underground by the two wind farms each year -- 
enough to cover an entire sixty-acre farm with a six-inch-thick oil 
slick or pile of coal.

The windmills, spinning easily at fifteen revolutions per minute -- 
that's one leisurely revolution every four seconds -- were clean and 
elegant in a way that no oil derrick or coal dragline could ever be. The 
nonlinear arrangement of the Fenner turbines situated them comfortably 
among the traditional farmhouses, paths, and roads, while at Madison, a 
grassy hillside site, the windmills were more prominent but still 
unaggressive. Unlike a ski run, say, or a power line cutting through the 
countryside, the windmills didn't seem like a violation of the 
landscape. The turning vanes called to mind a natural force -- the wind 
-- in a way that a cell phone or microwave tower, for example, most 
certainly does not.

They were also relatively quiet. My sound readings, taken at distances 
ranging from one hundred to two thousand feet from the tower base, 
topped out at 64 decibels and went as low as 45 -- the approximate noise 
range given for a small-town residential cul-de-sac on standard noise 
charts. It's fair to say that the wind turbines in Madison County aren't 
terribly noisy even from up close and are barely audible from a thousand 
feet or more away. The predominant sound was a low, not unpleasant hum, 
or hvoohmm, like a distant seashore, but perhaps a bit thicker.

Thinking back on that November day, I've come to realize that a 
windmill, like any large structure, is a signifier. Cell-phone towers 
signify the intrusion of quotidian life -- the reminder to stop off at 
the 7-Eleven, the unfinished business at the office. The windmills I saw 
in upstate New York signified, for me, not just displacement of 
destructive fossil fuels, but acceptance of the conditions of inhabiting 
the Earth. They signified, in the words of environmental lawyer and MIT 
research affiliate William Shutkin, "the capacity of environmentalists 
-- of citizens -- to match their public positions with the private 
choices necessary to move toward a more environmentally and economically 
sustainable way of life."

THE NOTION OF CHOICES points to another criticism of wind turbines: the 
argument that the energy they might make could be saved instead through 
energy-efficiency measures. The Adirondack Council, for example, in a 
statement opposing the 10-windmill Barton Mines project on a former 
mountaintop mine site writes, "If the Barton project is approved, we 
will gain 27 to 30 megawatts of new, clean power generation. Ironically, 
we could save more than 30 megawatts of power in the Adirondack Park 
through simple, proven conservation methods in homes and businesses."

The council's statement is correct, of course. Kilowatts galore could be 
conserved in any American city or town by swapping out incandescent 
light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents, replacing inefficient 
kitchen appliances, and extinguishing "vampire" loads by plugging 
watt-sucking electronic devices into on-off power strips. If this notion 
sounds familiar, it's because it has been raised in virtually every 
power plant dispute since the 1970s. But the ground has shifted, now 
that we have such overwhelming proof that we're standing on the 
threshold of catastrophic climate change.

Those power plant debates of yore weren't about fuels and certainly not 
about global warming, but about whether to top off the grid with new 
megawatts of supply or with "negawatts" -- watts that could be saved 
through conservation. It took decades of struggle by legions of citizen 
advocates and hundreds of experts (I was one) to embed the negawatt 
paradigm in U.S. utility planning. But while we were accomplishing that, 
inexorably rising fossil fuel use here and around the world was 
overwhelming Earth's "carbon sinks," causing carbon dioxide to 
accumulate in the atmosphere at an accelerating rate, contributing to 
disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Europe's 2003 heat wave, and 
promising biblical-scale horrors such as a waning Gulf Stream and 
disappearing polar icepacks.

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.

Part of the problem with wind power, I suspect, is that it's hard to 
weigh the effects of any one wind farm against the greater problem of 
climate change. It's much easier to comprehend the immediate impact of 
wind farm development than the less tangible losses from a warming 
Earth. And so the sacrifice is difficult, and it becomes progressively 
harder as rising affluence brings ever more profligate uses of energy.

Picture this: Swallowing hard, with deep regret for the change in a 
beloved landscape formerly unmarked in any obvious way by humankind, 
you've just cast the deciding affirmative vote to permit a wind farm on 
the hills outside your town. On the way home you see a new Hummer in 
your neighbor's driveway. How do you not feel like a self-sacrificing 
sucker?

Intruding the unmistakable human hand on any landscape for wind power 
is, of course, a loss in local terms, and no small one, particularly if 
the site is a verdant ridgeline. Uplands are not just visible markers of 
place but fragile environments, and the inevitable access roads for 
erecting and serving the turbines can be damaging ecologically as well 
as symbolically. In contrast, few if any benefits of the wind farm will 
be felt by you in a tangible way. If the thousands of tons of coal a 
year that your wind farm will replace were being mined now, a mile from 
your house, it might be a little easier to take. Unfortunately, our 
society rarely works that way. The bread you cast upon the waters with 
your vote will not come back to you in any obvious way -- it will be 
eaten in Wyoming, or Appalachia. And you may just have to mutter an oath 
about the Hummer and use your moral imagination to console yourself 
about the ridge.

But what if the big push for wind power simply "provides more energy for 
people to waste?" as Carl Safina, an oceanographer who objects to the 
Cape Wind project, asked me recently. Safina is unusual among Cape Wind 
opponents, not just because he is a MacArthur Fellow and prize-winning 
author (Song for the Blue Ocean, Voyage of the Turtle), but because he 
is completely honest about the fact that his objections are essentially 
aesthetic.

"I believe the aesthetics of having a national seashore with a natural 
view of the blue curve of the planet are very important," he wrote in an 
e-mail from coastal Long Island, where he lives. "I think turbines and 
other structures should be sited in places not famed for natural beauty" 
-- a statement that echoed my feelings about Utah's Goblin Valley.

"Six miles is a very short distance over open water," Safina continued, 
referring to the span from the public beach at Craigville on Cape Cod to 
the closest proposed turbine, "and a group of anything several hundred 
feet high would completely dominate the view." While the prominence of 
the turbines when seen from the shore is open to debate (the height of a 
Cape Wind tower from six miles would be just two-thirds of one degree, 
not quite half the width of your finger held at arm's length), there is 
no question that the wind turbines would, in his words, "put an end to 
the opportunity for people to experience an original view of a piece of 
the natural world in one of America's most famously lovely coastal regions."

Yet for all his fierce attachment to that view, Safina says he might 
give it up if doing so made a difference. "If there was a national 
energy strategy that would make the U.S. carbon neutral in fifty years," 
he wrote, "and if Cape Wind was integral and significant, that might be 
a worthwhile sacrifice." But the reality, as Safina described in words 
that could well have been mine, is that "Americans insist on wasting 
energy and needing more. We will affect the natural view of a famously 
beautiful piece of America's ocean and still not develop a plan to 
conserve energy."

Safina represents my position and, I imagine, that of others on both 
sides of the wind controversy when he pleads for federal action that 
could justify local sacrifice for the greater good. If Congress enacted 
an energy policy that harnessed the spectrum of cost-effective energy 
efficiency together with renewable energy, thereby ensuring that fossil 
fuel use shrank starting today, a windmill's contribution to climate 
protection might actually register, providing psychic reparation for an 
altered viewshed. And if carbon fuels were taxed for their damage to the 
climate, wind power's profit margins would widen, and surrounding 
communities could extract bigger tax revenues from wind farms. Then some 
of that bread upon the waters would indeed come back -- in the form of a 
new high school, or land acquired for a nature preserve.

I It's very human to ask, "Why me? Why my ridgeline, my seascape, my 
viewshed?" These questions have been difficult to answer; there has been 
no framework -- local or national -- to guide wind farm siting by 
ranking potential wind power locales for their ecological and community 
suitability. That's a gap that the Appalachian Mountain Club is trying 
to bridge, using its home state of Massachusetts as a model.

According to AMC research director Kenneth Kimball, who heads the 
project, Massachusetts has ninety-six linear miles of "Class 4" 
ridgelines, where wind speeds average fourteen miles per hour or more, 
the threshold for profitability with current technology. Assuming each 
mile can support seven to nine large turbines of roughly two megawatts 
each, the state's uplands could theoretically host 1,500 megawatts of 
wind power. (Coastal areas such as Nantucket Sound weren't included in 
the survey.)

Kimball's team sorted all ninety-six miles into four classes of 
governance -- Appalachian Trail corridor or similar lands where 
development is prohibited; other federal or state conservation lands; 
Massachusetts open space lands; and private holdings. They then overlaid 
these with ratings denoting conflicts with recreational, scenic, and 
ecological values. The resulting matrix suggests the following rankings 
of wind power suitability:

   1. Unsuitable -- lands where development is prohibited (Appalachian
      Trail corridors, for example) or "high conflict" areas: 24 miles
      (25 percent).

   2. Less than ideal -- federal or state conservation lands rated
      "medium conflict": 21 miles (22 percent).

   3. Conditionally favorable -- Conservation or open space lands rated
      "low conflict," or open space or private lands rated "medium
      conflict": 27 miles (28 percent).

   4. Most favorable Unrestricted private land and "low conflict" areas:
      24 miles (25 percent).

            Category 4 lands are obvious places to look to for wind farm
            development. Category 3 lands could also be considered, says
            the AMC, if wind farms were found to improve regional air
            quality, were developed under a state plan rather than
            piecemeal, and were bonded to assure eventual
            decommissioning. If these conditions were met, then
            categories 3 and 4, comprising approximately fifty miles of
            Massachusetts ridgelines, could host four hundred wind
            turbines capable of supplying nearly 4 percent of the
            state's annual electricity -- without grossly endangering
            wildlife or threatening scenic, recreational, or ecological
            values (e.g., critical habitat, roadless areas, rare
            species, old growth, steep slopes).

            Whether that 4 percent is a little or a lot depends on where
            you stand and, equally, on where we stand as a society. You
            could call the four hundred turbines mere tokenism against
            our fuel-besotted way of life, and considering them in
            isolation, you'd be right. But you could also say this: Go
            ahead and halve the state's power usage, as could be done
            even with present-day technology, and "nearly 4 percent"
            doubles to 7-8 percent. Add the Cape Wind project and other
            offshore wind farms that might follow, and wind power's
            statewide share might reach 20 percent, the level in Denmark.

            Moreover, the windier and emptier Great Plains states could
            reach 100 percent wind power or higher, even with a
            suitability framework like the AMC's, thereby becoming net
            exporters of clean energy. But even at 20 percent,
            Massachusetts would be doing its part to displace that 75
            percent of U.S. electricity generated by fossil fuels. If
            you spread the turbines needed to achieve that goal across
            all fifty states, you'd be looking to produce roughly eight
            hundred megawatt-hours of wind output per square mile --
            just about what Massachusetts would be generating in the
            above scenario. And the rest of New England and New York
            could do the same, affording these "blue" states a voice in
            nudging the rest of the country greenward.

            So goes my notion, anyway. You could call it wind farms as
            signifiers, with their value transcending energy-share
            percentages to reach the realm of symbols and images. That
            is where we who love nature and obsess about the environment
            have lost the high ground, and where Homo americanus has
            been acting out his (and her) disastrous desires -- opting
            for the "manly" SUV over the prim Prius, the macho powerboat
            over the meandering canoe, the stylish halogen lamp over the
            dorky compact fluorescent.

            Throughout his illustrious career, wilderness champion David
            Brower called upon Americans "to determine that an
            untrammeled wildness shall remain here to testify that this
            generation had love for the next." Now that all wild things
            and all places are threatened by global warming, that task
            is more complex.

            Could a windmill's ability to "derive maximum benefit out of
            the site-specific gift nature is providing -- wind and open
            space," in the words of aesthetician Yuriko Saito, help
            Americans bridge the divide between pristine landscapes and
            sustainable ones? Could windmills help Americans subscribe
            to the "higher order of beauty" that environmental educator
            David Orr defines as something that "causes no ugliness
            somewhere else or at some later time"? Could acceptance of
            wind farms be our generation's way of avowing our love for
            the next?

            I believe so. Or want to.

            Charles Komanoff <http://www.komanoff.net>, an economic
            policy analyst and environmental activist, is the author of
            Power Plant Cost Escalation. He lives in New York City and
            advocates for energy efficiency, bicycle transportation, and
            urban revitalization.


                      © 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights
                      reserved.
                      View this story online at:
                      http://www.alternet.org/story/41426/




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