Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I Heart Windmills

Personally, I find the modern wind turbine to be a thing of great beauty. The graceful arc carved through the air by the giant blades paints a stunning mix of simplicity and modern technology. I always get excited when I see the big windmills in a field, cleanly producing electricity (although admittedly, not much of it). Coming from this aesthetic viewpoint, I find it very annoying when people who claim to be supportive of alternative energy production to complain about the “blight” on the landscape caused by wind installations. I can understand wanting pristine views, but people need to start accepting the fact that we might not have the opportunity to preserve all of these if we want to start producing energy some way besides burning fossil fuels. Complaints about property values, etc (particularly coming from those living in seaside mansions on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard) fall on unsympathetic ears (on mine, at least).

This arises in part because of an op-ed in today’s Washington Post by Anne Applebaum entitled “Tilting at Windmills” (which has to be one of the most overused literary references in journalism). Applebaum shares my love of windmills, and she recognizes that beyond the usual NIMBYism being applied here (Not In My Backyard), there’s also a good deal of BANANAism entering into the energy debate (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), where wind installations are being turned down because of the "environmental damage" they’ll cause…even when they’re being built next to a coal mine. Her final paragraph asks a good question:

Still, energy projects don't even have to be viable to spark opposition: Already, there are activists gearing up to fight the nascent biofuel industry, on the grounds that fields of switch grass or cornstalks needed to produce ethanol will replace rainforests and bucolic country landscapes. Soon the nonexistent "hydrogen economy" will doubtless be under attack as well. There's a lot of earnest, even bipartisan talk nowadays about the need for clean, emissions-free energy. But are we really ready, politically, to build any new energy sources at all?

Many people, including environmentalists, aren’t, it seems. But we need to start looking seriously at alternatives to fossil fuels, including nuclear. Granted, there are seriously hurdles to overcome with nuclear power (storage of the waste being the primary one), but the real-world alternative to nuclear is not nothing – it’s coal. And coal actually produces MORE radiation than a nuclear plant and has the added downside of high levels of particulate matter and carbon emissions. So while we may not have to embrace Ayn Rand’s vision of a beautiful landscape (which seemed to consist mainly of coal-burning power plants, factories, refineries, and smokestacks stretching off to the horizon like what you’ll find at Exit 13 of the NJ Turnpike), we need to accept the fact that conservation is not going to solely meet the energy needs of our society in the future. And one of the things we are going to have to accept about our energy future is that it is probably going to include nuclear power, and it certainly should include windmills.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger Speedy said...

and speaking of such windmill type things they set up a bunch near my home "town" of Gouldtown :). On a really clear night you can see the red lights flash where they are located.


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