"what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer's lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
-when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man"
The Selectmen in my hometown are spearheading an effort to erect a wind turbine, according to an article today in the Lakeville Journal.
"A plan to install a wind turbine at the transfer station is keeping its momentum with the Board of Selectmen.
They are being advised by consultant Walter Micowski of WM Energy Services to move cautiously and gather up to a year’s worth of site data. Extensive planning is key to ensuring success, he said, and may be a requirement for grant reimbursements...
...It’s a matter of scale as North Canaan officials look into producing a potential $100,000 worth of electricity per year. That will not be enough to cover all of the town’s needs, but will make a huge dent.
The selectmen are also hoping to spark a groundswell of commercial and residential installations throughout the area, and get past the notion that there are not a significant number of viable sites in the Northeast."
North Canaan is quite a bit different from its neighbors here in Northwest Connecticut. This is a town with mines and light industry and one of the best remaining clusters of family run dairy farms in the state. Nearly half of the workforce living in Canaan actually works in Canaan. Something on the order of 1/2 of all the children in the primary school have a parent or grandparent who went there, as compared to a regional average of 10%. This is a town of working people with a strong volunteer ethic. Environmental causes are not at the top of the list, and Canaan only adopted zoning in the last decade, but residents care about their community and even those who have been here for generations often say that business as usual may have served them well in the past, but now there are new challenges that may require new thinking to solve.
So siting a wind turbine at the transfer station, which does not affect the view of a single residence, has not given rise to the kind of opposition on aesthetic grounds that often happens elsewhere. If we start sprouting turbines, this may become a greater question, but the current proposal seems to be raising concerns about the feasibility of the site to produce sufficient energy and the costs involved in erecting and maintaining the turbine.
I have more than a passing familiarity with the environmental and economic issues involved with wind generation. Very often, it comes down to a trade-off between proximate impacts and regional benefits. There are places of enormous historic significance that would be degraded on aesthetic grounds by turbines - none at Gettysburg and Yellowstone, please - but I, for one, am not swayed by the argument that turbines are unattractive. The tangle of electric lines that crisscrosses our streets is ugly and mars the view, yet we have accepted it for over a century. This aesthetic argument is not one I would expect to gain much traction in Canaan, unless turbines are proposed for certain iconic viewsheds. Then perhaps it will.
There are legitimate concerns about the forest fragmenting impacts of turbines erected on mountain ridges and associated bird and bat strikes. In our region, there is a high correlation between areas with good wind generating potential and areas of environmental significance. As with biomass generating plants, the trend seems to be toward many smaller installations rather than one concentrated massive one. I wonder which will turn out to be more desirable from an ecological point of view. With wind, although I do not dispute individual landowner's rights to try and get off the grid, I believe it may be better environmentally to identify a few feasible sites for larger numbers of turbines than to have them scattered everywhere.
It still matters where they are sited and many viable sites are in mountains and wilderness, so clearly good environmental information is needed, but we cannot have it both ways. The Delaware Audubon Society supports an offshore wind farm, having helped to get a less sensitive site selected and recognizing that offsetting fossil fuel use and associated greenhouse gas emissions as a greater conservation gain. Habitat destruction remains the single greatest threat to biodiversity, but that comes in many forms, and some of it is due to climate change. Changing over a coal, oil and natural gas based economy to one that makes far greater use of alternative energy is going to require compromises by all concerned. These should be informed choices, with mitigation where possible, but if environmentalists buy the premise that we are experiencing the sixth great extinction event in the history of Earth, and further that the choices we make now can determine how severe these extinctions will be, we are going to have to find ways to support rather than block some of these alternate energy projects even when they affect things we care about.