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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Why We Need Wind Power in Vermont and in the Northeast

Sheep graze beneath wind turbines. Photo: Creative Commons

Sheep graze beneath wind turbines. Photo: Creative Commons

By George Harvey

Some people never seem to tire of talking about how ruinous wind turbines are to our views of ridge lines. Unlike arguments about deaths of birds, property values, or “wind turbine syndrome,” which can be objectively addressed, the question of views is subjective. It is hard to counter, “I just don’t like how they look.”

In the Northeast as elsewhere, we need to address climate change. Most people do not really understand the extent of damage that will come about if we do not. A paper from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, “Climate Change and Vermont’s Forests,” has this stark paragraph in it:

Species distribution is already changing at high elevations. Northern hardwood trees are now able to survive at increasing elevations, due to moderating temperatures, outcompeting spruce and fir trees. Climate and pest risk model predictions identify Spruce-fir forests as being vulnerable to increased warming. Only slightly less vulnerable are northern hardwood forests whose dominant species are sugar maple, yellow birch and American beech. These forests are expected to be nearly eliminated in Vermont, replaced by species that prefer the warmer drier conditions, such as oak and pine species. (http://bit.ly/climate-change-forests)

That means no maple syrup and no fall colors. It implies little or nothing in the way of apple production, and a far-reaching general change in what crops we can grow. It means a world that is fundamentally changed into something we do not want.

In order to deal with climate change, we will have to eliminate our use of fossil fuels. This includes those used for heat and for transportation. Fortunately, we can do those things without giving up comfort while reducing costs. But it means that we will have to use about three times as much electricity as we do now.

We have choices for where we get renewable power. We can generate it locally, or we can bring it in from outside. If we take the position that we do not want to use large-scale solar or wind projects, then we will not be able to get even a third of the power we need from nearby.

People who do not want to get our power from large-scale solar or wind because of the environmental damage they suppose these would cause, or because of the appearance of solar and wind farms, miss a fundamental point. It is that the only alternative we have for getting three times as much power is to increase greatly the numbers of transmission lines that we have. This would be far worse than wind farms both environmentally and esthetically.

Georgia Mountain Community Wind Farm. Photo by Katherine Norris

Georgia Mountain Community Wind Farm. Photo by Katherine Norris

They also miss the point that by generating as much of our power as possible within the state, we will be keeping the money we spend on electricity within the state.

It is very important, in order to move to robust and healthy renewable energy, that we have a diverse set of energy sources. These include both wind power and utility scale solar power, but also include rooftop solar, hydro power (for which we do not necessarily need new dams), bio-digesters, clean biomass waste burning, and different kinds of energy storage. We also need “smart grid” technologies with grid response in what are called “virtual power plants.”

Among all of these technologies, the least expensive happens to be wind power. Wind power also uses very little land compared to solar power and hydro dams. Studies show that many more tourists are attracted to views of wind turbines than are repelled by them. Many people who live very near wind farms, and in fact thousands of people who live inside wind farms across this country, not only do not object but like them.

Wind power and solar power share one big fault, which is certainly a bone of contention and a source of some of the opposition to them. They represent an existential threat to the fossil fuels industries. They threaten to eliminate industries that make us sick, shorten our lives, and are ruining the environment. But politicians whose campaigns are paid for by the fossil fuels industry, and advocates of those industries, are willing to push hard to prevent wind power from being used widely in our state.

The combination of wind power, large-scale solar power, and battery storage, is now competitive with natural gas, the cheapest fossil fuel. All fossil fuels cause climate change, which threatens destruction of species of animals and plants. We should put the focus of our objections where it belongs.

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