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Wind power for the Berkshires

7.9.06
Here's a terrific op-ed piece from today's Berkshire Eagle by my friend Deborah Burns very clearly explaining the benefits of wind power and countering the falsehoods about windmills that have been tossed around promiscuously:

Wind is the place to start
By Deborah Burns

Sunday, July 09
WILLIAMSTOWN

AFTER THE Eagle's recent articles and editorial, I hope that 2006 will be the year that Berkshire County wholeheartedly embraces wind power. It's time to think through these issues as individuals and as a county, because it's vital that we develop alternatives to fossil fuels and do it now. Wind power is a small but vital part of the green-energy picture.

The only significant reason not to bring windmills to Berkshire County is their appearance. None of the other arguments against wind power is honest or valid. As a Berkshire native and local historian, I love and revere these hills as much as anyone. But I am learning to consider the clean lines of windmills beautiful, too, because in the future (if not already) sustainability will be the highest value.

On a dark, gusty winter night it will be beautiful and comforting to know that those blades are turning, generating power to keep our lives comfortable. On a breezy summer day it will be beautiful and reassuring to know that this clean energy is endless, inexhaustible, totally renewable. As time goes by it will be beautiful and thrilling to know our country can supply some of our own power. It will be beautiful and satisfying to know we are part of the solution.

#

Let's study and carefully position wind farms in our county, based on responsible criteria. Many, if not most, of our ridgelines will never have wind towers because of their topography and their distance from power lines and roads. Other mountains will never be candidates because we decide they are such beloved elements of our common landscape. But there should still be enough appropriate sites to make wind power a presence here.

Let's not be duped by the propaganda against green energy, often generated by the fossil-fuel industry. Instead let's compare the real effects of these choices. For instance, the impact of a carefully situated wind tower on birds is minimal. The towers in Searsburg, Vt. have never had a reported incident of a bird collision.

Compare the monstrous effect of an oil spill on birds, aquatic mammals, amphibians, fish, shellfish, and more. Those ships, carrying fuel for our huge appetite, are on the sea right now. There will be more oil spills, trailed by their tragic legacy, in the future.

Compare the long-term, widespread effects of coal and natural gas plants on scenery, wildlife and wetlands (not to mention human health). These plants undergo much less comprehensive scrutiny in this regard than do wind plants, yet they cause smog, soot, acid rain, global warming, and toxic air emissions. The potential impacts from wind plants are for the most part localized and reversible. Nevertheless, it is certainly essential that each plant be rigorously studied in order to ensure wind towers are properly sited and operated.

Despite wind opponents' hints, there is no evidence that wind turbines will hurt our tourism. In fact, around the world there is growing evidence that wind farms in highly scenic areas such as Scotland, Denmark, and Australia actually attract tourists. The Eagle quoted William Wilson of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau as saying he thought wind power would have no negative impact on tourism. The windmills on our mountain tops will express our commitment to a sustainable future, with local, clean energy produced by elegant technology.


One opponent, Eleanor Tillinghast, has sent The Eagle numerous missives on wind power. In her most recent offering Ms. Tillinghast implies that it's only investors in wind power who receive subsidies in the form of tax credits. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, subsidies for the nuclear industry and for the fossil fuel industry have been much higher than for all renewable energy sources combined. The fact that investors are putting their money into green energy is a positive development, not a negative one.

Our dependence on the unstable oil economy has helped to create a staggering, shameful deficit. Wind energy is an inexhaustible local resource that will help reduce our reliance on imports of natural gas, oil and other fuels, often from unstable countries. According to National Geographic, wind is now "the biggest success story in renewable energy," except for hydroelectric power, and the fastest-growing power source around the world.

In the magazine's August 2005 issue, one energy policy expert stated that currently the U.S. was like a hunter-gatherer, constantly seeking new fossil-fuel sources, while other countries were more like energy farmers. Energy farming is the future. U.S. winds, which have barely been tapped, could generate more electricity in 15 years than all of Saudi Arabia's oil, without being depleted. A single 1.5-megawatt turbine offsets 13 tons of sulfur dioxide and 6 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions each year.

Wind power is just one piece of the puzzle. We certainly must reduce our energy use, increase recycling, and become more efficient and economical as a society. But it is essential that we develop alternatives to oil, and wind power is especially appropriate to the Berkshires.

Looking to the past, we all love the 19th century look of our local landscape. But for generations this was a self-reliant county with a diversified economy that contributed to the national economy as well. Thoreau would have approved of wind power, I expect, and been fascinated by it, as would the practical Shakers. From a historical point of view, wind power suits the Berkshires.

Looking to the future, it's clear that the country or region that is stable and successful 50 years from now will the country or region that has developed alternatives to Middle Eastern oil. Let's work to become that country If Berkshire County rejects windmills due to aesthetic reasons, it's in danger of becoming an artificial environment sustained primarily by tourism.

#

Decades from now people will look back at our era and say either: thank goodness they acted to find alternatives to oil and fossil fuels; or too bad they blocked the way, or we'd be in much better shape by now.

Let's become a small but vital part of the solution. Berkshire County, with its history of leadership in industry and culture, is the ideal place to start.





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