On Wind Power and “Destroying Vermont”

This post began as a response to this comment:

I spent eighteen years working in environmental law and education and only when our mountain ecosystems began to get blasted did I shed the scales from my eyes and see these giant turbines clearly.  It’s insane to destroy Vermont in order to save it.

But I thought it important to make the point very clear right on the front page. Here’s my response:

You seem to misunderstand the definition of “destroy,” so let me help.


Mountain top removal turns former mountains into barren, infertile, moonscape plateaus, surrounded by toxic waste, with downstream waters poisoned for hundreds of miles. That IS destruction.

NOT Destruction:

The Lowell wind farm changes a small portion of the landscape in a way that is largely recoverable, and does not endanger the life on the mountain (alters somewhat, yes; endangers, no). That is NOT destruction.


In the photo below, which state is being destroyed – West Virginia (top) or Vermont (bottom)?

It’s VERY simple:

We MUST replace earth-destroying carbon sources with lower-impact energy sources.

Whether you like it or not, the impact of a typical wind project with modern turbines is NOTHING compared to the damage from coal mining, fracking, or other fossil fuel extraction.


And that doesn’t even count the planetary emergency being caused by CO2 production (nice coal-fired smog, there, in Lowell – obliterating the views in the distance, eh? So much more attractive than those turbines…).

We no longer have time to wait for “perfect” energy solutions. It is absolutely imperative we move to “good enough” solutions that stop CO2 inputs into the atmosphere. Now.

We’ve already “broken the arctic,” as Bill McKibben says. We can’t break any more of our planetary climate ecosystems. The planet will be incompatible with human life if we continue the carbon path.

We have two choices: accept a future that involves a lot of wind power in conjunction with other renewables and efficiency, or kill of most of the population (including animal populations) on the planet.

You do not get to choose the latter for the rest of us. Sorry.

29 thoughts on “On Wind Power and “Destroying Vermont”

  1. We have to accept the fact that with energy production there is no “none of the above.” We are fresh out of magic pixie dust. There is environmental damage associated with any type of energy production, renewable or not.

    Wind opponents, be honest with me: Tell me which people and what ecosystems you want damaged so your favorite local ecosystem can remain untouched.

    Really. Mountaintop removal in West Virginia? Fracking in Pennsylvania? Semiconductor and smelter waste around the solar panel plants in southeastern China? Flooded land in Canada? Tell me.

  2. but to be entirely fair, there were legitimate complaints over the manner in which the Lowell site was engineered with respect to watershed.

    Not every objection to wind projects has to do with aesthetics, and it is too bad that this is what gets the lions share of attention.

    It is equally important that siting observes the caveats of protection for other important natural resources, besides the air.  It’s no good to start cutting environmental corners because a project is viewed to be, overall, “for the greater good.”  

    This holds true, not just of wind projects, but also that multi-tiered build-out for the Newport area that our DC delegation, the governor and practically everyone else is hyperventilating about.  If environmental regulations are not strictly enforced in accomplishing the build-out; and very careful thought given to how the low-income, low-skill population that is currently there will be accommodated in the proposed mecca of high-tech and resort activity; it could prove very costly in the long-run.

  3. I’ve seen no evidence from you that you have seriously considered the issues presented by industrial-wind opponents; it’s much easier to just pooh-pooh them.  I imagine nuclear power was seen as “the answer” at its inception, just as big wind is seen by some today.  So it goes.  


    Sue, you’re correct about watershed issues with the Lowell Project and the fact that aesthetics is not an issue for more than a few.  

    That low-income, “low-skilled” population you mentioned is infinitely skilled in understanding the land they chose to live simply on, enduring low wages in order to live what I see as lives with personal integrity.  This group is as grass roots as they get, and there’s no compulsory political correctness about them.  

  4. http://www.vce.org/WVWaterandW

    Arthur W. Dodds, Jr., is a professional cartographer who worked for NOAA as a supervisor managing the instrument approach procedures charts for airports throughout the U.S.  His credentials include training and management concerning the heights of objects which could impact flight patterns; electromagnetic field impacts on RADAR; and viewshed analysis.  Mr. Dodds is also certified by the West Virginia DNR as a Master Naturalist.  Mr. Dodds serves as President of the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.

    Pamela C. Dodds, Ph.D., is a Registered Professional Geologist who has worked as a geologist/hydrogeologist for the Virginia DOT, Virginia DEQ, and an environmental firm near Bristol, Tennessee.  She has concentrated on groundwater contamination investigations and is currently conducting hydrological investigations in watersheds which will be impacted by industrial-scale wind turbine projects and by extensive high voltage transmission lines.  Dr. Dodds is also certified by the West Virginia DNR as a Master Naturalist.  Mrs. Dodds serves as Treasurer of the Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.


    The destruction of our ridgetops is every bit as important as the mountain top removal problem, and the two of them work together to cause an overall problem with planners. They really need to be taking into account what kind of effect these projects are having on our overall decrease in groundwater and also increase in surface runoff which is causing us to have a depletion of our water resources.


    The other element that a lot of people don’t realize is that the ridges and mountaintops are actually the bottom of the food chain.  This is where there is relatively full runoff and the water that is there can be used by various insects to start producing food for the ever increasingly large animals as it goes downstream.  So when the mountain top has been removed or the ridge has been removed then this part of the ecosystem cannot be recreated.  And in the case of Laurel Mountain they destroyed over 10 miles of ridges which constituted a tremendous amount of food that will not be available for the fish and the other animals.

    (host) (explanation of food chain, analogy to sea)


    Right – consider the headwater areas, and it’s where the larvae of the insects are shredders – they shred the organic compounds so that those can be used by larger insects and by the biota downstream and that just has a total effect on the food chain.

    (host) … so there are also sort of groundwater issues when you start to take these environments where they are filtering and holding on to water and slowly releasing it into, you know, versus an impervious surface, which is a whole different range of stuff, right?


    Right, and actually there are degrees of groundcover that change according to how much they will allow water to be absorbed in order to recharge the groundwater.  And so when you have deforestation then you are creating a situation where there is more surface runoff and therefore less water can be available to recharge groundwater.  With the increased surface runoff, that causes greater erosion downstream, even if there are best management practices to trap the sediment that can get into the downstream waters. There is still an increase in the discharge, so downstream there will be more and more erosion, which will then allow more sediment to be introduced to the streams and to impact the aquatic organisms at the point downstream.

    (host) So none of this sounds very green to me.


    Yeah, unfortunately, the wind turbines are second only to mountain removal in their destructive potential.

  5. The issue of ridgeline wind development deserves intelligent discussion, and the objections of the opponents are quite serious and do not deserve to be dismissed or ridiculed.

    Just to add to our database of knowledge (apart from the two photos above), Vermont has its own sad legacy left by mining. I have added some links about the consequences, which, while it was not on the scale as in states like West Virginia, certainly left its toll.  And, while it may be in the past, the effects of this environmental destruction remain and are cumulative when the wind companies start going after ridgelines.

    I find it ironic that the Town of Lowell is just about smack dab between the Belvidere Mountain asbestos mine and the wind turbine installations on Lowell Mountain.  You can catch glimpses of the mine from Lowell Mountain and of Lowell Mountain from the mine.  Now, I just don’t think that is something to be proud of.  

    Take a look at Bill Moyers’ interview of Chris Hedges on the subject of “sacrifice zones”  http://billmoyers.com/episode/…  I think Vermonters in areas targeted by large, utility-scale wind development feel that, because they are relatively poorer and powerless, their regions are sacrificed, while other equally suitable areas in more well-connected and well-heeled areas of Vermont are given protection. (I wonder, though, if the recent announcement by Iberdrola Renewables to put up met towers in Windham County, Peter Shumlin’s back yard, suddenly provided impetus to the new energy project siting commission named by the Governor.)




  6. I was unable to insert the photos here, but you can go to:


    to see that industrial wind sites destroy ecosystems.  

    The turbines will some day come down, but these base sites and the roads to reach them are there forever, Humpty Dumpty style.

  7. “Simplify” has gotten himself into an argument about the similarity between blasting at Lowell and Mountaintop removal in West Virginia.

    It’s a distraction that may suit Simplify’s purposes, but it’s not useful.

    Simplify reminds me of George W. Bush.

    Bush’s response to the 9-11 attacks was to attack Iraq. Simplify’s response to climate change is to industrialize Vermont’s ridgelines.

    In our part of the world, greenhouse gas emissions come from our chimneys and tailpipes, not our electrical outlets. If Simplify were really interested in reducing our  greenhouse gases, he would attack transportation, home heating, and water heating.

    Could it be that Simplify is on the payroll of Big Wind?

    Or should  he change his name to Simpleton?  

  8. They do not have the training to work in the high-tech industries that are planned to locate there.  I did read that there are some plans to offer training to locals, but this is the kind of thing that often falls by the wayside, in the greater scheme of things, if folks don’t keep harping on that need.

    As far as jobs in the resort industry end of things are concerned: there will certainly be service jobs associated with the new development; but if the wages are insufficient to keep up with the increased cost of living in the area, locals may be forced to move further out of the area and commute to work.

  9. “I’ve seen no evidence from you that you have seriously considered the issues presented by industrial-wind opponents”

    Perhaps because there are none so blind as those who will not look.

  10. But I have also considered the far more disastrous consequences of not replacing fossil fuels very, very quickly.

    Yes, there are watershed issues (most of which can be mitigated) with the building of towers, and there are migratory bird issues which must be considered prior to building, and there are community issues which surely should have been handled far differently in Lowell.

    But once again: we are out of time. We do not have the time to find the perfect solution. Wind is nothing like nuclear in terms of either its direct risks or its short- or long-term impacts. Wind is nothing like fracking, or mountain top removal.

    Wind is NOTHING like what will happen to the planet if we choose not to implement it.  

    6 degrees C of warming means the air is so acidic it cannot be breathed by mammals, and all planetary water bodies are essentially carbonic acid. We are currently on the path to 7 degrees.

    I used to have much more sympathy for the position of those who would take a much slower approach to wind. No more. We are facing an unimaginable crisis that requires extraordinary action. The watershed concerns about Lowell will pale in comparison to what happens to the watershed from more Irenes, and rain so acid that it kills all but the most acid-hardy plants. Poison ivy loves acid, maples, not so much.

    In my opinion, given what we now know about warming and its implications, wind opponents are being short-sighted and selfish.

    Do I think we need solid, enforcement of policies that protect the area around sites? Absolutely. Do I believe that those projects need to be stopped? Nope.  

  11. It’ll be interesting to see if the new enterprises commit to hiring and training local people or if they attract people “from away” as they say.  

  12. … but that’s far different from it being the kind of utter destruction witnessed in mountaintop removal, and it’s a far, far cry from what we will see if we don’t replace our warming-intensive energy systems very, very quickly.

  13. You’re either failing to understand or intentionally misrepresenting the scale.

    Here’s a nice map of the state showing the impact of the Lowell Wind project compared to the impact of the Kayford, WV mountain top removal project in the image in the diary.

    The little dot in the upper right is roughly 4 times the size of the Lowell project (my drawing tool didn’t have a smaller pen size).

    The big square removing just under 1/5 of the National Forest (which turns out to be almost exactly the boundaries of the Breadloaf National Forest), is the size of the single Kayford site in WV:

    And, again, unlike mountaintop removal, there will be significant regeneration of the forest over the vast majority of the Lowell site. This is not the case in the barren wasteland left behind by every single mountain top removal project.

    I strongly believe in strong regulations and equally strong enforcement of those regulations for wind projects. I believe Lowell was handled very, very badly on several fronts. But I also know that the opponents are presenting their case using hyperbolic and occasionally specious claims about the actual harm. It’s not helpful to the cause, and it’s not going to do anything to strengthen regulatory oversight in future projects.

    To get an even better idea of the difference in scale, here is a map of JUST the removal that has happened in the Appalachia Region of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee:

    There is no VT wind project planned, or possible, that would even show up as a dot in that map. The Kayford site, which is the size of the entire Breadloaf National Forest, is one of the tiny dots just south of Charleston, WV on this map.

    Stop hurting your cause with hyperbolic claims about the damage of wind vs mountain top removal. Continuing to claim that the projects in VT are even remotely comparable to the damage from mountain top removal seriously harms your credibility regarding your environmental concern.

    You could not be more effective at pushing away those who would happily help you fight for proper environmental controls on wind construction if you repeatedly poked them with a pointy stick.  

  14. I don’t believe tons of rock disappear.  They may get overgrown with random growth but they will not “disappear.”

    What disappears when ridgeline power plants are built is …

    A natural system evolved over centuries that absorbs the water from storms, free of charge. (We will need as many of these as we can protect).  

    Also disappeared are trees and plants which lessen the effects of climate change and improve air quality.  Again, this will only become more important.

    Also disappeared are intricate habitats and niches of countless creatures – a system worked out over the ages.  We have little understanding of how interdependent these webs are.  

    If you think about the thousands of these power plants that have either already been built or in the works, the cumulative loss of free environmental “services” that come from our natural environment alone make these ridgeline projects unsustainable.  I haven’t begun to mention lowered property values, health concerns and the fact that much of the profits leave the country and lines investor pockets. Oh, and the fact that what we should be focusing on is transportation, conservation, efficiency, and smaller localized renewables.

    I stand for what I stand on.

  15. I never compared wind turbines to mountaintop removal!  


    Look back at my original comment.

    What a waste of time this has been.

  16. I’m sure you don’t really think VT has a special bubble of air over it – like the one in the Simpsons movie.

    One of the primary sources air pollution in New England is midwest coal-fired power plants. The power we feed into the regional grid offsets power that would be coming from those plants. Thus, VT wind power can reduce the amount of coal burned.

    In the mean time, ad hominem attacks, instead of responses to the content, are pointless.

    You may want to have a chat with Bill McKibben and James Hansen (both of them do respond to emails from random strangers) to find out why they do NOT oppose these projects, but do oppose coal, tar sands, and fracking operations.

    There is a reason, and it’s not because they’re on the payroll of big wind. It’s because when viewed within the larger picture of impending planetary catastrophe, mass starvation, and worldwide ecosystem destruction, wind’s negative impact doesn’t even make a blip on the radar, while its positive impact can be tremendous.

    That’s the reality.

  17. These graphs are taken from this NH study. While the study is specific to NH, the general principles hold true for all of New England. Here’s the “money” quote:

    During periods of unhealthy air quality for ozone and small particles in [the state], approximately 92 percent to nearly 100 percent of this pollution originates from sources located outside of [the state]. These pollutants are transported into the state with the wind over great distances.

    Coal Plant Emissions Trajectories:

    Mercury deposition. Yellow = arrives via long-distance transport in upper air currents:

    Where our air comes from on high-pollution days (left) vs clear days (right):

    Did you note the common thread? Our air pollution – and the majority of air pollution in New England – comes from the coal burning region of the country.

    18% of the electricity fed into the New England grid comes from coal fired power plants. Offsetting the coal-powered electricity in the regional grid reduces the amount of coal those plants must burn. This in turn reduces the level of coal-fired pollutants in our air.  

  18. It’s literally that simple. We do not have the capacity via other production methods to replace coal in our energy mix in anything near the time frame in which we MUST replace coal.

    Your statement that:

    I spent eighteen years working in environmental law and education and only when our mountain ecosystems began to get blasted did I shed the scales from my eyes and see these giant turbines clearly.  It’s insane to destroy Vermont in order to save it.

    … implies that the blasting to build wind towers is destroying our mountain ecosystem.

    My response is that there is a drastic and astonishing difference between the relatively small footprint of a wind tower’s base, and the extraordinary devastation that wind power will replace.

    Your responses have consistently continued to imply that they are equally devastating (“industrial wind sites destroy ecosystems”).  

    I thought it important for our readers to know that they are not even comparable.

    Industrial wind is not harmless. But in a world where we have no choice but to make energy source decisions, it is so much less harmful as to be on a completely different playing field.

  19. I ask because everything cited here applies to housing. and of course, if you can’t deal with turbines you must have a problem with housing. Keep in mind that ridgelines aren’t an ecological standout. They aren’t any more important than anywhere else, like river bottom.

    According to google, Lowell mountain range is only 2100ft which is by and large same ecology you will see down to about the 1000ft mark. Only difference being more snow and the wind blows. The more important elevation range will be lower where filtration occurs. And btw, when it rains it usually rains not only on the top of a hill but also on the hill all the way to the bottom of the hill. Must be something going on along side and at the bottom of the hill to “absorb” the rain.

    Of course, we shouldn’t build turbines without environmental considerations. We aren’t building the things on every ridge. We can’t and nor would anyone want to. I think you are picking nits.

    As mentioned before it’s all about choices. Some hate to see the turbines so they concoct a host of reasons in hopes that one will gain traction. But what of the alternatives? We could burn wood chips, but in that case our forests would lose all diversity like how upper Maine is with huge plantation pine farms. Nuke? Good luck with that. Solar? In some places, sure why not. Hydro? yeah it works, but it’s not without costs.  Coal? It’s already been said. Which ironically, about coal. Seems like the wind towers would be much less damaging to the environment than the acid rain that follows coal.

  20. …”wind turbines are second only to mountain removal in their destructive potential.”

    Second in the same way that a hungry kindergartner with his laces tied together would come in second in a marathon, when racing against a pro-marathoner in prime condition, on a perfect day.

    See also:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *