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.

Destruction:

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.

Quiz:

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.

Nothing.

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.

    Pamela

    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.

    Arthur

    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)

    Pamela

    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?

    Pamela

    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.

    Arthur

    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.)

    http://clui.org/newsletter/win

    http://www.uvm.edu/~envprog/fo

    http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec

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

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8

    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?  

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