Benning and Hartwell’s Imaginary Windpocalypse

It’s bad enough when we hear gross exaggerations, misleading statements, and downright lies from the true believers in the anti-wind crowd. It’s even worse when we hear them from two State Senators, one of whom has laughably been installed as chair of the Natural Resources Committee.  

Recent statements and writings from Bob Hartwell and Joe Benning, co-sponsors of a three-year moratorium on new wind projects,  have made it clear that they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and will use their influence to sabotage the implementation of a truly clean, safe, and reliable source of power. They claim they just want a three-year moratorium, but their rhetoric clearly reveals a staunch, unbending opposition to utility-scale wind.

Lest you think I exaggerate, allow me to turn to Benning’s recent opinion piece on VTDigger, which begins with a comparison of wind-farm development to rape.


Really, Joe? You sure you want to go there?

His comment came after a visit to the Lowell Mountain construction site, which left him “horrified” at the “destruction.” Well, yes, a construction site in progress is never a pretty thing. But mountain ridgelines are kinda rugged, being made of rock and all. Go back a hundred years, and our “pristine ridgelines,” not to mention the entire landscape of Vermont, had been “raped” through clearcut lumbering and the opening of broad expanses to sheep farming, not to mention the godawful sludge we routinely dumped into our rivers and streams.

Fast forward a few decades, and our thoroughly “raped” countryside — “raped” far beyond anything that turbine construction could possibly accomplish — and the landscape has regained its pristine character.

I’m not saying that wind turbine construction has no impact. But the likes of Hartwell and Benning do their cause no favors with their wildly overblown rhetoric.  

You may recall the following pair of photographs posted on GMD by frequent contributor “simplify”:

Yes, wind turbines do carry environmental costs. But not nearly as heavy as the costs of nuclear, coal, oil, tar sands, or any future expansion of northern Quebec hydro power. Not to mention to looming and irreversible destruction of global warming. Even if we kept every single one of our ridgelines “pristine,” the carbon ain’t stopping at the Vermont border. If we don’t do everything we can to limit carbon emissions as quickly as we can, those ridgelines will never, ever be the same.  

And the limited environmental impact would cover a very small area. VPIRG’s 2009 report “Repowering Vermont” draws a roadmap to a completely renewable energy future. It says that six more projects the size of Lowell or Sheffield could provide more than 25% of our energy needs.


To get the same amount of energy from community-scale turbines, you’d have to build nearly 8,000 of them. How much impact on our environment and our viewscapes would that create?

In his VTDigger piece, Joe Benning asserts that “Big wind proponents claim these projects are the magical silver bullet that will solve our electric needs and cure man’s contribution to global pollution.” That’s a lie. Nobody claims that wind is the “silver bullet.” It’s a necessary part of the overall solution. VPIRG’s vision calls for a balance of wind, solar, hydro, biomass, plus a few others. But you can’t get to 100% without a significant contribution from wind. It’s the single biggest piece of VPIRG’s energy pie.

Hartwell and Benning have unrolled a new argument against wind: “the clear-cutting of hundreds of acres of trees that are our best carbon vacuum cleaners.” Sounds impressive, no?  “Hundreds of acres” is a lot of trees.  

The problem with that argument is, it undermines the rest of their case. Because “hundreds of acres” is a tiny, tiny fraction of Vermont’s 4,460,000 total acres of woodlands. To argue that cutting “hundreds of acres” out of that four and a half million will somehow negate the benefits of wind energy is absurd. It shows how far wind opponents are willing to go, how far they are willing to stretch the truth, to fabricate arguments against wind.

There are other anti-wind arguments. Indeed, one of the features of the anti-wind movement is the proliferation of their arguments. It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole — you disprove one claim, they switch to another one. I suggest a visit to VPIRG’s wind energy website, which gathers information about the benefits and impacts of wind — including an independent review of scientific literature that concludes there is no evidence to support claims of harmful health effects from wind turbines.

Also worth mulling over is a report from the Sierra Club, published last year, showing that prominent anti-wind advocates and groups often receive significant funding from fossil-fuel interests, who seek to delay or defeat renewable energy so they can go on making big profits pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

In 2012, the emergence of a small but highly vocal anti-wind movement caught Vermont’s environmental groups off guard. This year, the environmental community is ready to fight on behalf of wind as part of a broad-based portfolio of renewable energy. Last week’s formal announcement of the Hartwell/Benning moratorium bill was countered by a joint statement from VPIRG, the Conservation Law Foundation, 350Vermont, the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Citizens Awareness Network, the Northeast chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, and the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance. If you think that all those groups have abandoned their core mission, you are wrong. I’ll stand with them, and against an ill-considered moratorium supported by specious arguments.  

24 thoughts on “Benning and Hartwell’s Imaginary Windpocalypse

  1. You keep returning to the issue of wind energy for what I will grant may be sincere motivations.  Many of the comments following your postings are pretty breezy dismissals of concerns raised by other posters with a different viewpoint.  Some of your writings are a little too breezy, sly and glib to be very persuasive, too. For example,

    “His comment came after a visit to the Lowell Mountain construction site, which left him “horrified” at the “destruction.” Well, yes, a construction site in progress is never a pretty thing. But mountain ridgelines are kinda rugged, being made of rock and all.”

    That section does nothing at all to advance the understanding of anyone. It is just meant to provoke. I think the issue of industrial scale wind here in Vermont is way too serious to rely on sarcasm to win a debate.  I do agree with your comment that Vermont and New England has a very bad record of abusing our forests. But does that grant us the right to open the door for renewed destruction?   Your comment “and the landscape has regained its pristine character.” is curious. Does that imply that the current Vermont forests are returned to their pristine condition following our most recent onslaught?

    And I think you mis-represent the position of the two Senators when you write “they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and will use their influence to sabotage the implementation of a truly clean, safe, and reliable source of power.” That’s not the position of anyone I know be they supportive of industrial wind or against it. None of us are nit-wits, we all know that climate change is upon us and affecting our lives right now. Even Bill McKibben seems to have backed off the Turbine on every ridge position and appears to advocating that we just stop digging up or pumping fossil fuels and using them.  But I despair when I read in the Guardian that More than 1,000 coal-fired power plants are being planned worldwide, new research has revealed.  And to engage in a bit of snark myself, surely that will alter our Governor’s time line for not letting some NEK Woodchucks stand in his way of saving the world from climate change.  

  2. I don’t suppose anyone on here has heard the bass grinding rumble coming from the Lowell mountain ridge windfarm?  Damn, those things are really loud!  You can hear them grinding away for miles.

    I prefer solar over wind, but that’s just me…  That we don’t cover every single house with solar embedded roofing shingles is a crime.

    Apparently it is far more profitable to build 300+ foot monstrosities on top of Vermont’s ridgelines than it is for everyone to generate power every day from their own roofs.

    1. Yes, rooftop solar is the greenest thing I can think of, footprint-wise. The prevailing theory on why wind turbines have gained prominence is fear of decentralization on the part of utility companies. But they could surely work out a way to mass-lease solar panels and bill homeowners monthly with much less up front. It could be handled with government subsidies the same way the windoggle is run, without ruining so much scenery.

  3. I’ve posted this before, which just shows that you really aren’t interested in an exchange of information or learning anything.  This is not coming from Vermonters, it is coming from West Virginia naturalists:

    Pam and Art Dodd, Master Naturalists, joined us to talk about endangered bats being killed in West Virginia and other impacts.

    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.

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

  4. There’s a huge aesthetic price tag associated with wind turbines but all I see are glib dismissals from techies who claim to respect nature. They skip right over the blight issue like some kid kicking over a can. It’s dishonest.

    Many wind-pushers act like wind turbine numbers are a static thing that won’t keep expanding like ugly white crabgrass. They imply that what we see today will be mostly the extent of marred landscapes, but the 250,000+ global wind turbines that already exist would have to greatly multiply (up to 4,000,000) to make a serious dent, at which point any semblance of nice scenery in “wind resource zones” will be long gone.

    We could trash millions of acres with white skyscrapers and still see not enough carbon-reduction to matter. Fossil fuels are also essential for building and installing wind turbines (and solar panels) so they merely extend its utility. There is no simple way to just ditch fossil fuels. Knowing human greed (which the wind industry is full of) we’ll end up with a hotter AND uglier planet with tons of regret.

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