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.