The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Wind Historian Says: Build New Wind Farms Farther From Neighbors

Windfall: Wind Energy in America Today, by historian Robert Righter, was recently published by University of Oklahoma Press; it's a follow-up to his 1996 book, a history of the industry through its first commercial boom. As a hearty advocate of wind energy and continued rapid growth of the industry, Righter may surprise some with his strong call for more sensitivity to quality of life concerns of rural residents. He spends chunks of three chapters addressing the increasing problems caused by wind farm noise in rural communities, chides developers for not building farther from unwilling neighbors, and says that new development should be focused on the remote high plains, rather than more densely populated rural landscapes in the upper midwest and northeast.

Righter seems to be especially sensitive to the fact that today’s turbines are huge mechanical intrusions on pastoral landscapes, a far cry from the windmills of earlier generations.  At the same time, he suggests that a look back at earlier technological innovations (including transmission lines, oil pump jacks, and agricultural watering systems) suggests that most of us tend to become accustomed to new intrusions after a while, noting that outside of wilderness areas, “it is difficult to view a landscape devoid of a human imprint.” He also acknowledges the fact that impacts on a few can’t always outweigh the benefits for the many in generating electricity without burning carbon or generating nuclear waste.  

But unlike most wind boosters, he doesn’t content himself with these simple formulations.  He goes on to stress that even as recently as 2000, most experts felt that technical hurdles would keep turbines from getting much bigger than they were then (500 kW-1 MW).  The leaps that have taken place, with 3 MW and larger turbines in new wind farms, startle even him:  ”They do not impact a landscape as much as dominate it….Their size makes it practically impossible to suggest that wind turbines can blend technology with nature.”  He joins one of his fellow participants in a cross-disciplinary symposium on NIMBY issues, stressing:  ”Wind energy developers must realize the ‘important links among landscape, memory, and beauty in achieving a better quality of life.’  This concept is not always appreciated by wind developers, resulting in bitter feeling, often ultimately reaching the courts.”

On the question of noise, Righter is equally sensitive and adamant, stressing the need to set noise standards based on quiet night time conditions, “for a wind turbine should not be allowed to invade a home and rob residents of their peace of mind.”  He says, “When I first started studying the NIMBY response to turbines I was convinced that viewshed issues were at the heart of people’s response.  Now I realize that the noise effects are more significant, particularly because residents do not anticipate such strong reactions until the turbines are up and running – by which time, of course, it is almost impossible to perform meaningful mitigation.”

While offering many nods to the constructive role of better public engagement early in the planning stages and making the case for societal needs sometimes outweighing those of a few neighbors, Righter also stresses:

Should rural regions lose the amenities and psychological comforts of living there to serve the city?  Should metropolitan areas enjoy abundant electricity while rural people forfeit the very qualities that took them to the countryside in the first place? 

While some objections to wind farms are clearly economically inspired and quite political in nature, no one can deny the legitimacy of many NIMBY responses.  When the electrical power we want intrudes on the landscapes we love, there will be resistance, often passionate.  This is part of the democratic process.  The vocal minority, if indeed it is a minority, has a legitimate right to weigh the pros and cons of wind development in the crucible of public opinion, in public hearings, and if necessary in our court system.

As a bottom line, and despite his support for the industry and belief that we may learn to appreciate a landscape with more turbines, Righter calls strongly for new development to proceed in ways that minimize or eliminate intra-community conflict.

In the final analysis, we can best address the NIMBY response by building wind turbines where they are wanted…and where they do not overlap with other land use options. 

Conversely, wind developers should give serious consideration to not insisting on raising turbines where they are not wanted…Unlike Europe, our nation has land; there are vast areas of the United States that have excellent wind resources and welcome the wind turbines”  

Righter’s book also includes chapters addressing grid integration, government incentives, reliability, and smaller turbines.  He repeatedly makes the case for more research and development into smaller, vertical axis turbines, which, even with their smaller outputs, could be far more acceptable in many locations where landscape disruption and noise issues are paramount.  Anti-wind campaigners won’t find Righter to be very comfortable company, for he sees the technological and grid challenges as easily surmountable, and the government support and investment in the industry as both warranted and of proper scale. He also supports various efforts to achieve better community consensus, including making royalty payments to those not hosting turbines.  Make no mistake, this is an avid supporter of the industry.

Indeed, his long history and his deep knowledge of wind energy make his final recommendations about siting all the more striking.  Larger setbacks, which Righter suggests may need to be a mile or more, would protect unwilling neighbors from quality of life upheavals.  If combined with easements obtained via royalty-sharing or annual payments to neighbors who don’t mind hearing turbines a bit more often, is a fair and promising path forward. 

As Righter says in his conclusion:

The days of an oil patch mentality of greed and boom-bust cycles are about over.  Most developers understand that it is in their best interest to operate openly and in good faith with the local community.  More problematical is the question of landscape.  Wind turbines placed in a pleasing agricultural, scenic, or historic landscape evoke anger and despair….Wind developers should take to heart geographer Martin Pasqualetti’s advice: “If developers are to cultivate the promise of wind power, they should not intrude on favored (or even conspicuous) landscapes, regardless of the technical temptations these spots may offer.”  The nation is large.  Wind turbines do not have to go up where they are not wanted.  We can expand the grid and put them where they are welcome.

Note: Righter's book shares a title with, but should be clearly distinguished from, a recent documentary highlighting local anti-wind backlash in a NY town.

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

States Already Seek To Delay Clean Power Plan

Andrew Harris, Bloomberg Fifteen states led by coal-rich West Virginia asked a federal court to stall Obama administration rules intended to c...

Stolen Solar Panels and Sabotage A Challenge for Powering India With Renewable Energy

Anindya Upadhyay, Bloomberg Disappointment spread across Tarun Singh’s face when he saw that parts of his solar power microgrid in eastern India’...

Global Renewable Energy Roundup: China, Kenya, Turkey, India Seeking More Renewables

Bloomberg News Editors China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to make up for sh...

With Vast Amounts of Geothermal, Wind and Hydropower, Why No Solar In New Zealand?

James Ellsmoor, Contributor New Zealand has built an international brand on environmentalism and the great outdoors. So it is unsurprising that t...

PRESS RELEASES

OFS Announces Commercial Availability of InvisiLight® MDU Optical Solution for Multiple Dwelling Units

OFS, a leading-edge designer, manufacturer and supplier of innovative fiber optic netwo...

Intersolar AWARD „Solar Projects in India“ – Applications being accepted until September 18

The Intersolar AWARD in the category Solar Projects in India honors projects in the fie...

New local energy partnership brings innovative solar tracker to Washington State

A new partnership will bring the innovative AllEarth Solar Tracker solar electric syste...

30 days to GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

The Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) has announced that it is only 30 days to go to t...

FEATURED BLOGS

Cronimet / THEnergy study: In solar for mines size does not always matter - Reducing CAPEX with energy efficiency and load shifting

Munich, September 2015. Mining companies are constantly gaining interest in solar solutions because frequently solar ...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program from

Vacancy? No Problem!

Have you ever tried to sell an efficiency product or service to a prospect that owns or manages a building with high ...

Shedding Some Light on a Taxing Situation for Community-Shared Solar

For renters and for property owners with inadequate roof space, the many benefits of solar electricity may seem out o...

FINANCIAL NEWS

I am an editor and writer with a longtime focus on science and the environment. AEI is a resource/info center, not an advocacy organization. It is, in essence, a large editorial project focused on sound-related environmental issues. Our Special...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Doing Business in South Africa – in partnership with GWEC, the Glob...

Wind Energy in South Africa has been expanding dramatically, growing fro...

Wind Operator Congress Europe

The UK’s only business-focused O&M event for the European wind...

Distributed Wind Energy Workshop

Description: Distributed wind energy is electricity that is produced for...

COMPANY BLOGS

Clean Energy Patents Maintain High Levels in First Quarter, Solar L...

U.S. patents for Clean Energy technologies from the first quarter of 201...

Koch Professor drops his Koch title, still makes same errors plus s...

The Koch Professor’s title isn’t the only thing that’s...

Fact Check: AWEA represents American wind power

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is proud of its members for ...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS