May 25 2011

Are Wind Turbines Really that Ugly?

Published by under Student blog entries

When Cape Wind was proposed off the coast of Cape Cod, apart from a few vocal critics, there was astonishing public support for the project. The public seemed to understand that projects like this create jobs and support the local economy, all while saving the environment. But soon after the complaints began filtering in. The project would require great subsidies that would put the wind companies at an unfair disadvantage to the subsidy-drowned coal industry. The project would take too many years to come online. The wind turbines would be too unreliable and too high maintenance. And, for me the most striking of all, the project would be visually unattractive.

If you think about it, the argument is sort of staggering. I will be the first one to say that the ocean is one of the most beautiful places every person should get to see in his lifetime. But do local residents have the right to complain about a few microscopic poles that span one small part of the horizon? NIMBY has been used to block a plethora of new developments, from chemical plants and industrial parks to schools and mosques. But the ocean isn’t really anyone’s backyard. No one has to consult the residents of a city suburb every time the local government approves the construction of another massive skyscraper that will litter the skyline. No one has to consult the residents of rural homeowners each time the government decides to build a great freeway that passes just outside the lines of their home. So do we really have the right to complain about something that is 20 miles offshore?

I personally think that wind turbines are majestic. I see tall, poised giants, standing steady in the constant waves with graceful arms spinning surely in the constant wind. Before people looking out to sea get to complain about our big, friendly giants, they should really start complaining about everything behind them. We live in a time when power lines on the side are so normal that we don’t even see them anymore. I counted three distinct sets of power lines on the Outer Banks. The hypocrisy is suffocating.

Offshore wind turbines represent so much more than an energy source. They stand for a new kind of respect for the organisms that live and breed in the same lands that we do. They symbolize an era when we stand up for the ideals of democracy and oust the last clutches of petrodictatorships. They represent a budding mindset of sustainable development. For these reasons, I hope that when people see offshore wind turbines in the future, they find them beautiful like I do.  Because you know what’s really ugly? A future of environmental refugees, unstable food systems, and mass species extinctions because of an energy problem we were too paralyzed to deal with.[youtube][/youtube]

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Are Wind Turbines Really that Ugly?”

  1.   tyleron 26 May 2011 at 5:46 am

    Akhil, let me first just stress that I agree with you completely. I think the fact that anyone even takes these sorts of claims seriously is patently ridiculous and has a lot more to do with the amount of money that most shoreline residence owners have than with the legitimacy of their complaint.

    However, I think your comparison to the skyscraper in the skyline is exactly why they see this complaint as being important. The ocean is not a skyline–in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It represents a territory that man can’t occupy and develop like they can land. It represents the power of nature, and gives us a sense of scale. That’s why people ‘get away from it all’ when they go to the beach–the beach and the oceanfront represent an end to the doldrum and droll machinations of civilizations. The presence of wind turbines break whatever calm one gets from seeing a horizon devoid of human transformation. In my mind, that’s how their argument would go, anyway.

    Describing it in this way doesn’t legitimize it, and that’s not what I mean to do. Instead, what I’m trying to say is that this exact conflict shows that there are multiple fronts to renewable energy. The implementation is extremely important, obviously, but the ideological front is a close second. In order for petty complaints like this to disappear and for the public to get behind renewable energy, they need to see it like you & I do. They need to understand the difference between the turbine and the chemical plant–how they represent a different paradigm of interacting with our environment. Hopefully this blog(!) can help us to do that.

  2.   Charlotte Brownon 30 May 2011 at 6:43 am

    This blog post is so true and written so well! It is awful that the public is not better educated about where their energy actually comes from and the terrible environmental and social impacts that many kinds of energy extraction techniques result in. If I were not an environmental science major, I definitely wouldn’t know hardly anything about where the energy comes from to turn on the lights in my house, and how that energy is produced. For example, when I turn on my television to watch the evening news, I never think about how much sludge in West Virginia was produced from that one short and seemingly insignificant burst of energy that will eventually pollute the surrounding lands and cause the destruction of native’s back yards and environmentally crucial habitats. Using, and often times wasting, energy has become such a habitual practice that the connection between flipping a switch or pressing a button and the irreversible mountain-top removal practices that often occur are totally unknown or ignored.
    When alternative energy ideas such as offshore wind farms are proposed, it is common for the public to vehemently support installation plans until they find out that the actual implementation will occur in their area, disturbing their fishing industry, their animals, and their beautiful view. This can be clearly illustrated by the statement “great idea, bad location” by a Cape Cod resident in the provided video. Of course, being from a coastal area, I find being able to look out at the ocean a precious and priceless gift. Even though an offshore wind farm would disrupt this completely uncorrupted view, I do not believe that we should avoid such projects at the expense of another person’s home and well being. The implementation of an offshore wind farm would cause much less visual and environmental damage than the extraction of coal, which shaves off entire mountain tops and creates numerous pools of liquid waste that pollute aquifers and can result in mudslides that carry away much more than homes.
    There will always be things that people can complain about, and disturbing the natural beauty of an area is a legitimate issue, but compared to other energy production methods, the benefits of the this source definitely outweigh the costs. Before reading your post, I never really thought about the fact that “No one has to consult the residents of a city suburb every time the local government approves the construction of another massive skyscraper that will litter the skyline. No one has to consult the residents of rural homeowners each time the government decides to build a great freeway that passes just outside the lines of their home.” Although public opinion is crucial to our democracy, the opinions of people who are uneducated about the variety of energy generation practices and their benefits and disadvantages should not be allowed to prevent the implementation of such a potentially beneficial technology. Just like power lines, hopefully offshore wind turbines will one day become a sight that does not receive second thought or glance.