“Falling in Love with the Wind”

In face of wonderful New York Times reporting on windpower, giving voice to NIMBYism, perhaps we should highlight better reporting on and discussion of windpower.  OnEarth, the Natural Resources Defense Council‘s magazine, had a wonderful article earlier this year, “Falling in Love with Wind: How a small farm town traded its dair cows for renewable energy”.  Wonderful not because it is without fault. Wonderful not because it is simply boosterism for wind power.  Wonderful not just because it is (very) well written (kudos Joseh D’Agnesse) with great photos.  No, wondeful because one can read the article, gain a feel for some strengths and weaknesses of windpower in terms of the lives of individuals and communities.

As the subtitle suggests, the article focuses on wind power and its introduction into rural Lewis County, New York into the Tug Hill Plateau area.  In essence, farmers in the area now have a ‘new crop’ to go along with their struggling dairy farms:  wind power.  One example is the Burbank family, whose four sons each laid claim to one of the four wind turbines on their farm. The $26+k per year in payments the Burbanks receive are going into a college fund for the boys who delight in “joshing one anohter about whose blades are turning — and earning — the most.”

The article also discusses the cash flow into the local communities from the wind turbines farm property taxes and the creation of jobs. 

On the downside, there are 50 decibel noise levels, some bird kills, and “a potentially more worrisome number of bats have been killed”.  And, well, there are opponents (as well as supporters) in the local community.  Interesting to note that one opponent, Gordon Yancey, who complains about the noise levels, rents snowmobiles for a living.

This article provides a quite different window on Tug Hill than one is exposed to in The Voices of Tug Hill, a favorite of the anti-wind community, and its emphasis on the focus group tested “industrial wind farms”.  Have to say that, well, that film is filled with shallow complaints. “We don’t get anything back from this. There are tax dollars.”  Hmmm, don’t you get it? Or, the snowmobiler complaining about the windmills “destroying” the environment?   Now, the one thing that Voice of Tug Hill suggests is the value of figuring out a way to give some form of small payments to those who have impact from the windmills, such as perhaps giving some amount of electricity for free per month based on some definition of impact (whether noise, visual impact, etc …)

The insert discusses Danish wind power. One of the lessons from Denmark could be the value of creating a path for communal investment in wind turbine electricity.  While the PTC is important for the wind industry, there are relatively few people who can gain financial value from them and, well, perhaps opening up wind investments to equivalent financial benefit of PTC for “ordinary” people who, for example, might be able to pool together to purchase a multi-megawatt turbine.

In any event, Falling in Love with Wind is worth the read.

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