Wind Farms, Welcomed by Many, Prompt Defensive Reactions From Some

January 05, 2010 05:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
An offshore wind farm project opposed by Nantucket residents could move forward, highlighting opposing viewpoints on wind energy.

Salazar Plans Meeting

The proposed wind farm off of Cape Cod could progress, now that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he’ll call a meeting between “key parties” next week. Salazar hopes to wrap up the issue within the next two months, Beth Daley reported for The Boston Globe.

Salazar’s announcement came shortly after an apparent “setback”—the National Park Service’s decision to include the Nantucket Sound on the National Register of Historic Places, which would prevent construction projects. Native American tribes have claimed the Sound is part of their culture and history. Those in favor of the wind farm contend that tribes spoke out due to a partnership with the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the project’s “main opposition group.” The tribes have denied such claims.

In 2006, Op-ed columnist Anne Applebaum addressed opposition to Cape Wind, the proposed offshore wind farm, led by “a coalition of anti-wind groups and summer homeowners, among them the Kennedy family.” The group claimed a wind farm would ruin the view and devalue real estate, and that energy companies would be cashing in on the project. But Applebaum questions whether the group’s arguments “reflect a deeper American malady”: an opposition to building anything.

A similar issue arose in 2005, when Michigan Wind Energy and Mackinaw Power revealed plans to construct “Michigan’s largest wind-energy project,” complete with nearly 300-foot-tall pinwheels “across the county,” Time Magazine reported. In this case, some residents opposed the project due to property value concerns but others, such as orchard owner and lifelong Oceana County resident Ron Longcore, were in favor.

Longcore planned to “lease a sliver of his land” to Michigan Wind Energy for turbines, and put the money toward orchard taxes and insurance, Time reported. It is now common practice in the U.S. and Europe for farmers and ranchers to “earn extra income by leasing out their land for turbines,” sometimes setting up battles with homeowners determined to maintain real estate values.

Studies Show Public in Favor of Wind Farms

Reaction to wind farms is not always so dramatic, however. According to studies in the U.S. and Europe, many people are not opposed to wind farms being built near their neighborhoods. Moreover, their reasoning seems practical: They hope wind farms will improve the local economy and the environment.

In December 2009, The Oklahoman reported on a poll showing 91 percent of Oklahoma residents in favor of wind farm development throughout the state, and 72 percent “willing to pay for electricity generated by wind.” Pollster Pat McFerron told The Oklahoman that the favorable opinion “cuts across all groups: men, women, Republicans, Democrats.”

Scotland newspaper The Herald reported similar public mentality regarding wind farms in December 2005. Research at the time revealed that a “vast majority of people living near windfarms are supportive of them,” and that “a ‘vocal minority’ is drowning out the ‘silent and contented majority’” that appreciated wind farms. The research was based on a survey of 300 people residing “within six miles of a windfarm,” and was carried out by Dr. Charles Warren of Scotland’s St. Andrews University.

Opinion & Analysis: Which arguments against wind power should be taken seriously?

Stanley Fish, an author and professor, tackled the subject of wind farms in an editorial for The New York Times in August 2007. Fish discusses efforts by himself and fellow residents of Andes, the small New York town where he has a summer home, to block construction of a wind farm there.

Fish concedes that the town is made up of “liberals” that “are all soldiers in Al Gore’s army,” and questions the motives of wind companies. They “may advertise themselves as environmentalists, but they are really developers,” he writes. The column drew several interesting comments from readers, including some debate over the influence of “well-off communities” on wind farm construction.

Historical Context: The first wind farms and future projections

FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Wind Power provides historical background on wind power and wind farms, including information about the economics of wind power and policies that help encourage wind power development.

According to The Economist, Denmark became the first country to begin researching wind power in the 1970s, following “the first oil crisis.” The U.S. followed suit, and by the early 1980’s, “[t]he first wind farms sprouted in California.”

Reference: How does wind power work?

The Union of Concerned Scientists provides a comprehensive lesson on “How Wind Energy Works,” including historical information, the “Variability of Wind Power” and wind turbine mechanics. The future of the industry is also discussed, including the impacts of the recession and expectations for increased capacity.

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