Wind Turbines Equal Impoverished Legacy

The Caledonian-Record
October 3, 2003

To the Editor:

John Matsinger's long and provocative letter of Sept. 18 [click here] requires some response. I hasten to add that it is not my intention to thus initiate a series of verbal fencing matches here in The Caledonian with Mr. Matsinger. That would be both a waste of this space and of the readers' time, assuming the paper would bother to print the pieces.

I would prefer to see this page devoted to the public exchange of ideas and information about the proposed wind towers from as many people in our community as possible. The issue is that important.

I also wish to be clear that my comments do not attempt to reflect the opinion of the Kingdom Commons Group. In writing here, I speak only for myself.

Mr. Matsinger's criticism of my "op-ed" piece in the Aug. 12 edition of The Caledonian [click here] went something like this: In opposing wind turbines, Mr. Eddy and the Kingdom Commons Group (KCG) are at best "myopic," because they fail to see that without wind towers the future electric needs of our area may not be met. And then when they introduce the idea that the natural ridge lines of our community are some kind of commons in whose future all of us have, or should have, a voice, they are simply using that idea as a smoke screen to cover up their self-interest in preserving the view from their own property.

Mr. Matsinger concludes his argument with this statement: "Therein lies the fundamental intellectual dishonesty of the Group's position. They are not willing to have windmills on the ridges visible from their homes, but they seem a little concerned about where the energy to supply the needs of the country is to come from."

Certainly Mr. Matsinger's point would have been more effectively made if he had omitted the article "a" from his quote. What he apparently meant to accuse us of was that we were "little concerned" about where future electric energy was to come from, and more concerned with our view. What he did, in fact, say was that we were "a little concerned" about the future. And that is the understatement of the day.

I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Matsinger thinks that 50-60 industrial wind turbines are going to make the difference between a scarce or a plentiful supply of electricity in the future. There are at present approximately 14,000 wind turbines in California. They provide between 1 and 2 percent of the state's electrical needs. And consider the figures from the Energy Information Agency of our Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. They project that by the year 2025 wind turbines will provide 27 one-hundredths of 1 percent of America's total electrical energy needs. Not exactly an overwhelming source of supply.

But Mr. Matsinger reserved his strongest criticism for my statement that more and more people in our area are beginning to see our ridge lines "as a kind of commons from which all of us benefit -- visitors and residents alike."

I realize that our ridge tops are not a legally constituted commons in whose future we all have an interest. But wouldn't it be a benefit to the community if they were? After all, they represent a natural legacy left to us by our predecessors in this area, whether by intention or default. They are the inheritance of the whole community and have been used for generations by hunters and hikers even though they may have been owned by the state, by timber companies, or by individuals.

Quite apart from whether or not our ridge lines should be treated as a commons, the wind tower issue is a divisive one. It allows for the easy polarization of the community, not just to those who favor and those who oppose wind turbines. That division brings with it a great deal of other baggage.

It divides our world artificially into "elitists" versus "ordinary" people, into rich versus poor, or haves and have-nots, into the politically powerful and the weak, into the exploiter and exploited, and into local people and flatlanders. When the world becomes thus over-simplified, there is little discussion possible -- only animosity and confrontation.

I believe that wind energy can offer a modest addition to Vermont's energy supply. It is clean, renewable, and becoming less costly and more efficient. But because its contribution will be modest, it should not be permitted to dominate our landscape with a multitude of giant structures.

Sixty wind turbines on our ridges will not slow global warming, nor will they lessen forest damage from acid rainfall nor medical problems from air pollution. We forget that all of the electricity generated in the United States represents only 30 percent of our total energy use as a nation. Our cars, our trucks, our jet aircraft, the military machine, and our industries -- these are the polluters and the global warmers. In Vermont our acid rain and air pollution come from electrical generation plants and industries in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Even hundreds of wind turbines spread across our ridge tops aren't going to change those figures. And for every wind tower erected there must be conventional backup of electric supply generated by conventional fuels and available online immediately -- whenever the wind stops blowing.

We have yet another source of renewable energy as an alternative to wind turbines. It is equally clean and is also reasonable in price. It could come from the 11 or 12 dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers which are presently owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company and are currently for sale. The Vermont Legislature in its last session authorized the expenditure of some $250,000 for a feasibility study for the purchase of those dams by the state. I believe that this study is to be reported back to the state by Dec. 1.

It is estimated that those dams collectively would provide about 552 megawatts of peak power. One might compare this figure with the 90 megawatts of peak power output by the proposed 60 wind turbines. So, despite the complexities of Vermont's purchasing of those dams, they are worth a closer look and an invitation to discussion.

Those dams already exist. What environmental damage was caused by their construction has been done. Not so with the proposed wind turbines. The clear-cutting of the ridge tops, the huge access roads and service lanes, the transmission towers and electric lines -- these are all to come.

If we decide to proceed with the towers, we need to understand that we are deciding not just for ourselves but for all future generations living in our area. It is a decision in which they will have no say. And, I believe, we will have left them an impoverished legacy, very different from what was left to us.

When I first read Mr. Matsinger's letter, I was pleased that he spoke so positively about the importance of keeping our discussions of wind turbines free from acrimony and invective. Alas, by the time he had finished he had accused the Kingdom Commons Group and me of perpetrating something that, if it was not "intellectual fraud," it was certainly "intellectual dishonesty." He referred to both the KCG and myself as "myopic" and described my paper as "elegant sophistry."

If only Mr. Matsinger had exercised a bit of self-restraint, and if he had also not overstated the promise of wind energy, his would have been really quite a good letter.

William H. Eddy, Jr.
West Burke

More pages on this site about wind power in Vermont:
letter to The Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury), by Bill Klein
editorial by the Burlington Free Press
notes on some surveys about wind farms
report on the poor record of the Searsburg wind plant
comments about proposed East Haven wind project and projects in Vermont in general
letter to the Manchester Journal, by Hugh Kemper, and response by Andrew Perchlik, with commentary
outline of large wind projects targeting Vermont and vicinity
letter to the Burlington Free Press, by Eric Rosenbloom
Also: Vermonters with Vision

back to "A Problem With Wind Power"