Recently, concerns have been raised about my personal position regarding wind energy development in the context of the Orton Family foundation's role in the siting of the proposed Little Equinox wind facility.
Recently, concerns have been raised about my personal position regarding wind energy development in the context of the Orton Family foundation’s role in the siting of the proposed Little Equinox wind facility. While I have written in favor of the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, when I was an MIT planning professor and ran a community development non-profit, I am not pro-wind everywhere or all the time, nor, in the past or today, as the Foundation’s President, have I stated a position for or against the proposed Little Equinox project.
I believe that what is at stake in the debates about renewable energy is our ability to carry on a public conversation as citizens, respectfully and with a genuine concern for all the facts and values that can be brought to bear. This, to my mind, is where the rub is. Can communities have such a conversation? I and my Foundation colleagues believe they can.
I believe decisions about wind energy, like other land use choices, should be made on a case-by-case basis and in an informed, equitable and collaborative manner. This is the mission of the Foundation: to enable citizens to participate in decisions that directly affect them and future generations, and to help them bring forth the information and resources they need to fully understand the implications of those decisions. The Foundation does not take a position for or against wind or any other land use issue. Instead, we believe there are certain critical land use planning issues that define our times and can no longer be avoided or denied. These include affordable housing, public transportation, alternative energy, green space and habitat protection and downtown revitalization, among others.
In 2004, I wrote an essay in Northern Woodlands magazine that summarizes my position on wind energy. The essay was widely circulated via the Internet and was posted, without my knowledge or permission, on the website of Endless Energy, the proponent of the Little Equinox project. I’ll let the essay speak for itself:
“Beyond the contested aesthetic, environmental, and economic issues associated with almost any development project, the most important question raised by wind farms is essentially a civic one: how do individuals and, by turn, communities make pattern-changing decisions, in both public policy and personal attitudes, to shift from the status quo to a better, more just, and more environmentally sound future? Debates about wind energy and other renewables are important because they compel us as locals at least to consider, if not to act on, the public interest as it plays out across several scales – from the nearby mountaintop to thousands of miles away – and to begin to think like citizens, beyond the narrow “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) stance that has become the default for most communities facing any and all new development proposals. Importantly, renewable energy is one of the few areas of our post-industrial, global capitalist culture where place – local place – still matters a lot. It depends first and foremost on local resources – natural, political, and social. Without them, there is no renewable energy future.
…. New Englanders have proved to be among the most public-spirited of Americans, with wind farms but the latest test in a long line of civic challenges. As with any difficult public policy issue, there are no simple answers, only hard choices, hard work, and perseverance. My bet is that we in the Northeast will figure wind farms out – will build them in some places, not in others. And that’s okay. The key is that we actually join the issue, engage as citizens in the tough decision making it demands, and come out the other end ready for the next challenge.”
This is where I, and the Foundation, stand on wind. Our hope is that we can help communities like Manchester find opportunity, not defeat, in these challenges. This, we believe, is where the path to a better future begins.
William Shutkin, President & CEO,
Orton Family Foundation, Manchester Village
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