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Power that only Don Quixote could love

I love moral ambiguity. It makes for great literature and films. It causes people to talk, debate, argue and eventually shoot things at each other. Wind power is so morally ambiguous that I predict it will make even rational peoples’ heads explode.

Wind power has all the ingredients of a good brain buster. The non-fossil fuel energy windmills produce helps preserve the environment, but the wind generators themselves have to be added to the environment. Wind power is going to make us redefine what we consider pollution. They may not be billowing smoke or leaking radiation, but they do make a lot of noise and can change a scenic horizon into a jumble of technology. Like dams in rivers, they interrupt the free flow of natural settings.

It wasn’t long ago that protesters in Western towns were chaining themselves to trees to block the installation of cell phone towers. It wasn’t because they didn’t think people should use cell phones, but because the towers were blight. Just think what protests 2,000 wind towers lining the Wasatch Mountains might bring. We love our mountains here in the West. Except for the giant school letters and ski lift towers that decorate them, we revere our mountain ranges like Californians do their beaches.

Wind power is to energy conservation what homeless people are to social responsibility. We want homeless shelters, but we don’t want to have homeless people over for dinner every night. I like the idea that Utah’s favorite liberal community radio station and the Moab Folk Festival claim to be powered by wind, but I don’t see any 50-foot towers anywhere near either of those enterprises. Nobody wants a coal plant in the city limits either, but how many wind towers will be tolerable?

If they don’t line the Wasatch Mountains, wind towers could be relegated to wind farms. Wind farming sounds downright bucolic, but it’s also possible that the wind farms will more likely resemble mining towns. The wind ghettos will be built in low-income areas desperate for jobs and income. The residents will have to live in a quixotic nightmare so that we can get public radio from an environmentally friendly source.

It’s also quite possible that the perceived panacea of environmentally friendly energy may distract people from trying to reduce energy use. I’m sure you all know someone who has as Toyota Prius who acts as if driving a hybrid car isn’t really driving; it’s more like planting a tree every time you turn the ignition key. Sweet perfumes come out of the exhaust pipe and normal cars weep in shame as they pull up to the farmer’s market. Similarly, powering your espresso machine with wind power may only open up new rationalizations for not cutting back on energy to begin with. Wind energy certainly can be part of our national energy buffet but maybe we also need to work on eating less.

It may make your head throb a little, but what could be bad about wind power? We are people of the wind. If not for wind power most of us would not be here in North America celebrating Thanksgiving.

* DENNIS HINKAMP lives in Logan and works in extension communications for Utah State University. He is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo.