Sure, there’s global warming to consider. And the fate of the fishing industry. But for the aesthete, a more pressing question about the Cape Wind proposal: What color has the developer picked for the 130 wind turbines it plans to erect in Nantucket Sound?
A nice “ivory,” perhaps? Maybe an “old lace?” No precise word yet.
“I don’t have any ‘Martha Stewart eggshell,'” said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, the Boston-based company behind the proposed project.
Still, one thing is clear: The gray-blue the company envisioned a few years ago is out. And an off-white (“seashell,” perhaps?) is in ascendance.
The switch, it turns out, has as much to do with airplanes as aesthetics.
After an extensive series of flights over wind farms in Joice, Iowa, Big Spring, Texas, and Tehachapi, Calif., in 2005, the Federal Aviation Administration found that white and off-white turbines are more visible to pilots than light gray or blue.
The FAA, which issued official guidelines on the subject in February, does not require developers to use the fairer colors – those who insist on the drab can still choose gray.
But the agency does offer an incentive for a cleaner look. Wind farm developers, eager to placate critics concerned about sullied views, can forgo daytime lights – flashing beacons helpful to pilots, but irritating to neighbors – if they paint the turbines an aviator-friendly white or off-white.
Cape Wind, in plans filed with the state last February, availed itself of the new regulations: dumping the daytime lights and changing the color of the turbines in the process.
But the company, which also trumpets a reduction in nighttime lighting and a realignment of the turbines to lessen the visual impact, has not exactly won over the naysayers.
White turbines are considered a bit more noticeable than gray, after all. And a Cape Wind consultant’s study found the new plan does not “create a visual experience that is qualitatively different from the previous configuration.”
“The reality is, we’re talking about 130 440-foot turbines,” said Charles Vinick, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the leading opposition group. “They are going to be visible from the shore – there’s no question about that.”
Vinick says he is in favor of wind energy – just not in a unique spot like Nantucket Sound. But when it comes to the most adamant critics, said Michael Skelly, chief development officer with Horizon Wind Energy, a Houston-based firm that operates 10 wind farms across the country, even the most tasteful turbine is not enough.
“Once in a while, you do run into people who don’t want to look at wind turbines unless they’re invisible,” he said.
Still, some local governments have embraced the role of palette police. In California’s Los Angeles County, homeowners building a turbine in the backyard must choose a color that is “muted and visually compatible with surrounding development.”
And in Calumet County, Wis., a wind farm developer must be careful to choose a “non-reflective, non-obtrusive” color.
In the United Kingdom, there is no hard-and-fast rule about turbine color, according to the Department of Trade and Industry. A company called Ecotricity, which has built 11 land-based wind farms throughout Britain, has been able to negotiate a shaded green coloring at the base of its turbines.
But the preferred color in the U.K. is a low-reflective gray. And offshore wind farms there feature a yellow band painted around the lower portion of the tower, designed to stand out to mariners.
Kevin Blount, chief of waterways management for the U.S. Coast Guard 1st District, said large stripes could be a bit much for Cape Codders gazing out at Nantucket Sound. “We’re sensitive to the concerns of the people who live down there,” he said.
But the Coast Guard might require yellow squares at the base of the Cape Wind towers, he said.
Which leaves just one question: “Sierra gold” or “sunshine?”
By David Scharfenberg
7 May 2007
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