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The Turbine Next Door

Do you live in the mountains or on the coast of North Carolina? If so, I should introduce you to a likely new neighbor called the industrial wind turbine. These 400-foot eyesores, which are approximately 40 stories in height, have to be placed in the mountains or on the coast if there is any feasible way to generate electricity using the wind.

Let me provide a little background first so you can know why you may be greeting your new neighbors soon. On Thursday, the North Carolina Senate voted 46-1 in favor of Senate Bill 3, which would require utilities to provide 7.5 percent of their electricity through renewable sources, such as biomass and wind. If this bill becomes law, the pressure to get wind turbines built will be enormous.

LaCapra Associates, the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s consulting firm on the issue of renewable energy, stated in a May 1, 2007, letter to the Commission: “If the state is not able to develop its wind resources, we believe it will be virtually impossible to achieve a 7.5 [percent] renewables goal with the remaining in-State (on land) renewable resources.”

When they refer to wind resources, they mean all of the “practical on-shore wind,” including the mountains. Right now, the state’s Mountain Ridge Protection Act (Ridge Law) likely prohibits wind turbines from being built, due to its height restrictions on most structures. This is why LaCapra Associates recommended that the Ridge Law be amended to permit wind turbines in the mountains.

To put it simply, to meet the 7.5 percent requirement, LaCapra Associates is arguing that all on-shore wind locations will have to be used, including the mountains. If the mountains can’t be used, then all the other on-shore wind locations will have to be used plus off-shore wind locations.

I don’t think you’ll like your new neighbors. There never is just one turbine, or even a family of turbines—there will be a whole gang of them taking up a lot of land in your neighborhood. If you care about preserving open space, they should be your worst enemy. They are very loud and don’t care about ruining the views from your property. I also wouldn’t bring any pet birds near them, because wind turbines like to chop up birds and bats.

I hate to think about your property values. If you had a choice to buy a house with a view of the ocean or a view of 25 40-story wind turbines, which property would you choose? I’m guessing it would be the property with the ocean view.

Then there’s the negative impact on tourism, which common sense tells us will crush some local economies. I was at a hearing before the Utilities Commission, and someone from the State Energy Office actually argued that these large groupings of wind turbines, referred to as “wind farms,” would help tourism. This, of course, was greeted with laughter.

Recently, I spent some time in Asheville. Not once did I think that my stay would have been better if instead of views of the mountains, I had views of wind turbines.

There will be individuals who don’t live on the coast or in the mountains who will dismiss the concerns of those who could be affected—wind turbines are for the public good, so deal with it.

They will criticize the concerns as being NIMBY arguments (“not in my backyard”). Their criticism would be accurate and completely pointless. People who could be affected by wind turbines should be concerned about their back yard, when it means such drastic costs.

These critics are the first people to use NIMBY arguments when their backyards are affected. Even “environmental advocates” worry about their backyards. For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is supposed to be an “environmentalist,” but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to kill an off-shore wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

If you hate the idea of your wind turbine neighbors, but still think the cost is worth it, then I have some more disturbing news. Wind turbines, like the wind, are not reliable. If conditions are not windy enough, wind turbines will not generate electricity. If it is too windy, then the wind turbines can’t generate electricity either. The wind has to be just right. As a result, there always has to be some form of reliable back-up electricity generation in addition to wind. Wind power, therefore, doesn’t reduce the need for “evil” energy sources such as coal.

Before you flip out while picturing your new neighbors, remember this bill is not law yet. I should also mention that the Utilities Commission could try to approve wind turbines without this bill. In fact, the Commission is considering a proposed wind farm in Ashe County. However, if the Commission interprets the Ridge Law properly, it will be defeated. The coast, though, has no “Ridge Law” to protect against wind turbines.

All that being said, if the bill does become law, the construction of wind turbines will be incredibly difficult to stop. If you don’t mind visual blight, reduced property values, unhealthy noise levels, dead birds, massive land use, and devastated local economies in return for an energy source that does not reduce the need for conventional sources, then maybe wind turbines aren’t so bad. If you do mind these issues, then you won’t like wind turbines.

By Daren Bakst

This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Daren Bakst, Legal and Regulatory Policy Analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

Carolina Journal

29 June 2007