The reason people build windmills is because they are a way to generate electricity to power our homes and factories.
As well, wind is a renewable resource that doesn’t emit pollutants or create huge river diversions or reservoirs. Windmills don’t require complicated storage of dangerous nuclear waste. They don’t use coal. You build them and they spin relentlessly.
We erect windmills because they are gentle on the environment and, oh yes, they create profit for the owners. But we want a planet in which we can breathe and windmills help us do that.
But what is left of nature that we strive to preserve if we cover our land and oceans with windmills? To some they are beautiful works of art, much like what a photographer or painter or poet can do with a bird on a wire. To others, windmill farms are what they are – factories to produce electricity in much the same way General Motors builds cars.
One of the reasons we try to minimize damage to the environment is to preserve the pristine and beautiful landscapes with which
Ontario is blessed. But the presence of windmills can itself mar such locations. To many, they are latter-day cellphone towers, providing great service but angering those who left the city for countryside only to have their view destroyed by visual pollution. Esthetically and in reality, nature takes a backseat when a 20-storey windmill is constructed.
One of the most beautiful areas of the southern part of Ontario is the Madawaska Highlands near Eganville. Its majestic ridges are one of the little-known great sites in the province. It is also one of the best locations in the province for harnessing the breeze.
These windmill farms (a polite way of describing these electricity factories) could provide as much as $12,000 a year in income to a property owner in this economically deprived area. As well, spinoff benefits include construction, road-building and erecting lines to carry this new power. But is what is lost is nature, the very nature that windmills are supposed to preserve. Perhaps it is time the province develops guidelines for building windmills that take into account esthetics as well as their ability to generate power. Unfortunately, many of our windiest sites are also some of the most beautiful.
Perhaps there are ways that we can locate these electricity factories in areas where they don’t detract from the beauty of some of our last wild areas. Maybe there are windy sites along the shores of the Great Lakes where industrial plants are already located. Certainly these windmills are a pleasant diversion from smokestacks and slag.
As much as possible, people want their natural sites to remain natural. That doesn’t happen when windmills are constructed. Some people think wind power is the perfect environmental energy but, like most things, it has its drawbacks, too.
– This editorial was first published in the Ottawa Citizen.
17 May 2008
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