In the early 1800s, Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of landscape artists, was already worried about the degradation of the American landscape. He was impelled to record his romanticized view of the American frontier, even as it receded before his very eyes.
On a more practical level, Americans of the early 19th century were already remarking on the changes in their surroundings resulting from only a century and a half of human occupation—the forests were disappearing, and ground water levels were decreasing at the same time that streams, no longer buffered by grasslands and forests, tended to flood.
It was an early example of the kind of environmental awareness that is becoming increasingly common in the early 21st century as we take stock of the damage we have done in what is now a little more than three centuries. As it was for our historical counterparts, solutions to 21st-century problems are hard to come by.
Nineteenth-century Americans needed to cut down the forests to build their shelters, to heat their houses and to fence in their stock. Today’s Americans must mine their resources equally intensively for similar purposes.
But just as early Americans gave up wood as their primary energy source in favor of fossil fuels, now we look for alternative methods of heating our homes and powering our cars. The question that faces us, as it did them, is how to effect this with the least environmental and human damage. Many of the new technologies we espouse have the virtue of being renewable and relatively non-polluting, but even when energy is captured from the wind or the sun, there are aesthetic and environmental consequences to harnessing them. And it is just these consequences that the Connecticut Siting Council must now address as it grapples with applications that would build huge wind turbines in several Connecticut towns.
The Siting Council held a public hearing in Colebrook this week to gather comments about the proposal to erect six 400-foot-high towers within the boundaries of the rural town.
Predictably, people who enjoy the bucolic isolation of their beautiful town were less than enthusiastic about the introduction of six turbines into the landscape. Many of those standing up to decry their construction framed their remarks like hunters who assert they are conservationists or people about to make a bigoted remark who start out, “Some of my best friends are … .”
Many of those testifying against allowing the towers insisted they were longtime conservationists and “green” to the core. Some even said they believe in wind generation, but almost all said, “Not here.”
Now, this could be seen as a classic “not in my backyard” response. Everyone wants to be green—but not at the expense of his or her own comfort, pleasure and property values. But in this instance it would be hard to argue with their concerns. These towers will be intrusive, if in no other way because they will be visually out of scale in a region of historic homes nestled along country lanes.
They bring with them noise and some, if not a lot, of danger.
We believe, like many of those who testified, that wind power is one of several partial solutions to this nation’s energy needs. These are solutions that must be explored to decrease our dependence on oil—not just foreign oil, but all dirty and polluting oil. If we do not find solutions, the world we hand on to our children will be an even more difficult one.
We recognize that, properly placed, wind turbines can add significantly to energy generation in this country, and in this sense we support them. But it is essential that they be placed where they will have the maximum generation capacity while doing the least physical and economic harm to their surroundings.
The jury is out on what kind of generation capacity they would enjoy in Connecticut and, because they must be strategically placed for the maximum wind volume, their siting in Connecticut can be problematic. It is possible that our small state, with its dense population and limited siting capabilities, is not the ideal location for these structures.
There is pressure on the Connecticut Siting Council to make its decision quickly so the entrepreneurs who want to build these behemoths can take advantage of federal dollars due to dry up this year, but that should not carry much weight in making this decision.
There are currently no regulations that address all the potential concerns about tower placement, and we believe that answers should be obtained to the hard questions being asked and that those answers should be codified into comprehensive regulations before permits are given to erect wind towers in this state.
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