Wind power has a role in America’s energy future, at least until more-advanced technologies displace it. That reality does not give the wind industry carte blanche to rip up the countryside of northern Ohio and southeast Michigan and stick turbines wherever it wants, without adequate siting rules and other environmental and safety regulation.
Commercial-scale turbines are not the quaint windmills of travel posters. Large and powerful, their computer-driven heads rotate 360 degrees in accordance with wind gusts.
Such features enable the giant machines to harness a largely untapped energy resource that is clean and renewable. They also create potential problems that local governments and residents must address.
The western Lake Erie region, from Monroe to Sandusky, is coveted by off-shore wind developers because of its shallow water and access to the regional electrical grid. It also is the Great Lakes region’s most ecologically fragile area. It is vital for birding, one of the nation’s fastest growing outdoor hobbies.
This resource offers economic advantages, in recreation and tourism, along with environmental ones. The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge generates $3.5 million in annual revenue for Lucas and Ottawa counties, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
More than 90 percent of that cash comes from nonresidents of the region. The refuge is recognized by magazines and advocacy groups as one of the nation’s best for birding. Should the wind industry plan to encroach on the area, the onus must be on it to make its case, not on birders to defend theirs.
In Michigan’s Lenawee County and near the Ohio-Indiana state line, proposals to install wind turbines are attracting organized opposition. It is easy – but unfair – to dismiss this as an expression of classic Not In My Back Yard sentiments. If majority opinion and market forces lead to zoning ordinances that discourage developers from operating in an area, they must be respected.
Utility-scale wind power is too new for anyone to presume that fears of noise, large shadows, sleep deprivation, and lower property values are unfounded. The right response is for developers and allies to allay such suspicions with facts and showings of proper oversight.
The wind industry is not a panacea for all of the region’s, or nation’s, energy needs. At best, it will become a slightly larger contributor to the overall energy picture – not a dominant force, but more than symbolic. It can have a small but significant part in enhancing national security by making our sources of energy more diverse.
Wind power’s time has arrived. But like other sources in energy’s big leagues, it must be held to a high standard.
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