On the surface, the concept of wind energy has a lot to offer: unlike outdated coal-burning sources of electricity, wind turbines produce no acid rain, and Pennsylvania is ground zero for acid rain. Even the most delirious climate-change deniers would do well to heed the fine print that comes along with our fishing license, cautioning that we eat no more than one serving of fish per week of any species caught within the state, because it may contain mercury, PCBs and other poisons, most of which result from living downwind of coal-burning power plants in West Virginia, Ohio and our state.
In their place – unpopulated locations with proven, consistent winds, such as deserts and off-shore sites – energy-producing wind turbines can be valuable alternatives to coal-burning plants, but the 436-foot tall towers proposed for Jacks and Stone Mountains in Big Valley lie far beyond those sensible guidelines.
In addition to uglifying a beautiful area, the average “windfall” on those ridges is negligible. Volkswind, one of two German corporations, plans to construct 20 turbines on Jacks Mountain, covering a span of at least four miles above Belleville. E.ON is planning a much bigger project on both Stone Mountain and Jacks Mountain that may include as many as 70 turbines, requiring at least 10 miles of mountaintop. The mountaintops will have to be leveled and widened for roads and for locating the towers.
These corporations are in it for the money. Valuable subsidies, which are really a kind of money-laundering of our tax dollars, lure them into areas where profits must seem to them to arrive on the prevailing westerly winds, along with the mercury and PCBs. When they could not secure enough signed leases to conscript the mountaintops near Shade Gap they abandoned the project and moved on to Big Valley, where a number of leases have already been signed.
It takes a lot of thoughtfulness, courage and even faith to turn down what must seem like the easy money that comes with signing a lease. Signing a piece of paper, especially when an attorney hasn’t read it and advised you about what it really means, could have some scary consequences.
For example, might you be signing away your neighbor’s right to the water that many generations of ancestors drank, bathed in, and made available to their animals? If your reading of the “Song of Ascents” in Psalm 121:1 about looking up to the mountains includes watching bulldozers messing with groundwater that supplies family reservoirs, our interpretations of that biblical passage are very different.
Haven eaten my share of food from Big Valley farms and gardens, I am grateful that when I look up to the mountains, I see where they meet the sky, instead of watching a collection of giant whirligigs trying to outdo the colorful, simple ones on Amish barns.
The farmer, poet, and activist for the landscape, Wendell Berry, wrote, “There are no sacred and non-sacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places.”
In his poem, “Hope,” he writes:
Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end.
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