Across America, a fast-growing source of alternative energy is beginning to dot the landscape.
And as wind farms emerge on the coast and in the heartland, controversy is blowing in with them.
That’s no surprise. There is not a single form of energy production in the world that does not carry with it some form of concern about its environmental or health impact. Coal power and nuclear power, for example, generate not simply energy for humans but concerns about global warming and radioactivity, respectively.
So wind power is now in the spotlight, with hopes and fears competing in the public arena. That’s the case right now in Somerset County, where a company called Pioneer Green is seeking to build 50 wind turbines in an area between Marion Station and Westover.
A group called Safe for Somerset is raising some important questions and is seeking larger setbacks between the project and habitated areas.
The Somerset County Commissioners and Somerset County Planning Commission are collaborating on a law to regulate turbine projects, with a public hearing likely in the works. The county drafted a proposed law two years ago, but has not adopted it. With the Pioneer Green project on the drawing board, urgency has grown among residents concerned about environmental, health and aesthetic impacts on Somerset County.
A few reasons why such concerns exist:
• Turbines can be big: Wind turbines come in many sizes, but the largest among them can be as tall as a roughly 55-story building when measured to the tip of the blade. Needless to say, that’s a scale of construction we do not see here on the Lower Shore.
• Turbines can be plentiful: The Pioneer Green project calls for 50 turbines. In places such as upstate New York, there are wind farms with a few hundred turbines (albeit not 55 stories tall). From afar, with the sun glinting off of them, the turbines can be attractive. Up close, they have a tendency to turn rural landscapes into something more industrial in feel.
• Turbines make noise: Different neighbors of wind projects describe the noise impact somewhat differently, but there is no question that a low-frequency hum of sorts emanates from turning turbines. This raises concern about health impacts and mental health impacts. It is imperative that a healthy distance exist between homes and wind farms; such a distance has not always been factored in elsewhere.
• Turbines can kill birds: According to smithsonian.com, estimates say that wind turbines kill between 140,000 and 328,000 birds per year. And the taller the turbine, the more likely it will be in the way of birds’ flight paths.
But there are also reasons why wind power needs to be seriously considered:
• Climate change: Fossil fuels are believed to be a major contributor to increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere, which is believed to be increasingly warming global temperatures. If we do not want Delmarva, Manhattan and South Beach to be under water in 80 years, change in energy usage appears necessary.
• Natural resources depletion: Even if the impacts of climate change could be muted, a reality exists that there is a finite amount of oil and coal available in the Earth. Wind and solar resources, however, face no such depletion, since the wind always blows and the sun always shines.
• The local economy: Somerset County is among the poorest places in Maryland. Building wind farms holds the promise of short-term (but well-paying) construction jobs. More important, it offers the opportunity for sustained property tax revenue in a region starving for dollars to fund schools and road improvements.
Somerset County’s quest to regulate wind turbines is very important, and citizens and businesses need to make themselves heard during this process.
Done properly, wind power may hold great promise for our region, surrounded by ocean and bay breezes.
Done poorly, wind power could become a loudly humming nightmare.
Done not at all, it could become an enormous missed opportunity for the Lower Shore.
The future of wind power locally is at a critical juncture. Now is the time to speak up and to become involved.