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Proposed wind farm draws criticism

The Apex Clean Energy company wants to build a wind farm on the Cumberland Plateau, installing 23 giant turbines, each of which would tower more than 40 stories high.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander opposes the project, explaining that the towering turbines would blemish some of the state’s most scenic and pristine land.

Opponents of the Crab Orchard Wind Project claim it wouldn’t simply despoil the immediate area, it would spread its visual blight for miles around.

Full disclosure: I own the farm I grew up on in the Cumberland Homesteads near Cumberland Mountain State Park. I share concerns that the proposed windmills would be visible from there – and from just about anywhere else within a 20-mile radius.

If you gaze off in the distance to the east, you see a majestic range of blue-green mountains. That’s the same view the first pioneers saw when they ventured into the territory in the mid-1700s. Long before, Native Americans hunted and camped in the area and assumedly shared the same appreciation for the surrounding vista.

Overnight, the wind farm would despoil it.

Until you’ve seen a wind farm up-close it’s impossible to fathom how gigantic – and intrusive – the turbines are. Alexander puts their height into perspective: they are over twice as tall as the sky boxes at UT’s Neyland Stadium.

Each blade is as long as a football field and weighs 17 tons.

During the day the towering turbines mar the landscape. At night their glaring lights blink incessantly in areas where for centuries only fireflies winked in the dark.

Not only are the giant windmills a scenic blemish, they are known to be environmentally destructive – ironic, since they are supposed to protect the environment by providing “clean” energy. However, to install and maintain them, vast swaths of forest and natural areas have to be cleared – and remain cleared forever.

The giant windmills are a death trap for birds. A recent California study found that countless eagles and other birds of prey have been killed by a single wind farm. They were attracted to the small mammals that proliferate in the cleared grassy areas around the windmills, frequently swooping into the windmills blades.

The dead raptors in turn attracted scavengers, including some rare species of vultures, which proceeded to fall victim to the giant blades spinning at 150 mph.

Migrating waterfowl also are known to fly into the blades.

Proponents of wind farms clams such devastation is exaggerated and insist that the environmental impact is not that great. But they can’t refute the desecration of the natural scenery. We can see it with our own eyes.

And for what? As Alexander notes, the energy produced by wind farms (when the wind happens to be blowing) is “puny.”

Wind farms might be OK on vast, uninhabited Western deserts, but critics say they are not suited for what few pristine natural areas that remain in Tennessee.

If the Crab Orchard Project gets pushed through, where might our state’s next towering wind farm pop up? On top of the Smokies?