Update on November 11: Since my original post below, I’ve gotten some feedback and clarifications from a few folks involved in these conversations, and want to update my own thoughts accordingly.
Apparently the main proposal on the table has been from a non-local entity that wants to build a large-scale industrial wind turbine farm in a location that may not be well-suited to the overall needs of the area, mostly with a focus on using the energy generated elsewhere and creating profit for that entity. So this would shift the question from “how can Wayne County benefit from wind energy?” to “should Wayne County rent out some land for the commercial benefit of an energy company?”
It’s a very different question and these details matter. Before publishing my comments I had requested some of the details of what’s being proposed from the County and City officials involved, but hadn’t received anything back yet. If those details aren’t publicly available, it’s harder to understand how the specific placement/location, scale, management, finances and energy generation/usage would work, or where the opposition is coming from.
I also don’t want people living here to conflate “poorly located industrial wind farm” with “wind energy” in general. Richmond needs to be considering alternative energy sources in the long term, and I think it’s dangerous to have these signs be the first thing residents see in a public conversation about wind energy as an option for our community. I wish they’d had a website address on them where people who wanted to learn more could go to continue the conversation.
At the very least the documents and research being circulated among elected officials and local leaders in this conversation should be made readily available on the City and/or County websites.
Original Post: There’s a conversation happening here about using the power of the wind to provide electricity to the community. It’s an important conversation, not just because it affects anyone using electricity, but because how we approach it also speaks to what kind of place we want to be.
First of all, let’s just take a minute to acknowledge how amazing it is that we’re living in a time when the technology exists to generate power from the energy of the wind, the sun, water and various other sources. Although we’re a ways away from being able to have all of our energy needs met by a single one of these sources, we no longer have to think solely in terms of “coal versus nuclear.” Wow.
That’s why you might be a bit surprised to see signs like the ones in the photo above popping up around town, opposing the use of wind turbines to generate energy.
The signs and the over-simplified thinking of the wind energy opponents behind them are misleading and harmful for a few reasons:
The opposition signs present wind energy as in conflict with economic growth, quality of life and job creation. But a variety of studies have shown that in fact, wind energy can be good for the local economy, land owners, job-seekers and industrial sectors all around. It may be the case that shifting our electricity generation to include wind involves changes in skills and roles within the energy sector workforce. But human innovation that impacts our society on a large scale – from motorized transport to industrial agriculture, from the telephone to the Internet – have always required related cultural, social and economic adjustments and trade-offs along the way.
To be sure, there are zoning, aesthetic and health considerations to take into account. We have to take seriously the concerns expressed by some home-owners around placement, shadow flicker, sound and other factors that come up for those new to the presence of wind turbines on their landscape. But these are issues that can be addressed by the professionals who design wind energy strategies for communities like ours every day.
Perhaps what’s most obviously missing from these signs and oppositional statements about wind energy is any kind of proposal for how to reduce or meet our energy needs in other ways. Mining and burning coal, and importing oil-based energy from other countries, are not sustainable ways to generate electricity, and each brings with it a host of health, environmental, aesthetic and economic problems that seem to jeopardize the beauty, safety and independence of our community far more seriously than wind energy does. We may have become desensitized to those problems because they’ve been around longer or because the real costs are hidden away in foreign wars and quickly forgotten ecological disasters, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
So if there are people working to make life here more environmentally and economically sustainable and they bring the possibility of wind turbines to the conversation, I think anyone with concerns about that has a responsibility to engage in good faith. They need to do more than put up a misleading sign and then walk away without proposing a viable alternative to the status quo. If you’re really trying to make Richmond a better place, tell us specifically what you’re for and how to get there, not just what you’re against.
Maybe wind power isn’t right for our community, maybe it is. But let’s be able to say we did more than shoot down the very question with deceptive signs and one-liners. Let’s move past any knee-jerk resistance to change, educate ourselves about the facts and possibilities for making Richmond’s energy situation better, and then figure out a plan together.