December 28, 2010 | Sustainability + Energy

I guess I don’t really get it. Nimby, or nimbyism that is. I mean I get that the pristine mountain ridge, the amber waves of grain and the wine dark sea are most lovely when unadulterated -- no houses, factories, power lines or wind turbines. What I don’t get is that the visual price of wind turbines on the top of our ridge, across the expanse of our prairie or on the horizon of our sea is seen as greater than the price of their West Virginian ridges with their tops removed for coal production or those rolling lawns dotted with white crosses from defending access to oil reserves or their beaches fouled and their seas slick with oil spilled from depths.

A Certain Prejudice

I confess I love wind power. I have loved it since I first became engaged with it as a young man of 25. For two weeks in 1973 I traveled across the Midwest from central Kansas to eastern Colorado through the sand hills of Nebraska and the Dakotas searching for Jacobs wind turbines.

With a friend, a dog, some tools and a pickup truck, we found, bargained, bought and took down some 50 of these 2.5 and 5 kW, upwind three blade turbines manufactured between the end of WWII and the early 1960’s when rural electrification finally reached the most remote farms. Depending upon their condition and the disposition of their owners, we paid between nothing and several hundred dollars. Most were still on their towers turning in the wind unconnected to any load. The owner of one of these, still in beautiful condition, refused to sell because it told him the wind direction in a beautiful way. Several were in the barn accumulating chaff and pigeon guano. Wherever we found them, whatever their condition, each one came with a story of life on the sea of grass, living off of the land, making do. I treasure this experience. The sight of a turbine turning in the wind stirs my soul. So, I’m prejudiced, but still…

Weird Logic?

Not in my backyard may seem to have a certain strange logic. If I don’t directly benefit from the wind turbines or if I’m the only one who pays a visual ‘price’ or even if I’m the one who pays the highest price, why should I play host to an eyesore or even a disturbance of my peaceful enjoyment? But to me, that’s flawed logic from the start.

First, we all, or almost all, benefit from wind power in one or many ways – availability of electricity, economic activity, reduced carbon in the atmosphere. There really is something for almost everyone in wind power. Second, those who host wind turbines in their neighborhoods are finally sharing the burden of our energy appetites, which a few others in oil rich, hydro endowed, nuclear focused, coal fueled regions have carried for several generations. Finally, as suggested above, wind power hosts pay the smallest of prices in the energy equation. What other energy generator would you host in your community, or are you willing to exchange your lifestyle for one with scarce energy resources? (Howard Kunstler’s 2007 article in Orion magazine, “Making Alternative Arrangements” vividly describes the lifestyle adjustments that will be required.)

What Next?

So, I guess I really do get it. Unfortunately, the answer does not reflect well on us all. Independence from imported oil and the threat of war, protection from the awful consequence of nuclear accident, relief from the environmental costs of fossil fuel extraction, shale oil recovery, nuclear waste disposal, development of the industries and economies of the next 100 years — all call for shared sacrifice, a commodity in regrettably short supply these days. This is a subject I suspect I’ll return to again in a future post, so subscribe by RSS feed above to be sure not to miss out.