June 15, 2003

Blow It Out Your...

Thanks, JimC, for sending me the link to this story, which made me want to throw up. (Link - New York Times)

The gist of the story is that the folks who live around Nantucket Sound are raising a stink over a developer's plans to plant wind turbines out in the sound. Such turbines could supply 1.8% (that's right - nearly 2%) of the entirety of New England's electrical needs. (You could also look at it as 75% of the needs of the cape and islands.)

In this NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) fight, they have enlisted (among other people) the Governor, some Kennedys, and jeeze willikers - Walter Cronkite. Walter Cronkite for cripe's sake. Check this out:

Walter Cronkite squirmed a bit at this characterization. ''The problem really is Nimbyism,'' he admitted when I reached him by phone not long ago, ''and it bothers me a great deal that I find myself in this position. I'm all for these factories, but there must be areas that are far less valuable than this place is.'' With prodding, he suggested the deserts of California. Then, perhaps realizing that might be a tad remote to serve New England's energy needs, he added, ''Inland New England would substitute just as well.''

As we talked, his discomfort was so keen that he interrupted his thought and pleaded, ''Be kind to an old man,'' before summing up. ''We have a lot of interesting wildlife, like porpoises and whales,'' he said. ''It's a very important commercial fishing ground, and it's a marvelous boating area for recreational fishermen, for sailors. Last -- but this is not inconsequential -- it will be most unsightly for what is now open bay. Everybody will see it, anyone who wanders on the water, who has a home that faces the water.''

Oh, my aching head.

I have the perfect solution. Instead of allowing them to put up these turbines, how about we give them a pass on that and just raise their electricity prices by a factor of 3 or so so they can help subsidize everyone else's electricity usage. Perhaps I'm already a little sensitive regarding the subject of what people who live to the east of here (and some to the north) think about what the rest of the state is for. There appears to be an attitude that if you don't live within certain areas of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, you're a Morlock or something.

For Pete's sake, we have 2 coal-burning power plants in our town that generate electricity for the New England grid. These are polluting plants. But they want to throw up a few non-polluting windmills off the coast of the Nantucket and a bunch of people wearing white slacks suddenly soil themselves and get all red in the face.

And this, after so much oil was recently dumped in Buzzard's Bay. Shame on these people, who claim to care about the environment. Shame on them, who stand in the way of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, which includes foreign oil and oil in the arctic. Shame on these hypocrites. And shame on Walter Cronkite.

If you care about the view, let it symbolize your willingness to do something about the huge problem this country (and the world) faces. Get over yourselves. Seriously.

Posted by James at June 15, 2003 11:22 PM
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Feel free to disagree with me on this. I want to hear some arguments from the other side. Just what is the downside of all this non-polluting power? What is the justification against taking htis huge step in the right direction?

Posted by: James at June 16, 2003 12:19 AM

No, as a former Cape resident I agree with you on this one. I was surprised to hear Ted Kennedy is against it. It is all about the view, isn't it? That simulated photo in the article is an eye opener but it is still a small price to pay for reasonable energy prices. Plans to circle the entire Cape with windmills would be another story. Would they rather wait until the state is forced to build a lower Cape version of the Canal Electric power plant in Sandwich?

Posted by: Mike at June 16, 2003 9:48 AM


I did already try and post this once but it never showed. Anyway I said something like the following:

I'm not sure I can support this project. The towers (I saw a figure that was upwards of 300 yards tall with rotating blades) are going to be right in the middle of one of the most important migratory pathways for birds on the continent. These things are enormous and will be densely packed. I've seen figures that isolated radio towers and cell towers can kill enormous numbers of birds during migration these things could wipe out ungodly numbers. Also i'm not convince installing them won't have a negative effect on the fish populations. I'm not a big fanof coal plants either but builing equally bad sources of power (or potentially worse) isn't a good answer. Untimately I think wind farms might work but I want to see a lot more study and some test towers before we start builing hundreds of the things. (Gee maybe we could actually CONSERVE power and then we wouldn't need so much)

Posted by: Bob at June 16, 2003 12:22 PM

I wonder if placing the towers further off shore and separating them more would not only reduce the threat to migratory birds but make them more asthetically pleasing. I'll have to ask my father what he thinks of the plan. He'll probably be against it... he and I seem to differ on almost everything political... but he works on the boats that travel between Hyannis and Nantucket. He might have some insight into a better location for a wind farm.

Posted by: Mike at June 16, 2003 1:48 PM

I'll have to look into it more, but it didn't sound like they were all that densely packed at 1/3 to 1/2 mile apart? And can these actually do much more damage than dragging the bottom has done?

I don't disagree with studying the heck out of it. My reaction is based on what I see as the driving force behind the dismissal of this idea - pure NIMBY-ism. Or perhaps a bit impure. Tinged with eliteism.

How about the wildlife already impacted in other areas of the state?

And finally, I cannot disagree with the sentiment that we ought to practice more conservation. At our house, out office lights are on nearly all the time when daylight is below a certain level. We have large windows to eliminate the need for artificial light during the day, and I recently replaced most of our overhead PAR-30 halogens (which are fairly efficient) with compact fluorescent substitutes.

In fact, if a light is on at our house for very long, I've replaced it with a compact fluorescent.

In any case - I'm obviously sensitive to the attitude that Bristol County is somehow lesser to the Cape and Islands. Fall River accepts trash, including some hazardous stuff, from all over the state. The dumping going on here is literal and figurative.

I could move away, sure. But I prefer to see the whole state share in a respect for environment. The 90's boom largely passed over this area -- I don't want to see the same thing happen with environmental concerns.

Posted by: James at June 16, 2003 2:22 PM

If the number I seem to remember is correct (300 yards tall roughly 1/6 of a mile) and they are 1/3 of a mile apart the blades will be almost touching. I'm not sure the birds will be interested in playing Indiana Jones on their way south.

I agree with you SE MA takes a lot of shit (quite literally) but does that mean we should screw up some other area to even things out. (Let's make everywhere look like Gary Indiana!)

I'm pretty sure net fishing is banned in the sound right now.

Posted by: Bob at June 16, 2003 4:03 PM

I assume that the towers are staggered so that you don't actually have them lined up with the blades nearly touching, although the view from afar will collapse the distance and make it appear so.

However, this may not make much of a difference to birds if it is an impact on their migration.

Naw - I'm not for making places into crappy places to live.

I want to see more research in this, and I want to see if this developer is willing to make reasonable changes to accommodate actual environmental impact of his plans.

I assume the EPA has to approve them, in any case.

Posted by: James at June 16, 2003 5:40 PM

This should not be viewed as a simple "yes I'm for it" or "no I'm against it" proposition. I encourage you to read the position of the Massachusetts Audubon Society at this link: http://www.massaudubon.org/News_&_Action/news.html#wind

While the turbines a potential problem, so are the warning lights mandated by the FAA because many migratory species are attracted to lights.

There is much testing to be done, and I hope eacj side gives the other their full attention.

To Bob's point, god forbid we overconsumptive, demanding, selfish, greedy, and slothful Americans CONSERVE.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 17, 2003 2:32 PM

I'm really glad I posted this, because it's great to see these differences of opinion. I'm glad you don't see my vehement first reaction as not being open to hearing the other side, even though I was not entirely charitable in my interpretation of the bulk of the opposition.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one. I think the energy is significant, but I do want to know more. Maggie tells me that the turbines do chop up birds at times.

How do you figure these tradeoffs? I think the long-term damage of fossil fuel use is huge. Conservation is certainly something to practice.

Posted by: JP at June 17, 2003 4:22 PM

I'm sure there are a small number of birds that get chopped up by the turbines. A larger number were probably affected by the recent oil spill. How many are affected by long term particulate pollution from coal and oil fired plants? (If you life on Somerset or Swansea you've seen the effect on the paint on your house if you've ever power washed it. What does it do to living things?)

The big picture is complicated. What got me about this article was that it seemd (and I could be wrong here) that it wasn't a reasoned response, but an emotional one based on not wanting to look at the windmills offshore - we'll be conservationists when it is convenient to do so and move the pollution to less affluent areas where they won't or can't complain so loudly, global implications be damned.

The big picture is a complicated one, and it seems to me that emotion and real estate value might be getting in the way of understanding if wind power off the cape is the right, or wrong answer, when all the parameters have been considered.

Posted by: Jim Correia at June 18, 2003 9:41 AM

The Mass Audubon link seems like a well reasoned response. I'm interested in the conclusions they reach. Hopefully they will be given the opportunity to reach them, and not be drowned out by the other concerns.

Posted by: Jim Correia at June 18, 2003 9:46 AM

I find that most problems on this planet come down to the same thing: population control. There are too many people vying for the same resources (fuel, water, living space, food, a place to put the trash we generate, etc.). Until we can have honest and truthful discussions of family planning, which will first entail leaping the religious and cultural barriers around the world, we will continue to have these conflicts.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 18, 2003 10:13 AM

I meant to say in my previous post that I'm in favor of zero population. If you are compelled to have children, replace yourself and stop. Some of us have chosen to have none, which is fine, too. Let's not get me started on the tax credit for children (where's my credit for not having any?)--that's a totally different discussion from wind farms, and I'd rather not derail the conversation.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 18, 2003 10:18 AM

FWIW, Patti, I TOTALLY agree.

Posted by: Julie at June 18, 2003 1:13 PM

Couple of things - I think Patti meant zero population growth not zero population.

And as for small numbers of birds. I've seen stats that say thousands of birds can be killed by a poorly placed cell/radio tower in a single night. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl winter in precisely that area (Nantucket/Cape/Martha's Vinyard.

Posted by: Bob at June 18, 2003 1:20 PM

Thanks, Bob. Cell phone communication towers are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds each year. To wit: "Ornithologists estimate that at least 4 million birds--mostly night-migrating warblers, vireos, and other songbirds--die annually at about 140,000 existing U.S. towers." (Source: Science,
"High-Flying Science Seeks to Reduce Toll at Towers,"

See also "Curbing Tower Kill" at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol291/issue5511/r-samples.shtml#291/5511/2081a

This is one of my big problems with cell phones. These hideous blights on the landscape kill creatures, all so I can hear you talk about your hysterectomy at 7:30 A.M. on the train to Boston. What's the up side here? Prove to me the _need_ (a word oft confused with _want_) for these devices outweighs the massive kill rate of birds. Somebody. Please. (Sadly, the story about the hysterectomy is true.)

Given that we have a body of evidence showing tall things with night lighting kill birds, we are right to be sceptical of wind farms.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 18, 2003 3:26 PM

What interests me is this. The facts you present bolster the case that wind farms will be harmful to birds. However, where is the concurrent hew and cry about cell phone towers on the Cape and Islands? Oh, I'm sure some stink has been raised about it at scattered town meetings, but not to the extent that I am hearing commercials on WMVY about it. They can ignore the imact of the towers when they are directly receiving the benefit.

This bolsters MY belief that there is an alternative motive for the bulk of the opposiiton - a NIMBY attitude.

However, though they will not be reasonable, I can't shed reason so easily. The project should be voted up or down on the merits and impact on the environment, not on what it will look like far out at sea.

I think you folks were right on with the conservation angle, because arguing this purely on envoronmental impact may just not work in the big picture. The fact is, sufficient energy to feed a power-hungry nation cannot be extracted without doing a certain amount of harm to the environment. The quesiton is, how should that harm be mitigated or distributed?

It is largely the case that the harm has little impact on the sort of people who make the decisions that drive larger percentages of the energy consumption (per capita). People who can afford SUVs, heating large island houses, having all the lights on, running companies, etc. These people do not generally live in places where the environmental impact is felt.

Perhaps the need for conservation would sink in if these folks were faces with more of an impact on *their* environment. They sure fight it tooth and nail when reality begins to intrude on their world away from the dirty facts of conspicuous energy consumption.

Is that enough of a rant?

Posted by: James at June 19, 2003 1:27 AM

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