This week, USA Today explored the renewables debate as it applied to public lands. In the article, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the man responsible for protecting and providing access to our nation's natural and cultural heritage, declared his Department the "real department of energy". In fact, staff at the Interior Department, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are working at his direction to fast-track the release of millions of acres of public land for a massive deployment of renewable energy projects. Developers from around the world are lined up waiting to take advantage of the Obama administration's ‘hurry-up and get it done' renewables policy.
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC argued in the Wall Street Journal this month that the push for more renewable-energy projects was necessary to curb the country's dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse-gas emissions. Statements like Mr. Grumet's fly around with such regularity that, at this point, no one, including the Journal, bothers to question their accuracy.
In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that just 2% of the U.S. electric industry is powered by oil. The bulk of our electricity is sourced from coal, nuclear power, and natural gas. And anyone who caught a T. Boone Pickens' ad on television in the last year would know that eighty-percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S is produced domestically with virtually all of the remaining 20% imported from Canada. As for carbon emissions, we encourage readers to reference energy expert Tom Hewson's report published this summer entitled "Calculating wind power's environmental benefits."
As the debate intensifies, Windaction.org is witnessing a growing backlash against alternative energy coming from most areas of the country. People who have raised concerns about property values, health effects, the adverse impacts to wildlife etc. are responding to years of being marginalized and dismissed as NIMBY ("not in my backyard"). The clash over whether to produce ‘nonpolluting domestic energy' or protect our natural environment is seen as a false choice borne out of a pie-in-the-sky belief that wind and solar can reliably power a substantial segment of this country.
The degradation these enormous sprawling industrial complexes bring to our cultural and visual resources is least understood. Our colleagues in Texas describe West Texas today as an alien landscape where one can drive for miles and miles and miles (and miles) and see nothing but wind turbines. The nighttime experience is even more surreal with the blinking red lights.
New Mexico artist and engineer Bill Dolson described his resistance to the appearance of "wind farms" as simply the fact that they are large, man-made structures imposed on an otherwise unmolested natural landscape.
His objection, he says, "is really more anthropological than aesthetic. Perhaps because of my training I have couched my objections in aesthetic terms, but really it is something else. What distresses me is a sense of the violation of the natural landscape by the works of man. It seems absolute to me, that no matter whether one likes or dislikes the visual appearance of wind facilities, that they are inherently and irrevocably artificial works of man and not elements of the natural landscape. Whether their presence hinders or improves the appearance of that landscape is really immaterial, because that landscape has forever been altered from its virgin condition. And that is my concern and my objection."
Washington's "hurry up and get it done" renewable energy policies coupled with the billions in taxpayer money available to anyone who shows up leaves no time for communities, businesses, or governments to consider the consequences of our actions. A policy director at a large U.S. utility told Windaction.org "we either get on the train or get run over by it." The renewables train has certainly left the station. The question is how many towers need to be erected, how many view sheds and cultural resources marred, how many dollars squandered and how many lives tainted by poor decisions before the train slows to a controllable rate.