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Energetic activist tilts at modern-day windmills

For four years or more, Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic region to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.

For four years or more, Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic region to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.

Wind farms in the empty prairies of North Dakota? Fine. But not, Boone insists, in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia, areas where 15 new projects have been proposed. If all were built, 750 to 1,000 giant turbines would line the hilltops, most producing, on average, enough electricity to power 600 homes.

Wind projects are in the midst of a huge growth spurt in many parts of the world, driven by government incentives to promote alternatives to fossil fuels. But Boone, who wields a botanist's trowel and a debater's knife with equal ease, wants to slow them down in the United States with community activism, regulatory action and legal challenges.

With fears of global warming growing more acute, Boone and many other local activists are finding themselves increasingly out of step with the priorities of the broader movement.

From Greenpeace to the Sierra Club, national groups used to uniting... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

For four years or more, Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic region to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.
 
Wind farms in the empty prairies of North Dakota? Fine. But not, Boone insists, in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia, areas where 15 new projects have been proposed. If all were built, 750 to 1,000 giant turbines would line the hilltops, most producing, on average, enough electricity to power 600 homes.
 
Wind projects are in the midst of a huge growth spurt in many parts of the world, driven by government incentives to promote alternatives to fossil fuels. But Boone, who wields a botanist's trowel and a debater's knife with equal ease, wants to slow them down in the United States with community activism, regulatory action and legal challenges.
 
With fears of global warming growing more acute, Boone and many other local activists are finding themselves increasingly out of step with the priorities of the broader movement.
 
From Greenpeace to the Sierra Club, national groups used to uniting against specific projects are now united for renewable energy in general. And they are particularly high on wind power.
 
"The broader environmental movement knows we have this urgent need for renewable energy to avert global warming," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA. "But we're still dealing with groups that can't get their heads around global warming yet. They can get their heads around their view."
 
Indeed, the best winds, especially in the eastern United States, tend to blow in places that are also ideal for hiking, sailing, second homes and spirit-soothing views. These include the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod and the ridges of northern Appalachia. Local opposition to unwanted development remains a potent force.
 
So when it comes to wind, the environmental movement is riven with dissonance and charges of elitism.
 
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s very public opposition to the 130-turbine Cape Wind energy facility proposed off Nantucket Sound has driven a wedge between activists. Dan Boone's circuit riding against wind projects, while not attracting the same celebrity notice, has exasperated many Sierra Club compatriots even more.
 
Like Kennedy, Boone says the areas he wants to protect are uniquely vulnerable. Like Kennedy, his family owns property nearby.
 
But Boone says that wind supporters are the ones pursuing their own agenda at the expense of the public interest.
 
"I'm not sure that wind turbines in this region will significantly reduce the outcome of global climate change or actually have any role," Boone said. "The very limited benefit doesn't justify the risk of wiping out a lot of interior forest habitat."
 
National environmental leaders reject this argument.
 
"There's no free lunch," said Paul Hansen, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, a venerable sportsmen's group. "'Not in my backyard' is not environmentalism."
 
The Alleghenies are a big backyard, with views that are both spectacular and problematic. Flowering shrubs like shadbush and preening flowers like trillium are framed by oaks, maples and longleaf pines. The vista of sinuous green valleys, seen by the earlier Daniel Boone, the 18th-century pioneer (no known relation), spreads out below.
 
At the same time, intermittent industrial tree farming has repeatedly denuded some mountainsides. Gravel heaps mar the landscape. On both sides of the Maryland border near here, second-home development is booming. The air has often been fouled by the Mount Storm coal-fired power plant.
 
If Ned Power, a wind-energy development company, puts up 100 or so turbines along 14 miles, or 23 kilometers, of ridgeline near Mount Storm, wind- energy supporters say, how much does that further spoil the landscape? Kevin Rackstraw, a regional manager of Clipper Windpower whose proposed 40- turbine project in western Maryland has drawn Boone's fire, said opponents lacked perspective.
 
"Dan looks at all the impacts of a given wind project," he said, "but doesn't say: 'If we didn't have wind, what would we have?' Coal. Think of the impact of acid rain and mountaintop removal."
 
The richest sources of wind are in the West, so it will play a larger role there than in the East, he added. An industry spokesman said that most new turbines could generate 2 megawatts or more, so 325 turbines, on average, would replace a 750-megawatt power plant like the $1.2 billion plant being constructed in Las Vegas.
 
The Ned Power project is just one target of Boone, 49, a former state wildlife biologist who now works as a consultant. In interviews, he said he first focused on the issue when working as a botanist on a study related to an early wind power project. The environmental impact statements, he said, were grossly inadequate.
 
Now he drives from Highland County in western Virginia (where 38 turbines are proposed on Tamarack Ridge) to Bedford, Pennsylvania (where early discussions of an unnamed project are under way), to talk to local groups or crystallize their objections for them.
 
In Annapolis, Maryland, and Charleston, West Virginia, he uses state utility regulators' licensing hearings to throw up roadblocks before wind projects. He is eager to argue with industry officials in any venue, questioning their facts, assumptions and motives.
 
"The rush is on now because a lot of the places they've targeted have no zoning, and it's easy to get in that kind of large-scale development," he said. "This part of the country has really good energy prices. Developers are keying in on that." His brother Jon, also a landowner in western Maryland, is at least as zealous; he has made a film, "Life Under a Windplant," based on interviews with neighbors of the Meyersdale project in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
 
Dan Boone's quiver of anti-wind arguments includes economic analyses, but his first line of attack is biological: He contends that they are a threat to bats and potentially to migratory birds and that they break up forest habitat.
 
Scores of raptors and other birds were indeed killed by the first generation of wind turbines set up at Altamont Pass in Northern California. Since then, turbine design has been altered. No other bird kills even close to the Altamont levels have been reported.
 
Bill Evans, a wildlife biologist who has studied birds in the Alleghenies, said more studies were needed; there is still too little information to predict how lethal or benign new turbines could be. "We just don't know," he said.
 
But the turbines here in Thomas have been lethal to bats. More than 2,000 were killed in 2003 at the Mountaineer project, whose 44 turbines are owned by FPL, a big power company that is the wind industry's dominant player.
 
Industry officials agree that the bat mortality measured at Mountaineer is unacceptable. In an off-again, on-again collaboration with bat experts, they are beginning to study the benefits of deterrent devices or the best ways to modify turbine operations in bat-rich areas.
 
As for humans, turbines can mar a favorite view or annoy neighbors nearby with their thin, concussive fffff-tht sound as blades pass the pole (a bit like the sound of a truck passing a car on a highway). But they also draw tourists like Kevin Mulligan, a landscape gardener from Baltimore, who made a detour to see Mountaineer's turbines recently.
 
"How could anyone oppose this?" he exclaimed as he watched them spin. "It's renewable energy."
 
 


Source: http://www.iht.com/article...

JUN 6 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/2946-energetic-activist-tilts-at-modern-day-windmills
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