We interrupt this normally ground-based column to bring you a special report from the top of a wind turbine. What am I doing on a wind turbine, you ask reasonably? Is it a publicity stunt? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? Is it just a really hot day and I want to be as close as possible to a very large fan?
Before my mom starts worrying that her son is perched with his laptop hundreds of feet in the air next to a spinning blade of death, let me reassure her that this particular turbine is a literary device to set the mood, and that I am in fact seated on a safely boring chair. Though of course, too much sitting is also bad for your health (sitting is the new smoking, I hear).
Do you know what else is bad for your health? Giant windmills. You don’t have to be sitting on top of one, or even flinging yourself at it like Don Quixote; just living in its shadow can hurt.
Having recently learned of the non-imaginary wind farms which soon may be sprouting up, I have been doing my best to educate myself on their impact. Although I live thousands of miles away, no distance is too far to feel empathy with those who would be affected.
Two simple words were enough to put me firmly in the anti-turbine camp: shadow flicker. How innocent — even poetic — it sounds, until you bear witness. If you haven’t and are undecided, I urge you to go online and find a video. It’s not hard.
It’s not exactly a trade secret that a tall object planted between you and the sun is going to cast a shadow. To provide a sense of scale, Jim Feasel, in a recent letter to the editor, has memorably written of St. Joseph’s Church with the steeple as a fan blade. As I’m in the UK, I’d change that to Big Ben, though it’s bigger than that. So we’re talking major flicker.
If you haven’t gone online to see one of those videos yet, just start blinking your eyes as you’re reading this. Now keep blinking them, slowly and regularly, until it gets annoying. Doesn’t take long, does it?
Or wait until it’s dark, sit yourself comfortably down, and ask a less-than-loved-one to flip the light switch on and off all evening.
Or imagine you live in a fridge and someone keeps opening the door. This scenario hits particularly close to home, as growing up, it drove my dad crazy when I kept doing that to check if the food was still there.
I don’t think any of these illustrations quite capture the torture of what it must be like to have to put up with shadow flicker hour after hour, day after day. Curtains don’t help. Nothing helps, except fleeing to a windowless bunker. The only relief comes when the sun god Ra shifts the running shadow over your enemies, or you manage to sell your house to someone who remembers and loves disco.
There are also noise issues (search “wind turbine sound” on YouTube, or sit under a flight path near a busy airport for an approximation); safety issues, including the thrilling prospect of ice flung at great velocity; politicians-steamrolling-the-locals issues; a lot of birds and bats that are going to have an unhappy ending; and real questions about just how beneficial these things are going to be once you have a look at the numbers.
“Is it worth putting our neighbors in this position for $65?” asked the author of that letter I mentioned. “We should not do it for all the money in the world, much less $65. Shame on all of us if we do.”
Yes, the planet would appreciate more green energy. But such projects often seem more motivated by greenbacks in the right pockets than high ideals.
If I had any say in the matter I’d only put these less than benign giants in the back yards of anybody in a position to approve them or profit handsomely from them. Naturally, the biggest wind farm of all would be placed in a ring around Washington, D.C., so the rest of the country could bask in the bloviated megawatts thus generated.
“Myself I am peaceful and no friend to mixing in strife and quarrels,” said Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza. Here’s wishing you peace and quiet, Seneca County.
Scott Munn is a former Tiffin resident who has lived in England for 21 years.