Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., isn't just tilting against windmills in the Cumberland Mountains. Lamar is leaned in. Big time.
"In 1867, when the naturalist John Muir first walked into the Cumberland Mountains, he wrote, 'The scenery is far grander than any I ever before beheld. … Such an ocean of wooded, waving, swelling mountain beauty and grandeur is not to be described,' " Alexander wrote in his latest newsletter.
"Swelling mountain beauty and grandeur" indescribable leaves an indelible mark on the heart so I get Alexander's agitation. When developers planned a few years ago to carve up Cove Mountain in scenic Wears Valley, a certain columnist tilted tenaciously against hanging cabins on hillsides.
Some things are best left as is.
In January, Apex Clean Energy announced that it would spoil that mountain beauty by building 23 45-story wind turbines in Cumberland County, Alexander wrote. "I still can recall walking into Grassy Cove in Cumberland County one spectacular spring day in 1978 during my campaign for governor. I had not seen a prettier sight."
The windmills are more Cervantes than Vermeer. "Each one is over two times as tall as the skyboxes at the University of Tennessee football stadium, three times as tall as Ozone Falls and taller than the Statute of Liberty," Alexander wrote. "These are not your grandma's windmills."
Alexander cited sources saying wind farms disturb neighborhoods, are inefficient — the wind blows only 18 percent of the time in Tennessee — and how the Tennessee Valley Authority will need no more baseload after Watts Bar 2 nuclear unit comes online.
"Then, why would anyone want to build wind power that TVA doesn't need?" Alexander asked. "Because billions of dollars of wasteful federal taxpayer subsidies allow wind producers, in some markets, to give away wind power and still make a profit."
The wind farm could have economic impact on transplanted retirees seeking scenic sanctuary. At least two studies have found windmills hurt. A 2011 study in upstate New York found wind farms depressed surrounding property values anywhere from 15 percent to 31 percent.
In Great Britain, the London School of Economics published a 12-year study that analyzed a million sales of property near wind farms and found, on average, an 11-percent reduction in value. Ultimately, Alexander quixotically leans toward preservation.
"If there is one thing Tennesseans agree on, it is pride in the natural beauty of our state," Alexander wrote. "There are few places in our state more beautiful than Cumberland County. We should not allow anyone to destroy the environment in the name of saving it."