Local Governments Consider both Drawbacks and Advantages of Wind Power

A March 2011 Chesapeake Bay Journal article examines both the pros and cons of wind power and how local governments can be caught between the competing arguments.  An ideal energy source would be cheap, reliable, and environmentally friendly.  Currently, no energy technology designed for widespread use can meet all three.  As the article discusses, wind power is not reliable and can have negative environmental and land use impacts.  These negative impacts must be weighed against the benefits of the technology.

 The American Wind Energy Association, a trade organization representing wind developers, utility companies, manufacturers and researchers, says that wind is a largely untapped national resource that generates renewable energy and combats global warming. Its impact on humans and the environment is minimal – with far fewer drawbacks than other electricity sources such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power.  …

The size and movement of the turbines have the potential to increase mortality for bats and birds. There is the possibility of collision as well as deaths from a drop in the air pressure near the turbines.  …

Concerns about wind farms touch the ground as well as the air. Turbines can be built on existing cleared spaces, including farmland, but sometimes the sites are forested.

Conflicts with forest habitat are especially likely in the mid-Atlantic highlands where the region’s best wind resources overlap with the region’s most valuable mountain habitat. Both are on ridge lines. And some of those ridge lines are home to headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay.  …

Some rural residents are also concerned about the direct impact on humans from safety lights, low-level noise, and the flicker effect of sun behind turbine blades. The experience of these effects greatly depends on the geography of the specific site and design quality of the wind farm.  …

Local governments throughout the mid-Atlantic region have been caught in the crossfire of dueling science and personal opinions.  …

Faced with a proposal in Tazewell County, VA, supervisors acted quickly to create rules that deterred the whole project. “They passed ordinances that basically banned the wind turbines,” said professor Buzz Belleville of the Appalachian School of Law. “The supervisors would have to grant a variance for a protected ridge line, which basically they designated as everything.”

Allegany County, MD, made a similar move by amending their zoning code for setbacks and spacing requirements that made a proposed wind project economically unviable.

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