Aesthetic relativism

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(Host) Having spent many of the last years of his working life in the electric utility industry, commentator Richard Mallary has been fascinated by the recent interest in using wind power to generate electricity.

(Mallary) Prior to 1973 wind generation on a large scale was a quaint, uneconomic and impractical idea. Since then, we have experienced the oil embargo of 1973, the price spikes of oil then and in 1980, the Three Mile Island nuclear event and growing evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel generation may be causing global warning. These events have led us to become much more interested in finding other and better ways to meet our insatiable and growing demand for electricity.

We continue to search for safe, reliable, environmentally benign and low cost ways to supply the demand. But we have looked at all of the alternatives, and most of them are found wanting.

For Vermont, the most attractive source of new generation on the horizon is wind. And its most serious problem seems to be that the wind turbines will be on the horizon – or, at least, someone’s horizon.

The design and technology of wind turbines and generators has advanced significantly in recent years. Electricity can be generated relatively economically with modern, large wind turbines located on sites where the average wind speed approaches 18 miles per hour. In Vermont, this means longer ridgelines at elevations of 2000 to 3000 feet. Since these ridgelines seem to be quite visible, and since the efficient turbine generators are large and are mounted on tall towers, we are seeing anguished opposition from citizens who look at those ridge lines and object to their development.

The emerging issue is, “what posture the state should take in promoting or regulating these developments?”

There is little disagreement that the state, under its police powers, can and should make sure that any such projects do not damage the health and safety of the citizens. We will need to assure that the construction and access roads to the ridges do not cause erosion or environmental damage and that the electrical facilities meet all appropriate safety standards. That’s the easy part.

The primary objection voiced by the opponents of these projects is that they are unsightly in their eyes – that they would blight the beauty of the unspoiled Vermont countryside. They raise the fundamental question as to what right government has to impose its aesthetic standard on what a citizen wishes to do on his own property.

Are we, as Vermonters, willing to forego the best and most environmentally benign alternative source for new electrical power for Vermont in order to preserve unchanged the vistas for a limited number of our neighbors? And, is it reasonable to empower any set of legislators or bureaucrats to impose their aesthetic preferences on the reasonable ability of landowners to use their own property?”

I hope that true environmentalism will prevail in Vermont and that the reasonable and economic development of wind generation here can proceed.

This is Dick Mallary in Brookfield.

Dick Mallary has served extensively in state government and is a former U.S. Congressman from Vermont. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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