The Wind Power Debate — Bill Shutkin

Print More

(HOST) Faced with rising energy prices and dwindling energy supplies, Vermonters are engaged in a statewide debate about wind power as part of our future energy portfolio.

Today, we begin a special series on wind energy in which VPR commentators consider some of the many points of view. First
up is Bill Shutkin on the importance of having the discussion.

(SHUTKIN) Nestled in a farmhouse at the base of Styles Peak in the southern Green Mountains, I’ve come to learn just how windy Vermont can be. Countless nights I’ve been awakened by the sounds of our twelve-over-twelve windows chattering like teeth, their decrepit glass and glazing courageously holding their own against the howling gales.

These days, I’m not the only one regarding the wind. All across New England the talk is of wind farms, and with each proposal to build one a wave of protests has followed, from Glebe Mountain in my backyard to Nantucket Sound. It seems no matter how sleek or environmentally virtuous, wind turbines are considered by many to be a blight on an otherwise pristine landscape, an unholy trade-off of aesthetic beauty for renewable power.

The bulk of Vermont’s energy, about two-thirds, comes from two places most of us have never seen: Vermont Yankee, a nuclear facility in Vernon, and Hydro Quebec. By contrast, renewable power depends on a more decentralized and diverse system. It necessarily forces people to reckon with their energy needs in ways we’ve never had to. Technologies like wind turbines, fuel cells and solar panels put the energy source itself, and not
merely the energy consumption, closer to home – a rooftop,
say, or a nearby ridgeline. This can be very discomforting,
as the recent uproar against wind farms has shown.

I think the most important question raised by wind energy has little to do with the environment or aesthetics. It has to do with civics and this central question: How do individuals and, by turn, com-
munities make pattern-changing decisions in public policy and personal attitudes? In other words, How do we shift from our perilous reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear to a better, more just and more environmentally sound energy future?

Debates about wind energy are important because they compel us as locals at least to consider, if not to act on, the public interest as it plays out across several scales – from the nearby mountain-
top to Middle Eastern oil fields thousands of miles away. These debates force us to begin to think like citizens. Importantly, renewable energy is one of the few areas of our post-industrial, global society where place – local place – still matters because renewables depend first and foremost on local resources – natural, political and social.

Vermonters have proved to be among the most public-spirited of Americans with wind farms, but the latest test in a long line of civic challenges. As with any difficult public policy issue, there are no simple answers, only hard choices, hard work and persever-
ance. My bet is that we’ll eventually figure wind farms out – we’ll build them in some places, not in others. And that’s okay. The
key is that we actually join the issue, we engage as citizens, and not merely private individuals, in the tough decision making it demands and we come out the other end ready for the next challenge.

This is Bill Shutkin of Peru.

Bill Shutkin is president of the Orton Family Foundation and a Research Affiliate at M.I.T. He spoke from our studio at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.

Tomorrow morning on our special commentary series Forest Ranger Gina Owens says that reaching consensus on wind energy won’t be easy.

Comments are closed.