Tilting at Windmills
Wind is our best hope for harnessing no-carbon-footprint energy
Don Quixote has mistaken windmills for giants, the enemy, and attacks them.
Nicholas Boileau-Despreau: 1636-1703
Here it is well more than 300 years later, and amongst us today are more than a few Don Quixotes mistakenly taking windmills for giant enemies when in fact they might well play an important role in the salvation of our Earth. Wind and windmills leave no carbon footprints.
Wind is free and proven effective. So what are we waiting for?
Our Department of Natural Resources isn’t waiting. Upon taking office a year go, Secretary John Griffin promised Maryland would face up to global warming via initiatives to start the snowball rolling down the hill in hopes it will get bigger and bigger.
Yes, it has been pretty much established that the threat of global warming is no Chicken Little thing. Every day the evidence mounts. Meanwhile, federal government waits. For what?
For fear of the impact that stringent environmental action will have on the economy and votes?
Waiting until it’s too late for an affordable solution? Waiting until the majority of citizenry makes it plain that they are willing to make sacrifices now? Or until it really is too late?
Which Way the Wind Blows
Maryland takes its dive into the chilly pool of public opinion next week. The question is whether electricity-producing windmills should be allowed on state lands. The first hearing comes Jan. 30 at Garrett College Auditorium in McHenry. The next evening, from 6-9pm, the question comes to Annapolis, with the hearing in room 161 of the Arundel Center.
Meanwhile, more than a third of our states are following suit. Also refusing to wait for Congress to take the initiative, they are moving ahead on their own in implementing laws and regulations to combat global warming. They see the handwriting on the wall; they know the clock keeps on ticking. They are not about to set the clock back, as legislators sometime do to accommodate post-midnight votes on the last day of the session.
In Maryland, we are opening the proverbial can of worms. On state lands or not, windmills is a torrid topic that has split the citizens of Garrett County. During the past deer season when I dined at Little Sandy’s, a popular Deep Creek gathering place for outdoorsmen, there was as much talk about windmills and this is difficult to believe as about whitetails. Diners were either strongly against or for; very few were uncommitted.
In the mountaintops of Garret County, winds blow best for windmills. A farmer willing to accept them might make more leasing sites to generate electricity than milking cows or growing wheat and corn. And at retirement can get a better check monthly than from Social Security. Talk is of $700 to $1,000 per site.
Much of the opposition comes via those who consider windmills unsightly though they are not that bad, certainly not as unsightly as cell phone towers. So the battle rages.
Those who have defiled mountaintops to build majestic homes and roads want better views and windmills don’t fit in. They and their neighbors have already ruined the scenic mountains around Deep Creek Lake. Yet they champion scenic values over the legitimate threat of global warming.
More than a few in the opposition fear an impact on bird life, as winged creatures are known to fly into the path of the propellers of windmills with disastrous results. Bottom line again: Birds are important, but windmills represent one of our best environmentally clean sources of energy. In the long run, birds as well as humans and all other living creatures on Earth will profit.
There is a bit of rumbling, also, among farmers and others who have suitable land for windmills. They question whether generating sites on state lands would be competition for them in leasing sites. The more available sites, the less the value of those with suitable sites.
We Win with Wind
So what about windmills on state lands? Or waters? Yes, in the future the issue is bound to come. Open water possibly as in Chesapeake Bay or certainly off Ocean City and Assateague has a potential to turn winds into harnessed, no-carbon-footprints-energy. Bottom line: though we hereabouts are not fully involved in the windmill issue on state lands, we can help set state policy for the future.
It all boils down to priorities. If you believe global warming is for real, you have few options. One is to save energy big time: Turn off air conditioning in summer; in winter, live in homes that are a bit chillier; put the gas-guzzling SUVs in mothballs and bike or walk to the closest store; turn off the lights or use compact fluorescent light bulbs. We all know in these days of creature comforts how well sacrifice will fly. Surely that’s why our vote-seeking Washington legislators stall, hoping the whole issue evaporates.
Lester R. Brown writes in Eco-Economy that annually the fastest growing segment of energy use from 1990 to 2000 came from windmills: 25 percent annually. Next were solar cells, 20 percent; down to coal at the bottom, which decreased by one percent. But it will take much time to bring both into actual bottom line significance.
So should windmills be allowed on state lands?
Why not? Every little bit helps, whether it be using fluorescent light bulbs or doing more carpooling, so we’ve been lectured by greenies. They’re right; survival is so much more important than aesthetics. Technology should handle the bird problem, which methinks isn’t as bad as claimed.
What would we think if DNR and so many others encouraging the use of windmills said put them on your land, not ours? What a message to send concerning the validity of global warming and cheap and effective wind power. Moreover, nearly bankrupt DNR cold use the leases to fund more use of green resources. It’s a win-win situation.