Clash of Principles in Wind Farm Debate

Maui wind farm — you should see it from the water. Spectacular!

by James A. Bacon

The Floyd County board of supervisors is considering a ban on structures taller than 40 feet on mountain ridges, an action that would kill any chance of building a wind farm in the Southwest Virginia county. The proposal is bound to be controversial in the sparsely populated jurisdiction — and it raises prickly questions on how to reconcile multiple environmental and property-rights goals.

Two companies have discussed building wind farms on Willis Ridge. Wayne Booth, a cattle farmer whose land provides breathtaking views of the mountain line, has collected more than 600 signatures from local residents opposing the placement of turbines on the ridge, reports the Roanoke Times.

Floyd County is a solid part of “red state” America, voting 59% for John McCain and 39% for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Conservative political values rule — yet those values provide no clear guidance regarding the ban. Red State America believes in economic development, and building the wind farm would represent a potential economic boon. Moreover, many farmers, timber owners and small property owners also tend to think that what a man does with his property is his own business. On the other hand, one could advance the argument that wind farms are driven by tax breaks and other federal subsidies, making them illegitimate in the minds of small-government fiscal conservatives.

Conventional blue state values offer little guidance either. The justification for subsidizing wind power is to decrease the use of fossil fuels in electrical generation that create pollution and contribute to global warming. But conservationists tend to favor preserving the natural beauty of mountain ridge lines from real estate development on the grounds of aesthetics — and windmills are as visually intrusive than vacation houses. Even more worrisome, windmills, dubbed the “cuisinarts of the air,” kill hundreds of thousands of bats and birds each year, including many threatened species.  A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field report stated that nearly 500 bird carcasses were discovered in a mere two-week span at the Laurel Mountain wind farm in West Virginia, writes Kenneth Artz for the Heartland Institute.

How do you trade off potential gains for global warming versus unsightly aesthetics and the slaughter of birds? Which is more compelling — job creation or opposition to the government picking winners and losers through subsidies and tax breaks?

Personally, I don’t find the “aesthetics” argument very persuasive. I remember a seeing a view of wind turbines on a mountain crest of the island of Maui that was simply breathtaking. Windmills are no more intrinsically ugly than any other man-made structure. Moreover, my “right” to a pleasant view is hardly a bedrock constitutional one. Where does that right stop? If I have a right not to view wind turbines on a ridge line, do I have a right not to see a subdivision built upon farmland in my view shed? Do I have a right to veto, on aesthetic grounds, your decision to paint your house in Hokie blue and orange? Can I compel you to take down the hideous pink flamingos in your yard? No! If you want to protect your “view shed,” I suggest that you persuade the land owner to put the land into a property easement or, failing that, raise the money to buy the property yourself.

That’s an argument in favor of allowing the wind turbines. Now let me provide an argument against them. Our national energy policy is a disaster. We are spending tens of billions of dollars trying to promote wind, solar and other alternate energy sources, most of which are grotesquely uneconomical. It is foolhardy to subsidize the current generation of alternate energy sources, which will lock in expensive electric rates that both harm energy-intensive industries, thus costing jobs, and punish lower-income families whose incomes aren’t keeping up with rising costs as it is. Instead of subsidizing projects with inadequate technology, the U.S. government should invest in research on the next generation of energy technology. Subsidizing projects destroys wealth. Underwriting research creates wealth.

Taking all factors into consideration, I would oppose the wind turbines at the present time. Given the evolution of technology, it could take a decade or more before wind turbines can compete on a level playing field. Then I would tell the people of Floyd County, if you want to protect your views, raise money to buy the view-shed rights to your neighbor’s property. You’d be wise to start fund raising right away.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


9 responses to “Clash of Principles in Wind Farm Debate”

  1. are there, in fact, major subsidies for wind? My understanding is that wind is close to being competitive with coal and is already more competitive than Nukes.

    In terms of environmental damage – I’m always amused that the mercury deposition by coal power plants is _not_ considered a subsidy also.

    Mercury is a potent neurotoxin found not only in fish but insects and the critters that eat fish and insets including birds. Mercury is found in women and children and has know harmful effects.

    and yet, efforts to require best available technology at coal plants is characterizing as “job killing”.

    then.. let’s not forget the irony of classifying “red” Virginia as “conservationists”.

    “Red” Virginia seems to love “fracking” for shale gas and offshore drilling, right and mountaintop mining for coal – right?

    so please…. PLEASE GMAFB…give me a frickin break… here…

    we count blast off the top of mountains for coal but we can’t put up a wind turbine?

    I love it when the right wing tries to coal themselves with Green Weenie personnas….

  2. Groveton Avatar

    If the so-called conservatives of Floyd County don’t want to encourage the economic development that attends wind farms then they should swear off the entitlements they get from the rest of the state for being an economic basket case. The median household income in Floyd County is about one half the Virginia average. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is above the state average. No doubt the school funding formulae and other wealth transfer mechanisms invented by the Clown Show flood money into Floyd County. But some in Floyd County don’t want to mar their viewscapes?

    If the people in Floyd County want to run their county by trading off economic development in favor of viewscapes – fine. Just get your damn hands off my wallet as you make those tooty fruity decisions.

    Hey, here’s a shocker – I don’t like the looks of high voltage electrical towers running through my county. But I don’t tear them down because electricity is necessary for economic development.

    This state is SO broken.

  3. ” This state is SO broken.”

    it’s not the state really. It’s the people the pols represent.

    when you have the same people who seem to be just fine with taking off the tops of mountains to get to the coal … sniveling about the “destruction” of the viewscape… what are the representatives in Richmond supposed to “represent”?

    and I agree about the powerlines… hells bells… they build hike/bike trails below them in NoVa for christ sake… Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD or “Wad” follows a power line for much of it’s length.

    I’ve seen wind turbines in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, Oregon, Nebraska and I find them awesome and not at all a blight on the landscape.

    and the birds…. we kill way more birds with automobiles that will ever be killed by turbines just by virtue of the fact that we have roads everywhere.

    We’ve had several eagles hit and killed on I-95 over the Rappahannock River.. I never heard a single person say we should shut down I-95 because it kills endangered species… I swear…

  4. Where is the clash of principles? The towers pay rent to the land owners. Someone else wants to control what happens there: they should offer equal rent or buy the land. Where the turbine operators get their money has nothing to do with it.

  5. You may have no right to a pleasant view, It if someone constructs something on their property that materially affects the value of your property then you should be compensated. Otherwise, we can scrap most environmental law.

    As for the birds, mercury and autos and housecoats kill birds too. We need better bookkeeping to make the bird argument. Anyone who kills birds should pay the same price.

  6. I don’t think wind power is anywhere near competitive with coal, especially if you need coal power for back up. We should not even think of them as competitors, It as partners. What combination gives us the most reliable power at the lowest total cost, birds included.

  7. Cats and birds probably kill more birds than cars.

  8. How are we going to claim that a turbine with 60 ft. Blades is an eyesore, but a sailboat with a 60 mast is not?

  9. It takes a long, long time to get a property rights case in front of the Supreme court, and it happens rarely. The last one had to do with a beach replenishment dispute, and who “owned” the “new” beach that was created.

    This one shows one reason why it is so hard to get before the court:

    Four years ago the couple bought a piece of land of under an acre that sits squarely in a developed subdivision, with a sewer infrastructure already in place, overlooking Priest Lake in the Idaho panhandle. The couple secured local building permits and even received a verbal okay from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that the property, which has water on it periodically but isn’t adjacent to any standing bodies of water, is not a wetlands. But as soon as the Sacketts poured gravel to start building their home, EPA officials, citing the agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act, ordered them to stop, remove the gravel, and restore the property to the way it was before they did any work on it. They were also directed to fence off the property and take other steps, including monitoring the property for water for three years, at an estimated cost of up to four times the $23,000 that they paid for the land. Then, once they met all those requirements, they could seek an appeal from the EPA’s wetlands permitting process and, if successful, build their home.

    What’s more, the EPA said it could impose a fine of up to $32,500 a day for every day they didn’t comply.

    Although this sounds like a case of over-reach by the EPA, the issue before the Supreme Court only concerns whether the Sacketts have the right to challenge the EPA’s assertion that the property contains a wetlands at this time. EPA says the Sacketts can’t challenge its assertion until after it files formal charges against the Sacketts for building on a wetlands, which it hasn’t done yet. And it won’t consider that question until the Sacketts first spend the money and take the time to restore the property to its previous state.

    Catch 22 anyone?

Leave a Reply