Archived Opinion

If not wind, then what?

To the Editor:

Well, I am at a disadvantage in this discussion on wind energy development in North Carolina. My friend and, in this case, adversary, Don Hendershot has his weekly bully pulpit and he used it to quote me out of context, while the readers did not have the benefit of reading the entire text of my most recent unpublished op-ed in The Smoky Mountain News.

That’s OK. I understand the limits of paper publications. Others deserve the opportunity to voice their views as well, and I can’t expect more than the very fair treatment this newspaper has given me over the years.

In the Aug. 5-11 issue of SMN, Don once again skirted the basic point being made in my last response to him. By using and accepting utility industry projections of future energy consumption, he is able to make the potential of wind energy in the mountains appear to be minimal. In so doing, he is ignoring the reality of climate change and environmental degradation in the mountains.

He is also ignoring the absolute need to reduce energy consumption in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. He is further ignoring the simple arithmetic fact that if we reduce overall energy consumption, the percentage of wind potential in the total mix increases and becomes considerably more significant.

Don and others who are carrying on a religious crusade to totally ban all utility scale wind development in the mountains are intellectually tricking themselves. The fear is that large-scale wind energy development has the potential to destroy the magnificent vistas in the mountains. They are so focused on this fear that their only answer is an absolute ban.

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Meanwhile, there is total denial of the actual destruction of the mountains that is taking place as we debate this issue. Acid rain, high ozone levels, excess nitrogen deposition, mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxin contamination and greenhouse gases from the burning of coal to produce electricity is killing plants, birds, animals, fish, trees and human beings.

Often, the Canary Coalition and other environmental organizations are unjustly accused of protesting against certain industrial practices, such as burning coal, without offering a viable alternative. We are told, “It’s easy to complain about everything. But, what’s your solution? If we don’t burn coal, how will we meet future energy demand?”

This is an unjust accusation because, in fact, we are offering a viable alternative. We have a basic plan. That plan includes dramatically reducing residential, commercial and industrial energy consumption through utility rate restructuring that provides a strong economic incentive for investment in efficiency and conservation measures. Our proposed plan also, by necessity, includes exploiting whatever available renewable energy resources we have in North Carolina to replace and phase out coal. Wind energy in the mountains is by far the least expensive and most viable source of renewable energy available to us at this time. By eliminating this option completely, it’s difficult to see how North Carolina can meet future energy demand without burning more coal.

North Carolina Senators Martin Nesbitt (D-Asheville), Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) and John Snow (D-Murphy) address the issue by completely ignoring the reality and consequences of climate change. They have all voted to fund the construction of new coal-burning power plants, while voting to ban the development of wind energy in the mountains. I don’t believe Don Hendershot would agree with this prescription for meeting future energy demand. I believe he understands the negative consequences of burning coal and how it’s destroying mountain life in North Carolina, as it destroys actual mountains in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

But, I’m forced to level the same question at Don as the one unjustly leveled at our organization so often. If you understand how coal is destroying the mountains, and, if you understand that we have to dramatically reduce energy consumption to survive, what is your plan for supplying the energy needs of North Carolinians? It’s easy to “just say no” when confronted with unpleasant choices. But, if you say “no” to wind, the least expensive and most available option, what is your viable alternative? I haven’t seen anything in your anti-wind tirades that answers that question.

P.S. I want to thank the Jackson County Board of Commissioners for voting unanimously last week to pass a resolution opposing a state ban on wind development in the mountains.

It was the right thing to do.

The issue came up because an important but controversial bill has come before the North Carolina General Assembly this year. Senate Bill 1068 was originally introduced as a meaningful set of guidelines that would restrict wind development in areas of historic significance, in areas of particular ecological sensitivity and in areas where it would interrupt popular viewsheds. The original SB 1068 would give local governments discretion in further restricting wind development or designating areas they deem appropriate.

Under the new version of the bill, all local discretion has been removed and all utility-scale wind generation has been effectively banned. A sledge hammer is being applied where a surgical scalpel is needed. The bill has not yet passed in the House, and may not be dealt with in that chamber until the Short Session next year.

I don’t believe there are too many people who want to see windmills built on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in ecologically sensitive areas, or in places of historic significance. I know I don’t. But, there are many of us who think wind turbines in the mountains have a place.

Unfortunately, in 2007, Senators Snow, Nesbitt and Queen voted to provide ratepayer funding for the construction of new coal plants in North Carolina. Now, they intend to ban windmills in the mountains. How is that benefitting the mountains, western North Carolina and its people?

Thank you again Commissioners William Shelton, Mark Jones, Joe Cowan, Tom Massie and Brian McMahan for standing for reason.

Avram Friedman

Executive Director, Canary Coalition


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