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Reader Poll: Windmills on the Horizon?

Windmills in Scotland

Windmills on the Ridgelines

Windmills on the horizon. It’s an increasingly common sight on the ridgelines of New England and rural areas worldwide. I used to have mixed feelings about them because they held the promise of green energy, but I hate how they mar the landscape that I hike in. They are a constant reminder of humanity’s conquest of the planet and dilute my wilderness experience when I see them.

Should Windmills be Allowed on Conservation Lands?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

36 Responses to Reader Poll: Windmills on the Horizon?

  1. Journeyman November 1, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    Alloys for wind turbines require lots of Nickel. Production of many materials (such as Nickel, Aluminium, Tin etc) needed in renewable energy devices produces lots of CO2. Windfarms take up to 12 years to break even with coal power on the greenhouse scorecard. Nuclear just keeps looking better from a greenhouse point of view. My own view is we need to to be planting and managing forests on a mega global scale in order to take up the available excess of CO2.

    • Austin November 1, 2013 at 3:50 am #

      The claim that windfarms take 12 years to break even with coal is false:

      Although I suppose it’s true that they take “up to” 12 years.

      • Journeyman November 1, 2013 at 8:41 am #

        My source:
        Goggin, of the American Wind Energy Association, disputes some of Matson’s claims and Matson has altered his text to “Wind farms take from less than one year up to 12 years.”

        • Philip Werner November 1, 2013 at 8:54 am #

          Let’s get back to Jounreyman’s mega forest idea. I like that one.

        • Austin November 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

          If you read my source, you’d see that it specifically is addressing the article you posted. The 1-12 year claim is taking the min and max of every turbine they studied, which included an experimental turbine built in 1983, which is the source of the max 12 year claim. SciAm acknowledges it as a bad claim to make and their editor’s note in that article is really insufficient for getting the point across: that 12 years is a huge outlier compared to the norm in the US.

          I could build a terrible wind turbine that takes 100 years to pay off, but that “100 years” would not gain any significance worth mentioning in the same way that 12 years is not even a number worth mentioning, and bringing it up is either simply incorrect or willfully deceptive.

  2. Austin November 1, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    In my experience, people’s opinion of whether or not they mar a landscape has most to do with what they think of it in the first place. A blanket claim that they don’t make economic sense is a bit absurd, as they certainly can be worthwhile in the right conditions, and people who believe that they are worthwhile parts of a post-oil energy system think they can be elegantly beautiful, as long as the noise and shadow flicker isn’t posing a problem. Those who think they aren’t worthwhile tend to find them unattractive, on the other hand. My point here is simply not to assume that everybody finds then unattractive.

    In the case of conservation lands, I think it’s important to distinguish between the reasons for conserving land in the first place. In general land is preserved for a combination of ecological and recreational reasons to varying extent. Ecologically, I suspect most economically viable wind turbines are a net positive when they replace coal, the dominant power source in the US, although the local negative effects need to be carefully analyzed, obviously. For recreational purposes, there is definitely a point where they really damage the beauty of something. For an extreme example, consider turbines lining the rim of Yosemite Valley, which would be completely unacceptable. On the other end of the spectrum, if they aren’t visible from any trails I don’t see any issues with them, barring ecological damage.

    Maybe they are also ok if they are only visible from less traveled minor trails, I don’t know. My point is that I think there’s a fuzzy line somewhere which makes it hard to issue a blanket judgement on the matter.

  3. Ed November 1, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Wind power isn’t perfect, but neither is any source. Coal has to be dug out of the ground, turns our rain acidic and increase carbon. Nuclear has never been done right and there is the issue of storage of long life, highly radioactive by products. I’m not sure if it is economic forces, NIMBY or bureaucracy but nuclear power gives us Seabrook instead of a series of more manageable, smaller, common design plants.

    Wind, solar, hydroelectric each has its drawbacks but to answer your question when I see turbines I see us trying to do something.

  4. Geoff Edwards November 1, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    I absolutely hate them! They ruin our wild places, they need generating back up when the wind isn’t blowing or is blowing too hard, they don’t make economic sense, they put up our energy bills, they don’t save CO2, they’re used as a political tool, and they make the rich even richer. Grrrr…!

  5. Matt November 1, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Why don’t we have wind turbines on top of sky scrapers in cities? high up and windy… We do need to have another source of power. What is truly wild anymore? If you can still hear a car or see a road is it wild?

    If you are going to open up wind turbines, shall we also discuss the Northern Pass project which will harm the landscape AND prostitute New Hampshire for our neighbors to the south? (no offense to our neighbors but it is a better deal for them then it is for NH)

    • Philip Werner November 1, 2013 at 9:00 am #

      I couldn’t agree more. Let’s fill New Yorks central park and Boston’s blue hills with windmills. It’s easy to legislate in other people states….like NH.

  6. marti038 November 1, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    I work in power generation (acutally build power plants of all kinds; solar, coal, natural gas, coal gasification, hydro, biomass, etc.) and I can assure you that no method has been discoverd that makes everyone happy. Phil’s mixed feelings are the norm.

    With that said, there are definitely wilderness places where I think we would all be better off just not having the power or paying more to have it generated elsewhere.

  7. marc November 1, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Ruining my wilderness experience is not too big of a prize for me to pay to have green energy

  8. Everett November 1, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Power plants suffer from NIMBYism and lack of awareness. People need to put a face on the amount of power they use—to see the affects of their lifestyle directly. Whether the source is wind, solar, nuclear, or coal, it has been hidden from view for too long, enabling an innocent creep of using more and more. I consider putting turbines on Conservation lands to still be hiding them from public view.

    I like the thrust Matt’s argument; locate power near where it is used when possible. I live in an inner-ring suburb, but would gladly install a solar or wind system if I could afford it.

  9. Chuck Lafean November 1, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    We don’t have a power generation problem; there are all kinds of methods including several very promising emerging technologies. We have a power storage problem. Micro generation starts to address this, because storage on this level is possible, but it is not yet possible on the grid level.

    Turbines may be a fine short term solution, but operators should be required to place the amount of money required to remove all trace of them from the land when their usefulness is past.

  10. Peter McClure November 1, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Southern Alberta has huge wind farms, taking advantage of the strong and steady winds coming down out of the Rockies. One big advantage is that, once built, their footprint is nominal, and the ranchers who own the land they sit on can still operate normally.
    On the open prairie, they can also be built so that the flow from one feeds the next windmill in line, making them that much more efficient.
    Another benefit is that once the cost is amortized, the power is effectively free (except for routine maintenance) so the profits from one go into building the next.
    For clean, cheap power, we really only have three choices – solar, hydro and wind.What would you prefer to see in its place?

  11. Joe G November 1, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Many groups have issues with every type of energy – clean or otherwise.

    Coal – Flattening WV Mountains, “dirty” emissions
    Natural Gas – Fracking. ugh
    Nuclear – Fukushima / where to store the waste?
    Hydro – ruins river flows, fish
    Solar – takes up too much space, “inefficient”
    Wind – destroys mountaintops/viewsheds, “inefficient”

    Every source has its consequences. You can’t have it both ways.

    Diversified energy generation needs to be coupled with decreased consumption – either through more efficient consumption or decrease in need.

  12. BeeKeeper November 1, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    When wind farms weren’t in my area of the world, when they were mostly confined to the desert, I didn’t give it much thought. But now that they dance on Hatchet Ridge, visible from hundreds of miles in all directions, I’m none too happy having my images and thoughts marred by this technology. Living in sunny California, I would much prefer an affordable solar option that could easily live on every roof.

    Obstructed views of Mt Shasta feels much like the Yosemite comment.

    • Philip Werner November 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

      That’s just awful.

      • Yonah Ruttenberg November 5, 2013 at 12:40 am #

        Would that view be just as awful if each of those turbines belonged to a private individual or family, powering his/her/their own needs rather than belonging to some large energy corporation? That knowledge would make them much more beautiful in my eyes, actually. I already think they’re kind of cool-looking, but I’m not constantly exposed to them. I’m not ready to get off the grid yet, so I heartily applaud all initiatives that reduce air, water, and land pollution. They are certainly more aesthetically pleasing than the electric plants themselves (nobody but Ayn Rand could think they are beautiful). Constellation Energy raped an entire mountaintop in West Virginia, but everyone’s sure happy to have their ski lifts working!

    • Yonah Ruttenberg November 5, 2013 at 12:20 am #

      It starts with the “solar option” on the top of your own roof, doesn’t it?

  13. Martin Rye November 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    The claim cheap is lost on me. In the Uk they are subsidised and inefficient as well as damaging the skyline and landscape. The truth is all the so call good they bring is lost every week when China opens another coal powered power plant.

    The biggest win-win clean power is in fact passive heating. Make all homes built passive, and use solar, and ground heat pumps. Not wind farms damaging the landscape and the fragile peat moors, as once ruined they wont be there anymore.

    If we reduce the huge energy take homes need the need for more power plants (wind farms) will be reduced.

    I hate them, and the claimed benefits. As better ways already exist to power homes, and reduce energy need.

  14. 3Cats November 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    I have a 5200-watt grid-tied solar array on my house. It produces more than enough power for my family of 3, to the point where we are about to get rid of our gas appliances. Cash flow was positive from day 1. If you have a good area for such an array, get one. As to coal-fired plants, they must go, as fast as possible. They have killed the lakes here in Maine, where no fish can be taken for eating because of mercury, and likewise have poisoned the oceans and soils around the world. Wind power is a step in the right direction and must be sited with due concern for aesthetics and habitat.

    To weigh your “wilderness experience” as anywhere near the importance of the environmental holocaust going on around us would be laughable if it weren’t such an excruciatingly tragic defect in reasoning. I’m baffled in trying to find an appropriate analogy – “I like going to church so I am going to tolerate priests raping children”? “I’m not willing to pay a cent more for my underwear even if doing so might mean people won’t burn to death in Bangladeshi textile mills”? When we find a better solution than wind, we can take down the towers and restore the sites. We’ll have no contaminated soils to deal with. Coal must go. Now!

  15. Mark Warren November 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I can live with them.

  16. Birch November 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I live in central Illinois, and there are windmills visible less than 10 minutes from my house. I’ll share my recreating space with windmills if it means I get more recreating space. Like sharing trails with horses – not pretty, but more trails available to hike than if I wasn’t willing to share.

  17. del November 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Strange – there are 22 comments listed here as I write this and only one (one!) mentions that we need to decrease consumption. Consumption and population are the two planet-killing elephants in the room underlying all of this. Until we get those two things under control it won’t matter what kind of new whiz-bang “green” technology we come up with.

    • Nadia Nichols January 31, 2014 at 9:11 pm #

      Thank you, del. Destroying the planet in order to save it is a fools mission. We need to reduce our consumption. We are energy hogs and this planet deserves to be treated with respect. Seven billion and climbing, and a bunch of rusting windmills is going to save the planet? We don’t need to be erecting thrashing blinking towers of “green” symbolism on our mountain tops. We need common sense and science based solutions.

  18. Grandpa November 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    Personally, I prefer not to see them, however, I know there’s not much I can do about that. However, I would rather see windmills than trash on the trail… but I can do something about the trash–I pick it up.

  19. Mike H. November 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Would you be for or against wind farms off the coast? Or are you ambivalent because you wouldn’t be as exposed to them?

    Along the lines of 3cats comment, I’d much rather deal with an occasionally disturbed view if it means we’re benefiting from a power source that isn’t raping the rest of the environment. Sticking with fossil fuels because it keeps your views clear is a very short sighted game plan… Especially in New England, where the acid that drifts through will one day ruin the same land you’re trying to protect.

    If we owned the house we’re renting, I’d love to put in an underground heat sump, as well as a roof full of photovoltaic solar panels… But alas, my money tree is still waiting to start producing!

    • Philip Werner November 3, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      Offshore or in farmers fields are fine with me. I just don’t want to look at them.

  20. corwin November 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Asking naturalists for an opinion that does ANYTHING to the environment is going to generate tons of negative attention. I see this exactly the same as the argument against cell towers. No one wants the towers but everyone wants 100% coverage. Among all only a scant few work towards viable solutions of compromise.

    My solution is simple; 98% world population reduction. We need a big plague. Then the environment remains pristine. Of course no one wants to talk about the fact that humans are the cancer of this planet…

  21. Michael H November 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    While I can understand that they are not the most spectacular thing to look at, the cold hard truth is that if we do nothing, we will not have these beautiful places to visit. So in my opinion I will happily take a few windmills to look at over not having these places to visit at all.

  22. John November 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Heck no!!! To paraphrase Edward Abbey: it’s time to start hurling steel and concrete in the other direction. We have paved over and developed way too much as it is. I am all fir green energy. There are other places to put the windmills besides our wild places. And other ways to reduce our impact. For example I moved to a house 3 blocks from my business and walk most places.

  23. Chef Glenn November 6, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    National and state forests have values besides human recreation such as water and soil conservation. Locating windmills on forested mountaintops, while producing clean energy, could diminish those values and damage environmentally fragile areas. Unless everything is done by helicopter, there would have to be an infrastructure of roads built to maintain them as well as trees cleared to build the windmills. I support wind-generated energy if located in the right places.

    I admit I don’t know the technologies, but couldn’t solar and wind technologies be harnessed or developed that would be placed right on the gazillion miles of cleared power lines already in existence. Why not capture the sun’s energy and feed it into the system all along the grid?

  24. r. mcdonald January 31, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    3Cats is completely delusional about the effects of wind farms in Maine. They destroy precious habitat, kill birds and bats, cause excessive run-off into tributaries and watersheds. It’s an industrial disaster with no direct benefit – high cost, no relief from heating our homes with #2 or kerosene, and is clear cutting thousands of acres of carbon capturing forests. If you don’t believe me, go to and get the facts before you blindly accept the word of wind developers and sold out environmental groups.

  25. Mike Bond February 1, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    The saddest things about industrial wind:
    1. It doesn’t lower greenhouse gas emssions or fossil fuel use, because wind is so erratic that other “fixed” power plants have to run constantly to back it up. Many scientific, utility and conservation studies have shown that in some cases industrial wind even causes increases in coal-fired generation, as in Germany and Britain.
    2. It steals billions of dollars from renewable technologies that DO work, like rooftop solar.
    3. It has catastrophic and irreversible impacts on the environment, the economy and social cohesion.
    It also ruins hiking views. The new turbines being proposed in New England will be the third-tallest structures in those states.

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