June 11, 2006
Cape Cod Wind Farm Battle Goes National

The US Congress ordered the Department of Defense to study the effects of wind farms on military radar and this order is creating side effects.

CHICAGO -- More than 130 wind turbines are proposed for the hilltops of central Wisconsin, but that project and at least 11 others have been halted by the Defense Department as it studies whether the projects could interfere with military radar.

Some people do not want to see views around the country ruined by wind farms. Others think wind farms are cool things to look at. My attitude is that having a few of them will provide some neat things to go look at but the operative word here is few. I want to look at mountains and just see mountains. I want to look at coasts and just see birds and perhaps the occasional passing ship. I realize this is just a personal esthetic preference. But I'm hardly alone in this preference.

The regulatory obstacles affecting so many projects are a side effect of efforts by Senator Ted Kennedy and allies to prevent a single wind farm from ruining views from Cape Cod and Nantucket. Whoever said the upper classes aren't powerful?

They say their wind turbines are victims of the ongoing dispute between Cape Cod residents and developers of the proposed Cape Wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The Defense Department study was put in the 2006 Defense Authorization Act -- inserted, say wind farm developers, by senators who want to block Cape Wind.

"This legislation was intended to derail Cape Wind, but it had a boomerang effect and affected a lot of projects around the country," said Michael Skelly of Horizon Wind Energy, a Texas company constructing the country's largest wind farm near Bloomington, Ill.

Tell the peasants to eat cake. We don't want to ruin the view from our country houses at Versailles.

The rate of wind turbine permit applications to the US Federal Aviation Administration has more than quadrupled since 2004.

The FAA has received more than 4,100 wind turbine applications so far this year, compared with about 4,300 in 2005 and 1,982 in 2004.

Not to worry wind power fans. Big money is lining up to invest in wind turbines. So the upper classes will be represented on both sides of the battle with probably more money lined up for the spread of wind farms than against it.

How about a market in views? Then the Cape Cod folks could refuse to sell their views. Others could sell theirs.

I happen to like scenic vistas myself and would prefer we accelerate research on both solar photovoltaics in order to come up with more visually preferable alternatives. I figure shingles and siding made from nanotech materials that aren't even recognizable as photovoltaics will be the best solution.

I also think we ought to accelerate the development of next generation nuclear reactor designs.

As the cost of natural gas and oil remain high we are going to start using more alternatives. Coal is going to be the biggest winner. We are also going to see farms expand into natural areas to grow more crops for biomass. Plus, many more wind farms will get constructed. I prefer accelerating technological developments to lower the costs of alternatives that have fewer environmental impacts. But not enough people hold this view with enough intensity for this view to have much choice. So more coal and more wind towers are in our future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 11 11:48 AM  Energy Policy

Garson Poole said at June 11, 2006 2:28 PM:

Randall Parker said: “Tell the peasants to eat cake. We don't want to ruin the view from our country houses at Versailles.”

This is a great metaphor because it is deeply ironic in this circumstance. The view at Versailles is the antithesis of the natural view. The carefully manicured lawns together with the human-created pools and lakes are quite beautiful. The bodies of water do not contain windmills. But they do contain multitudinous fountains and superbly-crafted sculptures. If you get a chance to visit Versailles try to see the Apollo fountain when the water is flowing and spraying.

Versailles is a visual poem in praise of mankind’s dominion over nature, although this attitude is sometimes unpopular today. The works of artists and craftsmen are employed to transform the natural world into a hypernatural state. Even the insides of the buildings at Versailles are a paean to mankind’s passionate control. There is a Hall of Mirrors that was megaproject for the time-period. A small hand-mirror was a gift fit for nobility at the time. So, a new glassworks was created locally to help construction of the Hall.

Today, windmills are considered by many to be repulsive. The gangly structures represent mankind’s encroachment on the separate and superior natural sphere. But, I disagree with this aesthetic stance. In extremis this stance is antihuman. On the other hand windmills should certainly not be everywhere, and an idealized unmediated natural scene is also precious. Yet, I would love to walk to the ocean near my house and see beautiful spinning windmills offshore creating “clean” domestic power.

Pete Kandor said at June 12, 2006 2:34 AM:

Energy prices are increasing, the greenhouse effect is not longer a theoretical concept, but a real thing, the effects of which are observed all over the world. The nuclear industry still has no real solution for their radio-active waste.
Solar energy will be important in the long run but is still far away from economical feasability.

Energy saving and wind energy are the only to viable options in the short term.

Bob Badour said at June 12, 2006 7:04 AM:


How do you propose we convince India and China to cut back on their energy use?

Tom Wright said at June 12, 2006 8:08 AM:

Because all forms of non-fossil energy are both intermittent and dependent on location the market for storage will grow. If there were competitive ways of packaging wind-derived electricity we could put up as many windmills as we want in remote places where wind blows and without competing for space with people.

Electricity could be used to split water for hydrogen, and ship that or react it with atmospheric carbon to make methane and ship that. Given that there are transmission losses even in fairly local setups, the stored energy has some advantage and it also can wait until it's needed.

My understanding of the Massachusetts flap is that there are nearby sites of equal value but the contentious site is an anomalous slice of federal water in between state waters. Otherise Mass. would be settling this without the Senate.

Nick said at June 12, 2006 9:31 AM:

Don't forget that there is an enormous amount of windpower in places where no one is going to complain: farms where there is no one to see them, or only the owner who benefits; places like Texas, where wind towers are a big improvement over oil derricks. The total wind resource in Texas alone is 136 GW continuous, about 30% of US demand.

I think the view problem is greatly exaggerated.

Garson Poole said at June 12, 2006 10:11 AM:

Last month Technology Review had an article with the following subhead: “Floating wind farms placed far offshore could lead to affordable electricity -- without cluttering the view.”

Huge turbines mounted on floating platforms could make wind power competitive with fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These advanced wind turbines, which are in development, could be situated far from the shore, too, avoiding battles with onshore residents who object to the presence of large wind farms. ...
Based on wind-speed measurements, researchers at MIT, led by Stephen Connors, director of the Analysis Group for Regional Electricity Alternatives, calculated that large turbines located far offshore could ultimately cost less per power generated than either land-based turbines or near-offshore ones, even factoring in extra costs, such as much longer underground electricity transmission cables. The upside: much more fast and steady wind, which would allow the turbines to generate power at 50 percent capacity on average throughout the year, compared with 30 percent or less with on-land turbines.
The ideas in the article are interesting but speculative. Here is the link to the piece entitled: Giant Wind Turbines. Illustrations of the floating turbines are included.

hamerhokie said at June 12, 2006 2:36 PM:

Randall, I still don't think distributed photovoltaics will be the answer, because of the high fixed cost of around $3-4/watt associated with the inverters, meters, wiring, and labor to install solar on a house. It will remain a niche application highly dependent on large subsidies like we see in New Jersey ($5/watt) as most would rather dump $30K on a home remodelling project or addition than on lowering their electric bill by a $1500 or so per year.

Nick said at June 12, 2006 3:24 PM:

"don't think distributed photovoltaics will be the answer, because of the high fixed cost of around $3-4/watt associated with the inverters, meters, wiring, and labor to install solar on a house."

I believe the answer to distributed system Balance of System (BOS) costs is building integration and efficiencies of scale. Once conventional builders and roofers start including PV in their standard roofing packages, installation costs will mostly disappear. Once installation happens in large volumes to amortize the cost of the specialized DSP chips, inverter/electronics costs will mostly go away. Wiring material cost is small.

I have the impression that BOS costs in Japan, where residential installation volumes are quite high, have fallen dramatically.

Cape Cod said at June 13, 2006 6:50 AM:

"Tell the peasants to eat cake. We don't want to ruin the view..."

Yeah, and many peasants here would like to install residential wind power and are meeting the same fate.

It's kind of funny really, since Cape Cod was the first place windmills were used in this country. During the 1800's the Cape was largely devoid of trees and there were windmills as far as you could see. Over 800 of them were used during the salt making boom from the Revelutionary War on through the mid 1800's.

I say if they want to put windmills in Nantucket Sound or Buzzard's Bay, then any Cape Cod resident should be able to install a wind turbine on their property.

Tom Gray said at June 16, 2006 4:39 AM:

Randall: Nothing wrong with views, I like 'em myself. But, I also don't find that they are spoiled by rotating wind turbines. Partly, I think, that's because I see what they represent: clean energy with no air pollution, no water pollution, no mining or drilling for fuel, and no waste.

Garson: Good points. Also, it should be noted that polls most everywhere consistently find sizable majorities in favor of developing wind, even in Vermont, where a battle has been raging over wind on ridgelines.

Bob: Good question about India and China. If we don't get really, really serious about efficiency and renewables, how indeed can we convince ANYONE else that it's the right thing to do? Hand-waving isn't going to cut it.

Tom: No real hurry on storage yet--I'd guess we have another decade before it becomes a serious constraint, and it adds substantially to the cost of renewable energy systems. Electricity demand varies constantly throughout the day--variations from wind are no different for a utility system operator to deal with.

Garson: Offshore wind is great, lots of promise. The trick is to move forward with making it a reality (5-10 years away?) without stopping onshore wind development in its tracks and having to build a whole new industry all over again.

Cape Cod: Agreed, small wind turbines are good too. Bring 'em on!

Tom Gray
American Wind Energy Association

mrsizer said at June 16, 2006 7:30 PM:

The Solar Tower project in Australia sounds cool. Does anyone mind destroying the view in the desserts of the Southwest? Good riddance, I say.

Engineer-Poet said at June 19, 2006 4:19 PM:
... because of the high fixed cost of around $3-4/watt associated with the inverters, meters, wiring, and labor to install solar on a house.
A lot of that is the high costs associated with low production volumes.  Computer power supplies are roughly equivalent to inverters and cost what, 10¢/watt or even less?

The same is true of meters and especially wiring and labor.  How much more labor will it take to install a section of raised-seam roofing with PV laminated at the factory?  How much to plug into the standard connector at the top which jacks into the bus built into the ridge venting?

None of these things exist yet in a world which installs 1 GW of PV per year, most of it laminated to glass.  If it becomes something like CIGS laid onto stainless steel foil and sealed in plastic, a 40 GW/year market would easily support such advances.  They're obvious, and they'll happen.

Fenton Heirtzler said at August 31, 2008 2:02 PM:

I find the objections to windmills on the basis of esthetics to be selfish and insistent of self-entitlement. "I don't want MY lifestyle to change for the common good". "I want to live comfortably according to my (legislated?) status quo, and not make any personal sacrifices, even if by doing so, I am contributing to a global climate catastrophe".

In fact, the windmills are not even close to the shore (have you seen them in Denmark, Germany or the UK?) and the Rich and Famous do not own the ocean.

It is the same people who drive on the superhighway, but yet object to a road expansion in their neighborhood. The same ones who do not think twice about hopping on a jet -having carbon emissions much in excess of a car- for their holidays. Or a double-engine outboard motorboat. The same ones who abhor "mass" transportation (ug! it's for the masses....).

Under other circumstances, I would contribute to the intellectual banter that I read here - however today I regard that as a disingeneous smokescreen. It more relevant to comment on the blatant self-interests that are apparent behind an anti-windmill campaign.


Randall Parker said at August 31, 2008 2:15 PM:

Fenton Heirtzler,

What is wrong with defending one's self interests?

Windmills are not even closer to the shore? What are you talking about? The vast bulk of the windmills in America are on land.

Resident in Mourning said at March 12, 2010 7:44 PM:

I came back from a winter away to find that dozens of incredibly huge, menacing-looking wind turbines have been erected in my township here in southern Canada. It used to be such a beautiful place and now it is littered with these hideous metal monsters. Because the province was tardy in matter, the municipal government allowed them to be within 350 meters of unfortunate homeowners. From country bliss to oppressive, threatening blades for those poor folks. New agers say the action of the turbines disturbs the land's delicate energy balance. This may manifest as problems in human health, plant growth, animal populations, even extreme local weather. We'll see. I intend to spend time near the turbines and get a feeling for their effect. If I feel it is a negativity with which I cannot deal, I will move.

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