Still more tilting at windmills
Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them than he said to his squire: “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.
– Miquel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
In our search to create a carbon neutral world, we have begun to harness small, but not insignificant, amounts of wind energy. Until recently my knowledge of wind energy was limited to a vague notion that there were a lot of windmills (not true) and wooden shoes in Holland.
Today I know a lot more about wind energy. That knowledge makes me appreciate that making environmentally-correct decisions can be very complicated. Some of the issues:
- Not all places are equal in terms of their ability to produce wind energy. Only one region of West Virginia – the Potomac Highlands – is well suited for large-scale wind energy production.
- The best places for wind in West Virginia – the tops of large mountains – can be very hard to reach with 50+ ton wind turbines.
- Wind turbines can kill endangered species like Indiana bats.
- The noise created by wind turbines has been linked to negative health effects for nearby residents.
- Many people have concerns about the impact of wind turbines on viewscapes. Would you want to stay at a bed and breakfast in Greenbrier County with a large wind turbine in plain view? How about wind turbines in our “quasi-sacred” national forests and other public lands where, by the way, most of West Virginia’s harnessable wind energy can be found?
Unlike Don Quixote’s imaginary enemies, our environmental enemies – global warming, destroyed ecosystems, polluted streams – are quite real. But slaying these real enemies might prove just as difficult for us as slaying imaginary enemies was for Don Quixote.