Why People Hate Wind Turbines

15 Mar
A Wind farm. The wind turbines are manufacture...

Image via Wikipedia

Among renewable energy technologies, wind turbines have the odd distinction of being at once the most celebrated and the most reviled. People either love wind turbines, or hate them. With a passion. 

Take, for example, the battle over Cape Wind—the long delayed, highly contentious standoff between wind developer Jim Gordon and wealthy residents of Cape Cod who’ve spent millions to keep wind turbines from sullying the view from their private beaches. Then there are the “wind syndrome” alarmists, who claim that sonic vibrations from wind turbines can drive those living in the sinister shadows of wind turbines literally mad.

Why do wind turbines attract such vehement opposition? By way of suggesting an answer, it’s worth noting that passionate, often irrational hatred of wind turbines is nothing new. In an ill-tempered essay in the Los Angeles Times in 1984, urban planner Sylvia White painted the wind industry as an unstoppable force laying waste to fragile California ecosystems. Plus, she argued, wind turbines are ugly. “Seen from several miles away, the motion of the turbines may seem graceful as the blades sparkle in the sun,” she allowed. “But, in truth, the wind machines, with their awkward stalky appearance strangely reminiscent of oil rigs, deface the landscape.” Ouch.

In 1985, prefiguring the Cape Wind brouhaha, the mayor of Palm Springs led a campaign against a developer proposing to build a wind farm along the highway leading to the resort town. “Every time I go out I see more windmills and get madder’n hell,” said the Mayor, Frank M. Bogert, to a reporter from The New York Times.

The common denominator, past and present, is visual. Rarely, if ever, do wind critics challenge the underlying technology of wind turbines. After all, it’s difficult to find much fault with highly efficient, electricity-producing machines powered by a free, clean, renewable fuel. Rather, it’s the optics of wind turbines that drive a small but vocal cohort of anti-wind activists into a tizzy. And to a certain extent this is understandable. Because industrial wind turbines are undeniably huge. Unlike ground-hugging, relatively unobtrusive solar panels, turbines are utterly conspicuous. If you’ve ever driven by a wind farm or glimpsed one from a distance, you can’t deny that they do indeed alter the landscape. And offshore wind farms, when visible from the shore, alter the seascape. (Although many offshore wind plants, including the proposed design for Cape Wind, are far enough away from the shore that they’re visible only on the clearest of days, and then only barely visible.)

But does visibility necessarily translate to ugliness? Whether you believe that wind turbines are elegant, sculptural additions to the landscape or ugly industrial blemishes is of course largely a matter of opinion. But here’s the rub: however you may perceive them, wind turbines should be visible. For too long we’ve been accustomed to energy being invisible. Or, more specifically, we’ve come to expect that the plants and machines that produce electricity be out-of-the-way. And with good reason. Coal-fired power plants, from which we derive most of our electricity, are dirty, loud, and ugly. (It will come as a surprise to those not in the know that something as odorless, silent, and seemingly ephemeral as electricity requires so much dark, dirty coal and loud, clanging machinery to produce it and results in such a huge volume of toxic waste.)

But invisibility also leads to ignorance of how energy is made. And it leads to apathy. And that’s a problem for a few reasons. First because it results in careless, uninformed energy use. And second because it’s never good for the vast majority of people to be so completely removed from and ignorant of the technologies and machines and places that make the stuff without which our globalized, massively networked civilization would not exist.

So even putting aside my entirely personal, subjective opinion that wind turbines look cool and majestic, I say bring ‘em on. The more visible they are, the better. Beyond the fact that they channel a free, renewable fuel and convert it to electricity at reasonable prices, wind turbines serve the valuable purpose of bringing power generation out of the shadows and into the light.

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5 Responses to “Why People Hate Wind Turbines”

  1. Johnny August 20, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Wind Turbines rob the areas we like to live of their beauty. And to those of you who wrote these smart-ass comments, i ask you, would you like to have one of those in your back garden, whipping round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, whizz, whizz, whizz…

    Windgen, you can take them elsewhere, thanks.

  2. JodiJ March 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I enjoyed your blog post about why people hate wind turbines so much, especially your conclusion that we need to see our electricity being produced. A nice visual would be a before shot of a nuclear or coal power plant and an after photo of a wind turbine against a cerulean blue sky. How can you argue with that contrast?

    But many will, unfortunately.

    • jnshere March 25, 2011 at 2:26 am #

      Thanks. And good idea for the visual. You’re right — wind turbines may not be the most beautiful objects in the world, but compared to a coal power plant or nuclear plant, their positively sculptural.

      • Rifa September 25, 2013 at 7:33 am #

        A is the strongest awsner. The sun is not in the sky for half the time, on average, but some locations have extremely reliable wind.B is 99% false. Same thinking as above.C is about 60% true. Solar is not economical for many homes, and wind even less so due to geography.D is 90% true. When heating, cooling, and cooking needs are taken into account, solar does not supply enough power. When heat comes from somewhere else like a wood stove or natural gas, solar can supply a home’s needs. There’s still the economic issue. And the term efficient is subjective.

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  1. Reality and Fiction: Truth in Advertising | E N V I R O G Y - March 15, 2011

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