Why giant corporate industrial wind is a terrible idea for Vermont

Stephen Gorman
Originally published in Vermont Sports, March 2007

As a writer and photographer, my mission is to promote knowledge and understanding about the earth and its natural history through words, images and ideas that convey a passion for nature and a sense of wonder about our planet. My most recent book is Wild New England, a Celebration of Our Region's Natural Beauty. My next book, to be released this spring, is Thoreau's New England. That's the Thoreau of Walden fame, who wrote:

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

Notice that he didn't say, "In transforming the last scattered remnants of wildness into giant corporate industrial wind factories for the sole benefit of General Electric, Goldman Sachs, NRG Systems, Catamount Energy, etc. and their investors is the preservation of the world."

Like many Vermonters I am an avid skier, hiker, snowshoer, paddler, hunter, fisherman, and road and mountain biker. And, like many of my fellow outdoor recreationalists who are adamantly opposed to giant corporate industrial wind power, but who don't dare speak out, I was hesitant when Kate Carter asked me to write this. Like meek lambs we have been silenced by an industry that has cynically but effectively co-opted the "green" mantle, portraying itself as "eco-friendly."

Nothing could be further from the truth. As one Northeast Kingdom resident put it recently, the wind industrialists are "venture capitalists masquerading as environmentalists. There is only one reason these projects are planned in Vermont and that is financial gain. I might add at our pain."

Right on. There is one reason these corporations exist, and only one reason: to make money for their investors. Period. Despite their rhetoric, they are not in business to make the world a better place. They are in business to make a profit. The only "green" thing about giant corporate industrial wind is the money flowing into their coffers (largely thanks to lavish government subsidies, i.e. your taxes and mine). No wonder the Catamount Energy website proclaims, "Business is brisk."

And what do we get out of it? The usual benefits of corporate colonialism: a wrecked landscape. Ruined communities. State and local economies in tatters. Slaughtered wildlife. A special place destroyed. All for greed.

A friend who is actually a wind developer in Idaho once told me, "We expect to lose the first two or three rounds when communities resist us. But by the fourth or fifth round we wear out the opposition and we end up winning."

Please see www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~hills/cc/gallery/index.htm#photos to learn about the enormous environmental costs of constructing giant corporate industrial wind factories.

The giant corporate industrial wind lobby wants you to think that by turning our mountaintops into industrial parks we will cut greenhouse emissions. That is not true. Giant wind turbines produce an occasional trickle of electricity, something Vermont currently obtains from non-greenhouse gas producing sources. Vermont produces the least CO2 of any state in the union. What CO2 you and I do produce mainly comes out of the tailpipes of our cars -- something we can address without destroying our mountains.

Vermont currently obtains about 75% of its electricity from nonCO2-emitting Vermont Yankee and Hydro Quebec. The remainder comes from a variety of sources, such as local hydro and wood. Another 20-30% of our electricity could come from existing hydro plants on the Connecticut River that are currently sending the power to Massachusetts. However, this surplus is likely unnecessary as Vermont officials estimate that we can reduce our current electric usage by 30% merely through efficiency programs.

So, any additional electricity that giant corporate industrial wind managed to squeeze out of our mountaintops would merely be excess power added to the New England grid, where it would end up fueling the wretched excessiveness of our consumer culture: big box stores, suburban sprawl, the ghastly concrete and glass auto-centric wastelands in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Another thing that giant corporate industrial wind doesn't want you to know is that, even if you covered the Green Mountains with turbines from Massachusetts to Quebec, or the entire Appalachians from Alabama to Newfoundland, you would not replace a single conventional power plant because wind power is so intermittent, unreliable, and has no base load capacity. You can't store it, and you can't depend upon it. Every kilowatt generated by wind must be backed up by a conventional source. In Germany, where there are no fewer than 14,500 industrial wind turbines, not a single fossil-fuel power station has been decommissioned.

The biggest energy source we can tap, not only in Vermont but also around the world, is conservation. We don't need to adopt giant corporate industrial wind's attitude that we live in a disposable landscape. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Restore. It's an old fashioned idea that still works.

Vermont was recently ranked by the National Geographic Society as 6th among the world's most desirable destinations, selected for its unspoiled attractiveness, distinctive cultural character, and environmental stewardship. If those of us who live, work, and recreate here want to keep it this way, we need to speak out against the powerful interests that threaten to destroy our home for absolutely no environmental or social benefit.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

Stephen Gorman is a writer and photographer. His books include "Northeastern Wilds: Journeys of Discovery in the Northern Forest" and "The American Wilderness: Journeys into Distant and Historic Landscapes." He has worked on assignment for national magazines such as Audubon, Men's Journal, National Geographic publications, Discovery Channel publications, Sierra, Outside, and many others. He has a Master's degree in Environmental Studies from Yale. He and his wife live in Norwich, Vermont.


It's not the view, it's the vision.