Dear EarthTalk

I don’t understand why many people oppose wind power just because they have to look at the turbines. If you ask me, wind turbines are much nicer-looking than coal-fired, waste-to-energy or nuclear power plants.

Michael Hart

via e-mail

Whether it’s a wind farm, a

coal-fired power plant, a nuclear reactor or even just a big box store, there are always going to be locals opposed to it, declaring “not in my back yard!” (NIMBY).

As to the attractiveness of wind farms, people do seem to come down on one side or the other rather vehemently. Those in favor of wind development have been known to extol the visual virtues of a horizon full of windmills not only for the turbines’ graceful sculptural lines but also for the fact that their very presence advertises the coming of a modern, almost futuristic age of clean, renewable energy.

Writing in the online magazine Contemporary Aesthetics, Yuriko Saito waxes eloquent about the visual appeal of wind farms when created thoughtfully. “[I]t is possible to create an aesthetically pleasing effect by choosing the color, shape and height of the turbines appropriate…to the particular landscape, making them uniform in their appearance and movement, and…arranging them in proportion to the landscape,” he says. “One writer admires the windmills in Sweden as ‘graceful objects’ because ‘the slender airfoils seem both delicate and powerful…while their gentle motion imparts a living kinetic nature’.”

On the flip side, detractors begrudge wind turbines for destroying their views — a classic NIMBY stance. According to Saito, opposition to wind farms stems from their being sited on previously “open, unhindered lands” and as such “are viewed as machines intruding in a garden.” He adds: “[T]hey are almost invariably decried as ‘marring’, ‘spoiling’, ‘ruining’, and ‘intruding on’ the otherwise relatively natural landscape, such as desert, open field, mountainside, and…ocean, and for creating an ‘eyesore’.”

Respondents to a survey by the British magazine Country Life listed wind turbines as the most egregious type of architectural blemish across England. They disliked wind farms even more than other “eyesores” — such as highway service areas, conventional power stations and ugly office buildings — because of the size of the turbines, some of which are 300 feet tall, and their intrusion on the landscape.

Opponents of a proposed wind farm in the waters of Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound cite similar gripes. The builder, Cape Wind Associates, has campaigned for seven years for approval of the development, to be located 16 miles off the shore of Nantucket Island. Homeowners, politicians and some evidently conflicted environmentalists have mounted stiff opposition to the facility, which would appear from shore as distant white smears on the horizon. The decision rests with the U.S. Interior Department which, despite stated desires to expand offshore wind energy, is taking its time on the highly contentious matter.

But with wind now the hottest renewable energy source going, those opposed to seeing windmills better get used to it. In 2008 wind power provided 1.5 percent of global electricity — having doubled its output every year now for five years in a row — and should account for as much as eight percent by 2018.

Want to get down to earth? Submit questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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