Windmills ruffle some environmentalists

Although windmills provide a clean alternative to coal and gas, they have also generated huge turbulence within the environmental movement. Proponents of wind farms view those who oppose them as heretics, obstructing the promise of clean renewable energy, while opponents decry them as producing insufficient power to warrant their blight on the landscape.

  • The growing industry has caused a kind of identity crisis among people who think of themselves as pro-environment, forcing them to choose between the promise of clean, endlessly renewable energy and the perils of imposing giant man-made structures on nature.

  • To some environmentalists, the opposition to wind power from within their ranks not only stifles the growth of a new source of energy but also calls into question the integrity of the environmental movement itself.

    Charles Komanoff, a long-time economic consultant to environmental groups, said the opposition by "well-heeled environmentalists," stoked the preconception that they were more concerned about their own backyards than about the common good.

    "They want to have it all and they won't brook any trade-off, especially a trade-off that sacrifices their own comfort," said Komanoff, who is based in New York.

    At the same time, the wind farm developers appear to have the environmental high ground.

  • Wind now accounts for less than 1 percent of all electricity produced in the United States.

  • But the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's trade group, predicts it will grow to 6 percent by 2020.

    The case for wind has been fortified in recent years by advances in technology that make it more efficient and a federal tax credit that makes its financing more feasible.

    Source: Katharine Q. Seelye, Windmills Sow Dissent for Environmentalists, New York Times, June 5, 2003.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/17 June 2003

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