A friend recently extended an invitation to help fight the installation of wind turbines in the Columbia Gorge at the Whistling Ridge Energy Project, near White Salmon, Washington.
Anyone who knows this region, knows that wind turbines have radically altered the landscape. Instead of miles of open space and rolling hills, there are now miles of huge, noisy turbines, doing their relatively small bit to feed our hunger for energy.
We love green energy (if there is such a thing) and it’s ironic that conservationists are fighting what is perhaps the greenest of green energy. This project application is for 50 turbines, capable of supplying enough energy for 20,000 homes, in an area of the state hit hard by the recession. It is on private timberland. It is also home to endangered spotted owls, bats and other birds known to be vulnerable to wind turbines, and it borders the Columbia National Gorge Scenic area. Both the Forest Service and the National Park Service have raised objections.
It sounds like this particular project might be poorly sited, but I can’t bring myself to fight it.
Wind turbines, which ten years ago seemed exciting and hopeful, are now visible blight. It feels like penance for north westerners, who are in other ways isolated from the dark side of energy production. There are few coal mines here. We do not allow oil drilling off our shores. The local nuclear power projects were long ago shut down in disgrace. Much of our power comes from hydroelectric dams, which play havoc on the salmon population and on riparian areas, but the damage is subtle. It’s nothing like blowing off mountain tops or drilling 5 miles under the sea floor. The weather is mild, and we can hardly function if it snows an inch or two, let alone a midwestern foot. It is easy for us to rest in our comforts, our access to fresh food, spacious countryside, and we guzzle energy like there is no tomorrow, just like everybody else. Yes, the wind turbines are an affront to the wild and open space that is our cultural and physical heritage. They are dangerous to wildlife. Yes we should fight to site them appropriately, but the bigger fight, the important fight, is to face the growing dependency, to recognize how connected we all are in this problem, and to change.
If we want to keep our comforts, no, increase our comforts (as the economics of growth demands), we will have to put up with nuclear power plants, and coal power plants, and more dams, more solar power plants and yes, more wind turbines. It will cause more coal mining deaths, more nuclear power accidents, more disrupted riparian ecosystems, and probably climate change. I don’t believe that a miraculous discovery is going to save us. We are going to have to drive less, share more, pick away at new kinds of energy generation, and we still might not be able to prevent chaos for the next generation. It is discouraging. Whistling Ridge is the tip of the iceberg.