Wind Power Under Scrutiny: Stanley Fish Gets Results

Last month, contrarian academic Stanley Fish used his online New York Times opinion column to explain why he is against wind turbines, and why people are wrong to be mad at him for it . Inspired by a new anti-turbine documentary, and by readers’ hostility the last time he wrote about the subject , Fish defended the people who don’t want turbines around them:

These towering monsters are in their back yards, and in their front yards, and in their lines of vision and hearing no matter where they happen to be.

So the question is, why should they say yes to the destruction of everything they value about their way of life? Why should they submit to being beaten over the head with a moral club — “you are just selfish elitists” —that has behind it almost nothing at all? There’s no benefit to the individual, who often ends up paying higher energy bills; little benefit to the town besides (sometimes) an initial cash payment; a questionable benefit to the grid, especially when you calculate the energy costs of installing these behemoths and the necessity of fallback energy when the wind doesn’t blow; but lots of benefits to the developers who are described by voices in the film as carpetbaggers, pod people and traveling salesman for whom the only green that counts is the color of money.

Today, the Times has a report from Vinalhaven, Maine, about a disturbing trend, or a trending disturbance :

[T]he Lindgrens, along with a dozen or so neighbors living less than a mile from the $15 million wind facility here, say the industrial whoosh-and-whoop of the 123-foot blades is making life in this otherwise tranquil corner of the island unbearable.

They are among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power — a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels — is not without emissions of its own.

So they are petitioning the state to replace the windmills with a coal-fired power plant on the same site. Or a nuclear one. Right? Don’t be silly. They just want the source of their electricity to be invisible and inaudible again. Not unreasonable, if you’re them, and you aren’t the people who are living where the other forms of energy production would happen.

Divisiveness, Fish wrote, is key to the wind-companies strategies. Owners of rural second homes, like Fish, are pitted against the full-time locals—the former’s clean views and quiet against the latter’s desire for new revenue. And today’s report does find opinion in Maine divided about the turbines:

“The majority of us like them,” said Jeannie Conway, who works at the island’s ferry office.

But that is cold comfort for Mrs. Lindgren and her neighbors, who say their corner of the island will never be the same.

“I remember the sound of silence so palpable, so merciless in its depths, that you could almost feel your heart stop in sympathy,” she said. “Now we are prisoners of sonic effluence. I grieve for the past.”

(Copy-desk note: “said”? Orally? In those words? Doublecheck pls.)

Silence is wonderful. (Also darkness! I miss it.) Nor should people be pitted against one another in a race to the bottom, if it can be helped. Rich people’s hoity-toity standards of living can be a force for real good, in a world where the prevailing pressures are to make everything as cheap, filthy, and exploitative as possible.

Still, what does Stanley Fish suppose the greedy, land-ruining power companies are going to do but go be greedy and ruin the land somewhere else? “No wind power in my back yard” is only half of a political position. The other half is to say what sort of power you do want, and in whose back yard it should go.