With Donald Trump grudgingly leaving office, we’ve lost one of the few major politicians willing to criticize the crass blight of industrial wind turbines. Though he was crass himself and fabricated certain details, he was morally right on this issue. Wind turbines may not directly cause cancer, but they’re like a cancerous growth on nature, taking over too much horizontal and vertical space in areas untouched by older energy projects. Even 22 years ago, their sprawl could no longer be described as novel and welcome. Nothing so blatantly ugly, noisy, lethal and futile has been marketed as “green” with such blind ambition. Relatively few environmentalists bother to ask if wind power meaningfully reduces carbon, or whether other footprints still matter. They assume anything beats smokestacks, even if it resembles hordes of them, minus blades.
A greenly zealous President Biden plans to carry on with Obama’s PTC wind power legacy after a notable construction lapse during Trump’s term. In his 2020 campaign, Biden spoke of building 60,000 more wind turbines on top of the 65,548 already spiking America (as of this posting-date). If funding is secured, this politically-correct and bipartisan destruction of nature will resume unless rural landowners and honest environmentalists put up roadblocks. But where would all these new eyesores be built? Offshore ocean sites promise more consistent wind and less visibility, but theory & reality have clashed and permitting is slow. It’s been unrealistic to put turbines far enough offshore and keep them affordable, including maintenance at sea.
This means Biden’s Departments of Interior & Energy are likely to target pragmatic onshore locations, including besieged mountaintops where wind can be most effectively “harvested” (a term also applied to anthropocentric hunting). Since wind “farms” unavoidably destroy scenery and bird & bat habitat, big environmental groups have responded to the encroachment with denial, covered at length here and here. They downplay the visceral impact of giant machines and replace it with shill-terms like “installed capacity.” To be green now, you must itemize nature as a product and wrap it around metrics.
There’s been a misleading controversy over Biden’s plan to “replace” fossil fuels with quasi-renewables, upsetting the livelihoods of traditional energy workers. It’s based on a widespread misunderstanding of energy scale and the dependency of most infrastructure on fossil fuels for construction and maintenance. The laws of physics will not allow wind or solar to actually replace oil, gas and coal. Once one understands the scale problem, nuclear power becomes our best hope in the electricity sector, though it can’t replace what fossil fuels do best. Recent urgency in approving molten salt SMRs, and fast-tracking fusion, shows that scientists understand the limits of wind & solar. Both Democrats and Republicans are too vague about our energy predicament, compounded by general denial of scarcity.
We can hope that Biden’s “500 million” new solar panels are only built on roofs and parking lots, but wind turbines can’t be “carefully sited” much longer, if it was ever true. We’re stuck with the same dilemma of sacrificing open space for the growing demands of people. With Trump, this took the form of shrinking national monuments and more oil & gas drilling, which at least didn’t pretend to be green. Biden will be compelled to spoil nature in “smarter” ways, rationalizing huge structures that wreck the facade of wilderness faster than anything else.
And, just as Trump weakened hunting regulations to appease right-wingers, Biden will be forced to weaken protections for anything that flies in the path of wind turbine gauntlets, e.g. more eagle-take permits. When America’s national bird and scenic heritage are threatened by “clean energy,” you wonder what qualifies as dirty these days. If Joe Biden really thinks Big Wind is green, one needs to say “Come on, man!”
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