Friday, August 25, 2006

To wind turbine or not to wind turbine? ...

   Let’s switch to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, many environmentalists advocate.  But at the local level, the land use impacts of such power sources generate opposition from nearby residents. 

   Today’s wind turbines are colossal –- the most efficient turbines are up to 400 feet tall, or higher than the Statue of Liberty (with pedestal) and about the size of a 35-story building.  Towns in rural New York State are rapidly passing laws to bar such turbines, asserting, of course, that they are incompatible with the quiet “character” of their communities.

   I am sympathetic to the need for wind turbines, of course, and it would be easy to wag my finger yet again at this example of NIMBY.  But if we welcome land use laws that would bar 30-story buildings in rural areas, why allow enormous wind turbines?   One argument for permitting giant structures is, of course, that the turbines provide a valuable public service that might override residents’ concerns, as with any necessary but locally unwanted land use (LULU).  Local blocking of such valuable projects highlights the need for some land use decisions to be made at a level higher than that of the town or county, so that the needs of an entire state, or even an entire nation, can be taken into account.

   But what about the rural resident who wakes up one morning to find a set of colossal wind turbines towering over his or her property?  If such turbines are truly a valuable public service, how about a system of compensation for the “wipeout”? -– an idea that can be used to ameliorate local opposition to a variety of LULUs and whose costs can be passed on the taxpayers who benefit from the land use.

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