Community Owned Energy, Community Wind, Wind

Lets Refine the Debate: AIRE’s view on wind

In the volatile debate on wind power permitting in North Carolina (SB1068), it seems that the only versions of the story being told are utility-scale wind farms and anti-wind. In other words, it’s a polarized, “all or nothing” framing of the issue as shaped by the media and the over-simplified public rhetoric. Here’s a closer look at both “sides” and at a third way, community-based renewable energy, toward a sustainable energy future that few seem to consider. Wind has to be a part of a multi-element energy strategy. Don’t ban wind. Let’s change the debate.

The anti-wind rhetoric makes sweeping claims. Here are the significant ones and AIRE’s response to them:

  • (1) The “mountains are pristine and windmills will mar the landscape.” Some environmentalists and real estate developers alike share this refrain. Clearly, other forms of rapacious development have a long history of inflicting environmental damage. This isn’t to excuse unregulated wind energy development though. Responsible and appropriately scaled and sited wind can help preserve our ridges.
  • (2) We should use more “traditional” energy sources like coal and nuclear because they are cheaper and more reliable. The counter-response is first, just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it is good. Coal is dirty, unsustainable, and inefficient.
  • (3) Anti-wind voices also claim wind is heavily subsidized, ignoring that coal and nuclear are massively subsidized. True, wind is subsidized, however, coal’s generous subsidy by comparison is off the charts. The externalized costs of mining, public health effects, air quality and climate change render the subsidy claim moot.
  • (4) Some argue, that yes, wind is great as long as the turbines are “somewhere else” and connected to smart grids. But if we ship off our energy production we ship off local jobs, local tax bases, and we disempower communities. It relegates us to being consumers, when we should be producers too.
  • (5) Because of our excessive consumption, wind’s contribution to the grid would be insignificant. This admission ought to be most embarrassing. Translated, this is like saying, “if we (‘other people’) used less, maybe wind would be important.”

The pro-wind arguments center on environmental claims of necessary and rapid transition to renewables and efficiency, and the possibility for greening the economy, especially the green jobs such a transition would create. This is also a sweeping claim. Within pro-wind circles there are several distinct positions including a far less controversial version called community wind. Community wind in WNC would not be the same as a “wind farm” a pejorative term in the current debate. This is completely glossed over in the media coverage of SB1068. Yet the original version of the bill did recognize the important distinction. Unfortunately, a few senators want to foreclose on community wind.

AIRE advocates community-based renewable energy including wind, solar, micro-hydro, energy efficiency and conservation. Wind has to be a part of the energy mix! In other words, lets employ a diversity of technologies at community-scale, including wind, to help our state become more energy self-sufficient. Wind and solar alone could make us 40% energy self-reliant (1), and with twenty billion dollars a year hemorrhaging out of NC annually, we have, in essence, an economic stimulus that we can fund ourselves! What’s more, a recent Rocky Mountain Institute (2) report reveals that North Carolina ranks a sub-par 27th in the United States on energy efficiency. In other words, we generate $3.34 of state GDP for every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed compared with New York, which reaps $7.18 for each kilowatt consumed. Translation– we are throwing money away in North Carolina.

We want distributed power that can use existing transmission and distribution lines, not massive centralized corporate wind farms. More importantly, we want to keep more dollars in our strapped local economies and make the electric grid more reliable. With community-owned energy, we can invest in our communities rather than send our hard earned dollars elsewhere. And we can do this with wind as part of the mix. Community-scale wind projects are not “as tall as the Bank of America in Charlotte” even though the mythology has led us to believe it unquestionably. We can do this without wind farms, or “industrial wind” as the anti-winders exhort. And we can even do this while prohibiting development of our vast federal lands, state parks, and lands in conservation easements. In fact, only a small percentage of WNC’s windy land would be “permitted” under SB1068. Wind farms will not be “everywhere” as opponents claim. This diversified energy approach can help heighten public awareness, and lead to a more resilient economy and a better quality of life.

Governor Purdue’s transition team reported that communities need a direct role in their energy futures. To ban wind power from the resource mix would be a very costly choice. It would be like banning solar energy in Tucson. Let’s not be bound by old thinking. Leave community wind in SB1068!

  • 1. Ferrel, John; Morris, David. 2008. Energy Self-Reliant States: Homegrown Renewable Power. Institute for Local Self Reliance. Policy Brief. November 2008. Minneapolis, MN.
  • 2. Mims, Natalie; Bell, Mathias; Doig, Stephen. 2009. Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity. Rocky Mountain Institute. Snomass, CO. Note: these figures are adjusted for a variety of biases inherent in differing state economic composition.

We should keep in mind that U.S. Forest Service lands are designated “multi-use” and have been the site of massive clear-cutting, mineral extraction, hydroelectric damming, communications infrastructure, and other damaging uses. USFS Wilderness Areas or National Recreation Areas deserve rigorous protection from all development including wind, and AIRE would concede all such federal lands as well. Also, AIRE does not advocate wind development in the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Great Smoky Mountain National Park viewsheds. As for lands in conservation easements, AIRE recognizes the dedicated work, vision, and success of the conservation movement and agrees that these lands should be explicitly off-limits to wind development. AIRE has held that the provisions in SB1068 would be sufficient to effectively eliminate wind development on federal lands. However, it is a reasonable and productive concession to make this explicit in the bill’s language in order to move wind development forward in a controlled fashion.

18 thoughts on “Lets Refine the Debate: AIRE’s view on wind

  1. To you, Ann, and all ‘who want to keep the 1983 Mountain Ridge Protection Act in place’…..remember….WINDMILLS ARE EXEMPT from the Ridge Law as currently written. In 1983, the legislators looked upon Howard’s Knob in Boone and added the exemption for windmills based on the 2.0 Megawatt, electricity-producing windmill on the hill. We owe those forward-looking legislators a big thanks for including the production of local, clean energy on our windy mountain ridges in the list of Ridge Law exemptions. Let’s not let this current set of western legislators undo this progressive work.

  2. Brent, you and I have been through this argument in Creston I think, at the Riverview Center. What you are saying is not true. Due to the Calhoun’s being so irresponsible, it was not tested. Even what lawyer Capua has written is just her opinion. Again, that has not been tested and you know it. I believe, if tested, the Mountain Ridge Protection Act will stand firm. But, it will not be tested. Again, your focus needs to be on residential turbines. We have a family in Ashe county that has been off the grid for over 10 years. As long as you focus on using our ridges, I will fight you and my voice is strong. My family owns land in Ashe and Watauga counties. Where my home is located, I would be the perfect candidate for a small turbine. Stay off of the protected ridges and do the right thing. Again, the little statement on this site about a “family denied permit” is a farce. It was a commercial wind farm venture in Ashe county that failed and YOU KNOW IT. Tell it as it really is!

  3. Its my understanding that any comment on the Ridge Law with respect to wind turbines have been the opinions of lawyers and attorneys, including the NC Attorney General himself, and not law courts. This would explain the attempt in Senate Bill 1068 to codify/disambiguate the NC Ridge Law with respect to wind turbines.

  4. Let’s please stop burying our heads in the sand. Global warming and polluted air are real. All of us contribute to it every day in NC by tuning on the coal-powered electric stitch and driving our petroleum-powered vehicles. The least we can do is to use the renewable energy resources at hand. Wind is certainly one for us in the mountains. We must cease reacting unthinkingly to such narrow, hypocritical interests as “protecting pristine views” when no one seems to object to media and communications towers…
    and (hasn’t anyone visited the new ASU turbine?!) the latest generation of windmills are quiet and elegant. Rather we need to be thinking of the legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren. We’ve simply got to wake up and join the national and worldwide renewable energy transformation that is generating far more employment and a much healthier environment than that rendered by fossil fuels (including nuclear energy).

  5. Jeff Boyer, you certainly have not read what I have posted. You have to stop thinking on a commercial wind farm scale, and yes, our ridges will be protected. But, there are other ways to harness the wind on a smaller scale and that is what people are interested in……the wind turbine at ASU is a good example. Also to Brent, we went over Roy Cooper’s interpretation of the Ridge Law together. Cooper’s interpretation clearly prohibits the installation of wind turbines. Again, when you can get AWAY from using the ridges, you will make progress.

  6. What I have learned, is that it was a waste of time attending the meetings where Brent and others were “supposedly” listening to my comments about our interest in smaller turbines. But, the fact that I would like information on smaller wind projects or smaller community projects does not matter to you. I was never heard. Since I do not support Commercial Wind Farms on our protected ridges makes me “Anti-wind.” I am labeled as “irrational” and “anti-wind.” That proves to me that your only interest is in going for the commercial wind farms on our protected ridges. This is what AIRE is about and in reality, YOU are the commercial wind or nothing (anti-wind) people. I am not “anti-wind” and I am not “irrational.” You can not tell the truth. The people need to know the truth about this so called non-profit group that is only interested in ASU and AIRE. You could care less about the people of Ashe and Watauga counties.

  7. While it is my belief that everyone should have the right to farm their land for whatever fruits it may hold (be it solar, wind, hydro, and even fruits and veggies), it is also my belief that we should care for and respect that land. I don’t know if ‘utility’ scale anything is that great of a choice within the bigger sustainability picture.

    However since it seems the population has steered away from sustainability and into that utility scale, powerplants of some nature are required to keep up with our massive energy demand. This massive demand, while supplemented by the few brave souls who produce their own energy, needs a utility scale solution to make any sort of difference.

    Bulldozing mountains to reach their coal, for instance, has been one of the solutions we have chosen. While this has worked to an extent and kept our energy cost here in the southeast one of the lowest in the country, we inadvertently have chosen to destroy our lovely mountains, haze up our amazing views with heavy particulate pollution, and put our own children at risk.

    Let us stop bickering over ‘views’ and start thinking about our own and our children’s future. The solution is not going to come from a law, a wind turbine, or our exhaust pipes and smoke stacks; it will come from each one of us choosing it. Let us work together as a community and make the best choices for our future here in WNC.

    I think wind turbines can be quite beautiful as long as they will help my child have less of a risk of severe mental retardation from mercury poisoning (dont eat fresh water fish in NC, almost 14,000 children are born per year IN NC at risk) or have asthma (the rate has DOUBLED since the 1980s… now nearly 1 in 10 have it). A single turbine can negate these emissions for over 400 homes… 400 small turbines would be a real mess and they would still have to be on the ridges.

    Goodluck with your decisions!


  8. The Naturalist’s Corner
    Smoky Mountain News
    22 July 2009

    Up in the air

    Western North Carolina senators Joe Sam Queen, Martin Nesbitt and John
    Snow might be wishing they had a wind turbine to cool down some of the
    heat they’ve been taking for throwing a kink into plans that would pave
    the way for utility-scale wind farms along the ridge tops of Western
    North Carolina. By the time you read this, western senators will have
    received another barrage of point and click emails from groups like AIRE
    (Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy) as there was a caucus on the
    issue yesterday, July 21.

    AIRE’s Web site has the message:

    “I support a wind permitting process for the mountains of North Carolina
    and therefore ask you NOT TO BAN wind energy development in Western North
    Carolina. Please help our state move forward with green energy and jobs.

    I respectfully ask the following:

    (1) restore the mountain permitting language in the original Senate Bill

    (2) keep the addition in the PCS version directing the permitting agency
    to render a determination on a permit application with in 150 days of the
    receipt of a completed application.”

    After you add your name and address all you do is click “Send My
    Message!” and the Website promises to, “We will add your signature from
    the information you provide.”

    So when you see the newspaper accounts of the thousands of emails
    senators received regarding Senate bill s-1068 you will have an idea of
    where and how they originated.

    I find one aspect of this a little bit troubling. Now I know with AIRE’s
    close relationship to Appalachian State University they have access to
    legal acumen much greater than mine. But if they are a 501(c) 3 (SOSID
    1100892), doesn’t the IRS prohibit any, “… attempt to influence
    legislation as a substantial part of its activities …?”

    There are a couple of other aspects of Senate Bill 1068 that are also a
    bit unsettling to me. Remember when then Vice President Dick Cheney
    created his Energy Task Force? Environmental organizations across the
    country were up in arms because the people he had chosen to create the
    administration’s energy policies were — gasp — “Big Energy” players.

    Was that the pot calling the kettle black? According to the Southern
    Alliance for Clean Energy, the language for Senate Bill 1068 was written
    by the Wind Energy Technical Advisory Group.

    And what about the corporate camel’s nose in the tent? Surely no one has
    entertained the idea that if they get the OK to build on this minuscule 5
    percent of good wind sites it might pave the way for expansion in the

    I remember when I heard about Thomas Berry’s death I looked over some of
    my favorite quotes of his, and these developments bring this to mind.
    Berry was talking about the “green” movement, I substituted wind for
    solar: “… We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to
    do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of
    the Earth … So, even if we use wind energy, without some mystique of the
    Sun and the Earth, it won’t work.”

    Don Hendershot

  9. I am so thankful that someone is paying attention to what I have been posting on this site!!! Thank you Irrational Anti-wind, and thank you Smokey Mountain Press!!!! I think something is just beginning to hit the fan, or should I say, wind turbine?

  10. I support responsible development of wind turbines, on our ridges, where the technology is developed to work properly. Would you put cell phone tower under water just to get it out of site, when it wouldn’t work? NO.

    I don’t understand how people can possibly think it okay to destroy the ridges with roads and towers for the convenience of being connected, yet they cannot see generating clean energy from them!

    Electricity is a societal necessity. Period. We need to stop displacing responsibility for where it comes from. Do people think the people of WV, KY, and others want to have their mountaintops completely obliterated to supply our power?

    I am sorry to the people of these states, who in selflessness and dedication, serve our country. Just know there are people out here wanting the destruction of your mountains to end. Peace.

  11. AAAAHHHHH!!! HA! HA! HA! HA!

    Ann Hardy says Brent doesn’t listen to or care about her support for small wind turbines. Seriously?! BRENT!!?? And you think others have listening problems!

  12. Remember, the decision is not wind energy or no wind energy, we are hopefully beyond that. The question is how to responsibly develop wind energy. Wisconsin just signed a wind permitting bill into law. NC is trying, but folks just don’t get it for some reason.

    [Wisconsin] Governor signs wind farm siting bill

    Gov. Jim Doyle said Wednesday his signing of a wind farm siting bill should serve as a call to wind developers who have been avoiding building projects in the state.

    Jeff Anthony of the American Wind Energy Association said the bill was a needed step to attract the wind industry to the state. “It restores common sense and consistency to wind project siting in Wisconsin,” he said. “Wind project developers will now view Wisconsin as a viable place for considering wind power development.”

    Read more at:

    By the way, they have a nice little anti-wind group up there too, They still think wind turbines make you sick 🙁

    Cheers, Brent

  13. Quint David, so if you believe that people should do what they want with their land, then what about a land owner with 800 acres near the NC/TN line that has a coal seam. Do you tell them that they have no right to sell the coal? It is reported that one county in the mountains has recently discovered another fossil fuel. I am trying to verify this. This would lead to another type of plant being built in that county (not coal related). So everyone should be treated the same in your opinion?

  14. Brent, another presenter at the wind forum that I appreciated was Paul Quinlin, as he spoke about the 1983 Mountain Ridge Protection Act and he stated that the definition of windmill has not been tested in a court of law. Lawyers can give their opinions, people who were there can give their opinions, but he is 100% right as it has not been tested. This test will be coming soon, and it will be interesting.

    Again, I appreciated what Paul Quinlin said. He gave a very “fair” presentation.

  15. I think you need to point out to posters that you moderate the comments here….you remove any comments that might sway people against your political agenda. You have removed all issues regarding the concerns of illness and wind turbines. Please see my work in the Asheville paper. Thanks!

    I think removing comments about Acciona and the problems that one family is dealing with in regards to living next to turbines with their autistic son shows how desperate you are and it shows your inability to have truth as the core of your agenda.

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