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The Wind Power Debate -- Mike Martin

12/19/05 12:00AM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) All last week, in our special commentary series on wind power, we heard how Vermonters are debating this new technology. But according to commentator Mike Martin, it's also a hot topic in Europe.

(MARTIN) In France, they call wind turbines "eoliens" after King Aeolus, the God of the Winds. As you may recall, he's the one who put wind power in a bag and gave it to Ulysses to help him sail home. Unfortunately, greed got the better of the Greek sailors, and they misused the power, which blew them way off course.

Right now, Europe is trying to figure out the best direction to take with their wind turbine projects. They're ahead of us in developing this source of clean, renewable energy, so we can learn from how they've done so far.
Europe is investing massively in wind power. Denmark already gets fifteen percent of its electricity from wind power and the Netherlands have almost two thousand wind turbines. Wind farms dot the French countryside, and Germany is already producing forty times more than the French.

In addition, European countries have plans for huge off-shore parks of wind turbines to be constructed in the coming years. At the same time, public debate in Europe has grown along with its wind projects. It's worth thinking about all sides of the issue as we consider wind projects in our state.

Even though Europeans widely support clean energy, the forty-story wind turbines in the countryside have created some problems. People complain about their noise, their impact on local scenery, and the fact that they must be lit up at night so planes won't crash into them. Ecologists worry that their huge rotors will decimate flocks of migrating birds.On the other hand, the wind industry helps some communities by paying big business taxes.

Homeowners also complain that wind turbines hurt their property values. As a solution, the Dutch government compensated one homeowner with a reduction in his property taxes. There might be more innovative compromises like this one to come.

Of course, another big concern is aesthetics. The Europeans don't want to mar their countryside any more than we want to here in Vermont. However, one French woman I spoke to recently said wind turbines bothered her less than cell phone towers or power lines. She also said that when she saw them on the horizon - unlike nuclear reactor towers - it gave her a good feeling, thinking about the safe, clean energy they produce.

When the Eiffel Tower went up in 1889 one French writer condemned it as a "misshapen, unfinished, iron mast". Even though it was a big technological advance at the time, almost everyone thought it would destroy the Paris skyline. Now Paris wouldn't be the same without it. Maybe it will be the same here for wind turbines; there are plans for thirty of them to top the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero.

Wind power alone can't solve all of our energy needs, but it's encouraging to think that we're finally developing sources of clean, renewable energy; that all around the world, we are beginning to imagine what life will be like after the Age of Oil.

This is Mike Martin of Burlington.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Tomorrow our special commentary series on the wind power debate continues with Ned Coffin, who suggests that large wind turbines and windfarms should be subject to state regulation similar to other utilities.
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