Robinson: At home with the wind

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Andy Robinson of Plainfield.

A few months ago, crossing the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon, I found myself in the middle of a huge wind farm – hundreds and hundreds of turbines turning above a rolling landscape of farm fields and sagebrush. I drove for nearly an hour through this landscape, wind towers to the horizon in every direction.

I will admit that I found them beautiful.

Driving through the Pacific Northwest, I thought about the “wind wars” back home in Vermont, and all the people I know and admire on all sides of this debate. The arguments about wind are partly about aesthetics, but also about habitat: is it worth fragmenting our forests in the interest of producing energy? This is an important question, but I’ve noticed an undertone that makes me uncomfortable: the idea that our landscape is somehow more special than others, and therefore more worthy of protection.

I don’t know enough science to compare the biodiversity of a Vermont ridgeline to the sagebrush hills eastern Oregon – a landscape filled with deer, elk and bald eagles – but this is what I know:

• Across Appalachia, mountaintops are being blown apart for coal, and this “mountaintop removal” mining is destroying entire ecosystems and communities. Some of that coal is burned for electricity by New England utilities – and once it enters the New England grid, that electricity is in used Vermont.

• Natural gas “fracking” threatens groundwater in Pennsylvania and other eastern states. Fracking was just banned in Vermont – a huge step forward – yet some of the gas produced elsewhere is burned for electricity by New England utilities. Once it enters the New England grid, that electricity is used in Vermont.

• Hydro Quebec’s dams have flooded vast valleys in northern Quebec, destroying hundreds of square miles of pristine forest and forcing the relocation of several indigenous communities, threatening their way of life. This electricity is sold directly to Vermont utilities; it comprises about one-third of what we use in our state.

What are we willing to sacrifice? Is it worth giving up a Vermont ridgeline so that one less valley will be flooded in Quebec, or one less mountaintop destroyed in West Virginia, or one less well drilled in Pennsylvania?

Except for the few who live off the grid and generate their own power, we are all complicit when we flip on the lights. Vermont may feel like a precious island – one that we strive mightily to protect – and yet we are connected to the rest of the world in many invisible ways. Unlike a wind tower on a local ridgeline, it’s easy to ignore what we can’t see from home, like the rising oceans that flood island nations in the Pacific and wheat fields in Bangladesh.

Like it or not, we benefit from the sacrifices that others have already made, are making today, or will make very soon. With the possible exception of Vermont Yankee – a radioactive cleanup project we will hand to our children and their children – we accept the benefits but outsource the costs to others.

What are we willing to sacrifice? Is it worth giving up a Vermont ridgeline so that one less valley will be flooded in Quebec, or one less mountaintop destroyed in West Virginia, or one less well drilled in Pennsylvania? Are we willing to use less – much less – energy while paying more for what we use? Are we willing to shift our definition of beauty?

My family strives to do the right thing. We insulated our house, installed a solar hot water system on the roof, and heat our home with wood. We grow a lot of our own food and support local farmers. We share one car. We use about one-third the electricity of a typical Vermont household. None of these things feels like a great sacrifice.

Yet I make my living flying back and forth across the continent, and probably the worst thing you can do for the climate is to get on an airplane. Ironically, many nonprofits that hire me are working to protect the earth against the impacts of climate change. At one end of my Northwest trip I worked with a river protection group; at the other end, a network of conservation land trusts. En route, I burned a lot of hydrocarbons.

I am still searching for the right level of sacrifice in my own life. I suspect it will require far less travel, a lower income, and even less consumption. Like many of my colleagues and neighbors, I believe we should prioritize local energy production and conservation over commercial wind farms.

But I also know this: If I looked up and saw a wind turbine on the ridge beyond my back yard, it would remind me that other people, other communities, and other ecosystems are bearing much higher costs than we are. And I would willingly accept it as our share of the burden.

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  • Steven Farnham

    Well said, but I doubt the anti-wind lobby will tolerate any of it.

    • Steve Wright

      Right about that, Steven. Our goal is to protect the mountains not acquiesce in destruction of them. Isn’t that ironic, facing off against the array of enviro groups who support mountaintop blasting in their own state?

  • Michael Lamere

    Andy. Excellent. Thanks for telling it as it really is!

  • Peter Romans

    Robinson implies that a few wind turbines here will eliminate coal mining. Expression of this completely baseless notion is grossly irresponsible. He has obviously done no research because any knowledge would debunk this fantasy.
    Wind turbines are valuable in enabling the self righteous to feel good about their own lifestyles. Between Robinson’s admission of mass consumption of carbon, “environmentalists” multiple homes, Jay Peak’s water park, etc, the hypocrisy is a little hard to bear.

    • Steve Comeau

      Using term “hypocrisy” in this case is rather harsh. It takes a long time for people to understand how much energy they really use and to figure out how to reduce, even when they want to. No person is an island, and we all have responsibilities to others, which frequently can mean travel or other consumption. But, in the long run we do need to come to terms with the idea that heated pools, multiple homes, long commutes, and frequent travel cannot be justified.

  • Peter Romans

    If Robinson really wants to accept some of the “burden”, he might consider a donation to some of the folks whose property has become worthless due to proximity to IWTs. That should erase any carbon guilt he may still have. Robinson may have taken his cue from the governor, who said he would be happy to live under an IWT when he isn’t indulging in another tropical carbon debauchery.

  • Fred Woogmaster

    Thank you for this thoughtful and provocative commentary. America is a deeply divided country. I was reminded of the power of the chant: ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’ and the many marches for justice. Happy Birthday Dr. King. You spoke truth to power for all who are committed to liberty, equality and justice. Thank you M. Robinson for this piece.
    Like it or not, WE – are all in it together.

  • June Cook

    Andy’s opinion piece: Once again, the argument that we have destroyed our environment in places, therefore, we should continue destroying in the name of what? Fairness in our destruction? How many birds, bats have been killed in those wind turbines you see as beautiful. How much pesticide will will be used to poison the earth, atmosphere, and water to compensate for the natural ecology that’s been destroyed. Did you know the wind turbines in the Pacific Northwest are being shut down because there is too much electricity generated. The consumers now pay not only the production tax credit but also pay for electricity not being generated. Does this make sense when the nation faces the astronomic federal deficits? Using your logic, we should defile every piece of our landscape to service our desires. Why not choose to live in harmony with the natural world rather than assume it is there just to serve man alone.

    • To clarify June Cook’s statement that wind farms are being shut down: This is partly an issue of lack of transmission lines and partly a hydropower issue tied to salmon, as well as a regulatory conundrum. It is illogical to imply this is an argument for not doing wind here.
      Here’s the scoop, from Green Economy Post: Wind farms up here in the Pacific Northwest may soon be shut down temporarily because there is no transmission capacity to move this green renewable power to where it is needed. A record snowfall in the mountains at the headwaters of the Columbia river system is about to begin melting and will send a surge of water down the river. Because this water cannot be sent over the spill ways without endangering already endangered Salmon and Steelhead fish it needs to be run through the turbines. There is just too much power for the regional markets and the existing transmission infrastructure to handle and thus wind farms are likely to be idled. What this exposes is the need for an improved Ultra high voltage long distance electric transmission network that is capable of moving surplus power from one region to another.

      Read more:

  • Randy Koch

    Dear Andy
    There are actually quite a number of houses on the market in Sheffield, Lowell and elsewhere that are near turbines. I’m willing to bet you could buy one for a song too since some neighbors have a very bad reaction to living near turbines and some are probably desperate to sell. It seems that audible sound frequencies, infrasound, and blade flicker pretty much drive some people nuts.

    But if you feel that moving to Sheffield for example is above your your own “right level” of sacrifice, I don’t blame you: in fact I congratulate you for the sacrifices you are willing to see other Vermonters make.

  • Trish Sears

    Thank you, Andy, for your very thoughtful contribution. You articulated exactly what I have been feeling all along w/re to wind power on our ridges. As I write this I can look outside my window and see the windmills on Lowell Mountain turning. I see them and I am comfortable with our contribution and trade-off to help meet the power needs of our community, of our world. And I have to acknowledge what you pointed out as what I don’t see up close and personal, the tradeoff the people who live(d) where Hydro-Quebec is and that the coal and fracking is also contributing to the power I am using right this minute. We live in an imperfect world.

    Like you, Andy, we work to conserve energy and yet, in ‘real life’ we also participate in contributing to expending more carbon than we want to into the air, land and water. The longer I live the more often I am reminded how imperfect I am and the world we live in. And yet we don’t let that deter us for doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

    w/re to the proposed wind moratorium, in that consideration needs to be the inclusion of a balance of information about the chilling-effect it could have on pursuit of other renewable energy sources. Onward.

    • Annette Smith

      Trish, are you comfortable knowing that people are getting sick from the wind turbines in the Lowell and Sheffield mountains, that the neighbors of the Georgia Mountain wind turbines are being awakened at night? What ever happened to compassion?

      Here’s a good write-up of a collaborative study of wind turbine noise done at homes where people have abandoned their properties

      Let’s have an honest conversation about the issues that are affecting Vermonters, and let’s get some good information about whether or not the wind turbines are creating useful electricity (right now we know that their major interaction with the grid is that their output has to be constrained because they produce power when it is not needed) and about whether they are reducing GHG emissions.

      It’s just amazing to me how many people are willing to accept the spin that wind turbines are going to save the planet and create useful electricity, without the need for any facts.

      I’m still looking for some evidence that is positive. So far, from the harm to human health, birds, bats, destruction of habitats necessary for wildlife to adapt to climate change, all I’m seeing is some “true believers” who don’t seem to need any proof, and a handful of promoters who are making money at the expense of the people and wildlife who live around the mountains.

      • John Greenberg

        Please explain how “right now we know that their major interaction with the grid is that their output has to be constrained because they produce power when it is not needed.”


        • Annette Smith

          John Norden ISO NE spoke at a DOE-sponsored conference in June 2011. This is a transcript: “…Then there’s the operational concerns about how do you handle the variability (of wind) – do you need to increase your automatic generation control environments? Now, you know, we carry an insurance policy called operation reserve, so if we lose a large facility on the system we need to be able to replace that within 15 minutes to meet our reliability standards. Right now, New England has about 300 megawatts of wind on the system. It really doesn’t have an impact on us. It’s noise. When I think about wind and how it affects the New England power system right now, it’s noise. It doesn’t cause us any problems. And we’re gonna be at 500 megawatts by the end of the year — maybe we’ll start to hear a little noise then. Really the interaction we have with wind now is when we have to curtail it because there’s not enough transmission access for the facility to get its full power up. So: limited transmission capability, lots of wind trying to get to that transmission capability, it doesn’t all fit because you overload the transmission so you have to reduce it. So that’s really our interaction with wind in New England right now.”

        • John,
          Annette is not a power systems analyst, so we have to cut her some slack.

          Please, see my below comment to Avram, who would have lay people (99% of the population) believe integrating wind energy to the grid is a piece of cake; even the German’s, no technical slackers, have major problems with just 7% annual wind energy on the grid.

          The New England grid has about 0.7% annual wind energy. Usually, problems don’t arise on most grids, until about 3% annual wind energy on the grid, based on grid operator experience.

          On a related subject, people have learned to swallow lies, misrepresentations, RE mantras, etc., if they reaffirm what they believe in. Many politicians support RE because they want to be seen as doing something about global warming and climate change, whereas they likely know whatever Vermont does regarding CO2 emissions is of no relevance regarding GW.

          In 2011, the world’s INCREASE in CO2 emissions was 830 million metric tons added to 33,160 million metric tons in 2010. That is 102 times greater than all of Vermont’s 8.1 million tons in 2011.

          Here is an example of misrepresentations, etc. by people such as Klein, Smith, Cheney, Lyons, Shumlin, Dostes, Schnure, Patt, Blittersdorf, the PSB, VT-DPS, and subsidy-chasing IWT developers, IWT vendors, etc., all holding hands, sticking to their mantra of RE talking points, singing the praises of IWTs on ridge lines. Completely irrational behavior, if one looks at ACTUAL “facts on the ground”.

          Lowell Mountain Wind Energy Cost:

          Gaz-Metro/GMP used a “vendor predicted” CF of 0.33 and a “vendor predicted” 25-year life to obtain bank financing, federal and state subsidies and “Certificate of Public Good” approvals for its ridge line Lowell Mountain IWT project, a.k.a. “Kingdom Community Wind”.

          GMP calculated the levelized cost of Lowell heavily subsidized energy at 10 c/kWh. It would be 15 c/kWh, unsubsidized, per EIA/US-DOE.

          But ACTUAL world ridge line CFs are 0.25 or less, and ACTUAL lives are 15 -20 years.

          The ACTUAL energy cost would be 10 c/kWh x CF ratio 0.33/0.25 x Life ratio 25/17 = 19.4 c/kWh

          This compares with Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee nuclear energy at about 5-6c/kWh, inflation or grid price adjusted, and grid energy at about 5.5 c/kWh.

          GMP is buying 60 MW of Seabrook nuclear energy for 23 years at 4.66 c/kWh, inflation adjusted.

          The VT-PSB would not have given approvals if the ACTUAL values had been use; hence the misrepresentations, a.k.a. lying.

  • Brian Machesney

    1) I would like to see a comparison of who is asked to sacrifice in order to provide power vs. who consumes that power. Inasmuch as energy generating plants are not generally considered to be appealing to have in one’s backyard – be they carbon-fired, nuclear, wind, water or solar – they seem often to be sited in locations where there are either few resources to resist them or where supposed economic benefits are claimed to outweigh possible deleterious effects. Logically, this means that the primary consumers of power are allowed (encouraged?) to be ignorant of the sacrifices their habits require of the inhabitants of those locations. For example, the NREL’s estimates of wind power potential EXCLUDE generation of wind power in urban areas which are, by definition, the greatest consumers of power.

    2) Our landscape IS different from other states because it is a primary engine of our economy. Compared to other states, Vermont depends more heavily on its pastoral image to attract the tourists who contribute so much to our state’s economy.

  • Lance Hagen

    The net for wind power in Vermont is:
    – Power costs are 3 to 4 times higher than existing power
    – Ridge lines are scared. Natural environment destroyed.
    – No or insignificant reduction in CO2

    Why would anyone want them, other than the ‘feel good’ that they did something, even though it accomplished nothing!

    • Lance Hagen

      I should add to my list

      – Potential health hazard

      I am not sure I agree with this health hazard claim. But it does have more plausible evidence than “natural gas “fracking” threatening groundwater “

  • Craig Kneeland

    Excellent piece Andy. I also see local wind turbines on a regular basis and feel good, in the same way I feel when I see a hydro turbine producing power from a nearby stream. If we use it, we need to produce it. Local production of energy is justified as an incentive to use less imported energy from questionable sources with inefficient delivery. Until our local generation approaches our local usage we should move full speed ahead with lowest impact sources, like wind.

    Those that worry about property values in sight of wind generators should try purchasing some of the new houses being built with excellent views of the Lowell Ridgeline. Property values only seem to be going up in many of those locations.

    • Steve Wright

      Well, it’s really nice that looking at turbines makes you, “feel good,” since that is an approximation of is intellectual rigor. “Feeling good” is hardly an effective starting point for making informed decisions on complex issues. While you feel good a family living near the Sheffield turbines is being tormented and are trying desperately to find additional lodging. What can you offer them?

      On November 3 and 4 of this past year 33 residents–most of them from Albany, some from Lowell–petitioned the Public Service Board to stop the intolerable noise from the Lowell turbines. Their homes were invaded, being made unlivable by the noise. They are not feeling good.

      We Vermonters are smart enough to design an effective approach to climate change, energy generation, mountain protection and human health and safety.

      Blowing up mountains in order to “feel good,” is not a part of that strategy.

  • Elinor Osborn

    This is a thoughtful piece, but if Andy’s logic is carried out further it would take us to this— Because of all the environmental damage due to fracking, mountain top removal, river damming and mercury release, we should do our part and cause more environmental damage just because it has already been done some place else.

    Would industrial wind be worth the environmental and health damage if it closed down any fossil fuel generating plants? There is no use debating that because wind does not close any of those plants. They have to be turned on 24/7 due to wind being intermittent.

    For 50 years I have tried to do what I can to stop environmental destruction far from home (including all that mentioned above), even in places I will never see. I am fighting that destruction because I care about beautiful places everywhere. Our whole planet is a small spaceship that we need to preserve not destroy. There is not another one like it known in the universe. Now unfortunately, destruction, with no provable redeeming value, is close to home.

    • Avram Patt

      This is simply not true:
      “They have to be turned on 24/7 due to wind being intermittent.”

      • Annette Smith

        Avram, please provide some proof. Show us in real world terms what fossil fuel plants are reducing their consumption when the 750+ MW of wind in the New England grid are producing electricity. How’s it actually working? I’m not interested in hearing anything more about the output of the turbines. I want to know how it is being integrated into the grid.

        • Avram Patt

          Annette, this is really not not rocket science. Someone in your position should by now have a basic understanding of how the ISO New England system works at an elementary level. The ISO dispatches power plants to go on and off, to ramp up and down, every hour of every day of the year. It is constantly fluctuating and this is true even if there were zero wind turbines in New England.. Some plants run only for very brief intervals a few times a year. Baseload plants run almost all the time. Generatrs are called up or down to meet the systems demand that varies by time of day, temperature and weather and time of year, as well as by power plants of all kinds shutting down for scheduled or unplanned outages. When the wind blows, the system operator needs to dispatch less power from fossil fuel (mostly natural gas) plants to match the demand in the grid. Less fuel is burned than if the turbines weren’t turning. When there is less or no wind, those plants get called up to a greater degree. But they are already there, being dispatched every day. These plants are not all spinning away 24/7 in any event. This is not top secret.

          • Avram Patt


            Anyone can see what’s happening on the New England grid.

          • Avram,

            It is somewhat more challenging to accommodate wind energy to the grid than you describe. During the past 5 years, numerous meetings have been held by grid operators to exchange information on how to cope with variable wind energy. Germany has major problems balancing 7% annual wind energy.


            In New England, 30% of the hours of the year there is not enough wind speed (7.5 mph, per Vestas) to turn the 373-ft dia rotors of 459-ft high IWTs, such as on Lowell Mountain.

            Winds on ridge lines are notorious for being irregular. Hence, even greater wind speeds are required to turn the rotors on ridge lines.

            That is one of the reasons capacity factors are so low on Maine ridge lines; promised CF 0.32 or better to get approvals, actual performance less than 0.25, per FERC data. WEC will have less RECs to sell.

            Variability: Because wind energy increases by the cube of the wind speed, any change in wind speed creates significant surges and ebbs of wind energy. If such energy were fed into the grid, it would create chaos.
            Thus, wind energy cannot stand on its own, has no value on its own, is completely useless, unless the grid has an adequate capacity of quick-ramping gas turbines and/or hydro plants that are required to inefficiently operate at part-load to be able to ramp up when wind energy ebbs and ramp down when it surges, which happens at least 100 times per day, to maintain grid frequency and voltage within required limits. If a grid does not have adequate capacity of such ramping plants, it either must acquire it, or connect to grids that do have it and do not need it for their own variable wind and solar energy.

            During periods of high wind energy generation, many grids, such as of Germany, the Bonneville Power Authority, Texas, Colorado, Germany, Spain, etc., do not have a sufficient capacity of such quick-ramping generators. As annual wind energy percents on the grids increase, the grid operators are unable to balance the wind energy and need to transfer it to neighboring grids for balancing, if possible, and/or implement curtailments, which upsets wind turbine owners, because subsidy payments may be at risk; in the US, the production tax credit, PTC, is 2.2 cent per kWh produced.
            Example: German wind power output peaked at about 12,000 MW on July 24, 2011, four days later the peak was 315 MW. Germany’s wind turbines are located mostly in Northern Germany which lacks adequate transmission facilities to Southern Germany, where the unpredictable, excess wind energy is likely not needed, because it usually occurs at night when demands are minimal.

          • Annette Smith

            Avram, I do have enough understanding of how the grid works, and of how power plants work, to know that I am asking good questions that still have not received good answers. Your answer is just more conjecture and theory. An Australian did a study of the integration of wind energy into the grid where it was assumed (just as you assume) that the wind energy was displacing coal generation. He was able to get very detailed data about the coal plant’s operations (something that is not available here) and found that while the wind energy was being put into the grid and coal energy was not being put into the grid, the consumption of coal at the power plant was not reduced.

            I am very tired of unsubstantiated claims by people who should be able to provide factual evidence that wind energy in New England is reducing fossil fuel consumption. I’ve been asking and looking for factual information for nearly four years and it is frustrating to hear the same claims repeated, without providing any evidence. And no, “anyone” cannot see what is happening on the New England grid. Please do not be patronizing or talk down to people who are asking reasonable questions.

            Here’s what I do know. Wind energy cannot be counted on, so the New England market has to contract for power a day ahead. Much of that is natural gas. I do know that natural gas plants must reach a certain temperature to operate. I do know that when the wind blows, wind turbines put electrons into the grid. I do know that an ISO-NE operator said at a conference in 2011 that the primary interaction that they have with wind energy in the grid is to curtail the power when it causes issues in the grid, and that at that point with about 300 MW of wind on the grid they considered it “noise”. I do know that there is already a lot of excess capacity in the grid. I do know that wind turbine owners get paid for the power they produce, whether or not it is needed. I do know that GE is making a flexible gas power plant that can enable a natural gas power plant to ramp up and down in response to the wind (an add-on to an existing natural gas plant).

            Here’s what I do not know. I do not know if any of New England’s natural gas power plants have installed GE’s device to enable them to operate more like a peaking plant than a baseload plant (which is not efficient at ramping up and down) I do not know what natural gas plants are reducing their fossil fuel consumption when they reduce the electrons that are put into the grid, or by how much. I do not know if the natural gas power plants are paid for the power they were contracted to produce but then is not needed because the wind energy is being used (in other words, are customers being charged twice, once for contracted natural gas power that is then not needed and again for wind power that cannot be predicted well enough to avoid contracting in the day ahead market for natural gas). I do not know if the cycling of the inefficient gas plants on the New England grid may be increasing fossil fuel consumption in response to the wind energy because of ramping.

            You claim that wind energy reduces fossil fuel consumption, but you provide no evidence and neither has anyone else. At this stage in the game, this lack of fundamental information is unacceptable, except for the “true believers” who do not seem to need any facts.

            You say “Generatrs are called up or down to meet the systems demand that varies by time of day, temperature and weather and time of year, as well as by power plants of all kinds shutting down for scheduled or unplanned outages,” but that doesn’t say anything about whether or not that ramping is efficient (like driving on a highway) as opposed to inefficient (like driving in start and stop traffic). You also say that when the wind turbines are producing electricity, “Less fuel is burned than if the turbines weren’t turning.” Please provide evidence to support that statement. What power plants have reduced fossil fuel consumption, and by how much, in response to the New England wind energy now in the grid? Please be specific. Since you say that anyone can figure out what is going on with the grid, you should be able to dive right into your vast knowledge and pull out some facts to support your claims.

          • Peter Romans

            Patt’s reply to Smith scores high for it’s sarcasm and condescension but fails in data content. Why are wind advocates routinely unable to provide conclusive data? You would think that Patt would want to end this controversy with irrefutable evidence. Alas, more theory and belittling.

  • Re: Andy Robinson’s Revelatory Road Trip: The undertone that I notice, in such essays as Robinson’s, is laced with ignorance of the facts, and the astounded naiveté of one who just discovered that the earth is indeed round.
    Robinson’s new-found view of the American landscape (i.e.mountain-top removal, fracking, destruction of habitat and native people’s land) is only new to any who have chosen not to see until now… not to those who have been paying attention for years, to those of us who never imagined, wanted or pretended we live on the Island of Vermont.
    In fact there are no “wind wars” in Vermont, as Andy portrays it. There are the corporate beneficiaries (political campaign donations, tax credit beneficiaries, town Select Boards who take corporate money as they betray the environmental heritage of this state) being challenged by true environmentalists, biologists, hydrologists, expert wildlife professionals, informed Vermonters and a growing number of legislators who have informed themselves about the irrevocable consequences of utility scale wind.
    The uninformed troops calling themselves “pro-wind” would have you think that the rest of us are “anti-wind”. I challenge Robinson to find anyone who is “anti-wind”. We are all “pro-wind”. What we are is anti-corporate scale/utility scale/industrial scale wind.
    One of Andy’s clients (and I’ve taken one of Andy’s fundraising workshops when I was a Clarina Howard Nichols Board member), is VBSR – Vermont Business’ for Social Responsibility. I recently heard VBSR’s spokesperson declare, to a Senate committee, that concept of a Moratorium on further utility scale installations is “dangerous”. One could wonder at how Andy resolves his new-found consciousness while working for such clients.
    Take another road trip, Andy, and find those individual property owners and small communities, across this state and nation, who have created energy generating wind projects on a scale which is harmonious with their landscape, does not leave utter destruction nor lethal consequences to wildlife in its wake.
    Perhaps someday you will tell us whether you ever traveled, in your family’s one car, to the NEK to climb Lowell Mtn. as it was being destroyed and blasted into utter perdition? We will be resuming guided hikes up Lowell Mtn. this Spring, and we hope to see you and your family.

    • Hi Peggy — Good to hear from you.

      First of all, I respect your history as a fierce advocate for social justice, and admire your passion and commitment to the Earth and to your community.

      I too have a long history in the movement. I have been working professionally for social justice and conservation for more than 30 years, and have tried to walk the talk in my personal life as well. For example, when my wife and I were married 25 years ago, we decided not to have children together because we felt it was the kindest act we could do for the planet. (Full disclosure: I have a wonderful stepdaughter I helped to raise.) This is not a criticism of those who choose to have children, which is obviously a deeply personal decision. But I have tried, for decades, to align my behavior with my values. Like all of us, I have done so imperfectly and aspire to do it better.

      To the degree that I had a revelation, in your words, that revelation occurred three or four decades ago. I have been working for sustainability for a long time, and am not the Johnny-come-lately you perceive me to be.

      Smart, thoughtful, educated people disagree about industrial wind development in Vermont. Bill McKibben favors it; you and Steve Wright, whom I consider and friend and colleague, do not. In this case I’m with Bill, who has probably thought more deeply about the causes and impacts of climate disruption — and the best ways to address it — than anyone living in our state.

      However, I imagine that you, Bill, Steve and I would agree on a host of other approaches to addressing climate change in our communities: efficiency, strengthening local agriculture, public transportation, etc. We are natural allies. Where we agree, we can and must advocate for these things together. It’s much easier to work together if we act with humility and mutual respect — especially when we disagree.

      Thanks for the invitation hike Lowell Mountain. I hope to have the opportunity to join you.

      • Andy,
        Go on a windy day ,more than 25 mph winds, to really enjoy the noise.

  • Nils Behn

    Well stated Andy. I appreciate your admission of guilt and your desire for us all to do the same. We are all implicit in the current state of the planet’s health. Suggestions by the Anti wind contingent (who, whether they like it or not are encouraging and strengthening the fossil fuel industry through their actions) that what we do here has no effect on coal, gas, etc., are obviously baseless and makes me suspicious that they may in fact have been ingesting ostrich DNA through some horrible GMO experiment we were never meant to know about! : )

  • Steve Wright

    Andy Robinson is a competent observer and participant in the U.S. conservation scene. I have enjoyed working with him in this arena. His fundamental thesis, however (stated in his last paragraph), is fundamentally, grievously, flawed, i.e. tear up our landscape so that some other place will not tear up theirs.

    He must know that the level of human caring for each other doesn’t really exist when it comes to the act of making money and consolidating political power. That is another “inconvenient truth” about humans.

    Ironically, he would choose to alter portions of critical upland habitat in his own state on the hope—mere hope—that a greedy coal-mining company in West VA would not blow up their own mountains.

    We Vermonters have already altered four mountain ridgelines for wind turbine installation: Searsburg, Sheffield, Lowell and Georgia Mountain. What effect has that had on habitat alteration in other areas of the country? Can it even be measured?

    Let’s move the microscope closer to home and ask the same question. Does the continuing horror of Lowell obviate the effort to build more high elevation wind facilities? Did it cause the wind developers and conservation groups to say, “Enough?” No, in fact, building the Lowell project was an apparent stimulus for additional upland wind development—and associated mountain destruction—in Vermont. Go to to see what it looks like to tear apart a ridgeline for industrial wind energy development.

    Conservation begins at home—and Andy has his own interpretation of that principle. He describes his own conflicts. We know. We all have them. Landscape destruction also begins at home. Landowners in Pennsylvania are lining up outside the gas industry offices looking to lease their land for natural gas development. Ranchers in Wyoming—all over the west—are doing the same for gas and oil facilities. Others are doing the same for renewables. “Here, take my land, tear it apart in the name of climate change response. Oh, by the way, how much will you pay me?”

    Vermonters should reject that approach if only for one reason: In the effort to slow the inexorable damage of climate change the most effective thing any of us can do is to support the protection of existing, intact and functioning ecosystems. These ‘gifts’ to humanity—these Green Mountains—are our first bulwark against climate change.

    People on both sides of the mountain development issue are calling for Vermont to lead, to get out front, to demonstrate our skills and commitments to saving the earth. I agree. And there are two simple steps to begin that demonstration: 1) Protect existing, intact ecosystems, especially uplands, from development. 2) Begin an aggressive weatherization and efficiency effort, statewide.

    We have no control over what West Virginia does to its mountains—sad to say—but we can be an example of creative, effective response to climate change right in our own homes. Vermont’s carbon/ghg emissions come from four sources: driving cars and trucks, heating homes and other structures, agriculture and commercial/industrial processes. 93% of our emissions originate in those four sources. 4% of our emissions come from the generating electricity, including that which we buy off the grid.

    Tearing up our mountains (industrial wind development) in order to decrease carbon/ghg emissions is a failed approach. Aggressive weatherization, efficiency and creative transportation planning can reduce those same emissions.

    Conservation begins at home. Squandering does too. Let’s choose the former. Keep the mountains and let them help us help others adapt to climate change. Vermont can be a leader in effective climate change action.

    • Frank Seawright

      It was not specifically mention where these turbines were located along the Columbia River so I looked for some images and at google maps. The terrain there does not look like the tree-covered mountains we have here and it also does not look like there is as much rainfall.
      We all know what happens here when we get a heavy rainfall over a short period of time. I noticed yesterday a report of some researchers at Dartmouth who are studying the affects on streams after a storm like Irene. I copied this section from the Boston newspaper:
      “A report published by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department concluded that a significant amount of stream channel alteration was conducted without proper consultation and oversight, or for reasons beyond necessary flood recovery. The agency said it could take decades for some fish and other aquatic populations to recover.”
      I understand that we’ll get all the assurances in the world that all the work will be done with great care. But as the Fish and wildlife folks say, it could take decades for some fish and… to recover.

  • Moshe Braner

    Until we have stiff carbon taxes, or a firm and decreasing “cap” in place on carbon emissions permits, we delude ourselves if we think that erecting some wind turbines will reduce the burning of fossil fuels. The new (wind-powered) “water park” at Jay Peak, with a retractable roof so that the starry winter sky can be better viewed from an 80-degrees tropical mimic, destroyed any faith I may still had in the sincerity of the powers that be when it comes to electrical power. This “park” is just as obscene as the infamous indoor ski slope in Dubai. And I am sure they get their “wholesale” electricity at a discounted rate. Wake me up when we have “inclining block rates” to truly discourage the waste of electricity. If we used it frugally as the precious resource it is, we wouldn’t need the turbines on the ridgetops, nor the nuclear plants. And we could then afford to pay somewhat more per KWH, making wind turbines in lower altitudes economically acceptable. Industrial wind should not be allowed above 2500 feet, just like other industrial activities.

  • Never, should Vermont ridge tops be torn apart to install wind towers. It is a costly mistake, a destruction of the environment, of wild life habitat and pathways. As I said before, hillside Vermonters consider their ridgelines sacred, so it is also desecration.It’s like a murder. Once committed, it can’t be reversed.

    Andy fixed up his house to use less energy but many of us don’t have that sort of money and we don’t qualify for state or federal assistance. The money would be better spent to help cut energy costs for communities. Isn’t that what “buy local” means? Our first problem is tightening up the old frame houses and cutting the use of energy in public buildings.

  • Stanley Shapiro

    During the recent gubernatorial debates the incumbent stated he would never want to live near an airport when the question of the F-35’s came up.Close to 400ft wind turbine s would be OK? The issue of turbine noise and the consequent real health risks imposed cannot be ignored especially over mountains and magnified in valleys. while turbines are considered renewables, in Vermont, they will not accomplish one iota of positive impact on climate change

  • Colleen Thomas

    Thanks Andy for your thoughtful and inspiring reflections. I think you strike the tone and sensibility that reflects the majority of Vermonters on this issue.

  • Steven Farnham

    See, Andy? What did I tell you? And they’re just getting started. Just lop off a few more mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee, and keep that old rust-bucket of Entergy’s screaming on overdrive in Vernon, but don’t you dare stick some little pinwheels in the sacred ridge of the Green Mountains. Sounds like a reasonable tradeoff to me.

    • Annette Smith

      Little pinwheels? Is that what you call 459 foot tall machines that put out noise that extends out for miles?

      • Carl Werth

        Annette – if you live far enough away from them, like most of the pro- ridgeline IWT folks apparently do – then, in the distance, they probably do look just like little pinwheels.

    • Steve Wright

      Can and will you explain the mechanism by which blowing up mountains–i,.e. building more industrial wind–in Vermont, will reduce the same in West Virginia?

      Our folks keep asking these questions and the response seems to go something like this: “Build more industrial wind energy facilities in Vermont because I feel good when I look at them.”

      Such a strategy seems to be wanting.

  • Steve Comeau

    Andy, I disagree with your description of Hydro-Quebec. It is non-carbonbased power that is always available in the huge amounts necessary. Given the other options, it is currently the best available source of electricity for Vermont on a large scale. The dams are mostly located in remote and nearly uninhabitable locations.

    • Hi Steve — Two points here:

      1. Hydro-Quebec dams have displaced a number of indigenous communities (the Cree people) and flooded their traditional hunting and gathering areas. What may seem “remote” to you is actually someone’s home. Those who protest industrial wind development make the exact same point about people living near the towers.

      In any large scale development — dams, wind towers, whatever — somebody’s interests will be harmed. The question is whether the contribution to the greater good offsets that harm, and who decides. These are important, complex questions, and are worthy of the debate we are having.

      2. These dams flood vast stretches of forests: much, much more forest than is being lost or could conceivably be lost to wind development in Vermont. These are largely pristine areas (your point) which are biologically diverse and absorb a lot of carbon. Furthermore, once these forests are flooded, they literally rot, producing methane — a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So there is some debate as to whether these dams are actually a net-plus in terms of reducing greenhouse gases.

      • Peter Romans

        Much of Robinson’s description of HQ could apply to wind turbines in the Kingdom. He is still missing the point: are turbines really making the contribution that corporate marketing wants us to believe? Any evidence, whatsoever?

      • Andy,

        For perspective:

        When white folks arrived from Europe in the 1600s, more than a few indigenous communities were displaced and obliterated.

        What happened to the natives in Quebec due to HQ is a Sunday school picnic; these natives were generously compensated by the Canadian government.

  • Great conversation here.

    Reads a powerful illustration of what Jennifer Jacquet called “The Anthropocebo Effect” – “a psychological condition that exacerbates human-induced damage—a certain pessimism that makes us accept human destruction as inevitable.”

    Vermont remains a rare and beautiful thing because of stubborn, stubborn people thinking for themselves and having a venue to speak up about it. Billboards were reasonable, too. Too often “sensibility” is just small talk to justify complacency.

    Robinson is an eloquent writer but there’s no meat here. This piece was interchangeable with any other Thomas Friedman article: a shallow argument built around a travel anecdote. I appreciate everyone who has been enhancing the conversation with real numbers here in the comments section.

    Opponents of wind are in the same position as supporters are, though: we’re faced with a very grim and uncertain future in terms of infrastructure and quality of life. I’m very skeptical of wind, but more than that, interested to keep the conversation going, because the status quo is fairly insane.

    How would this conversation proceed if we worked from the center of the Venn Diagram, where we all agree we need to plan carefully, think responsibly and make major changes in order to prepare Vermont for the next 50 years?

    • Annette Smith

      VCE’s presentation to the energy siting policy commission proposes a different approach to renewable energy development:

      –VCE Presentation to VT Energy Siting Commission 6, Jan 11, 2013
      Power Point: (this is a large file, but there are animations that do not show up in a .pdf so if you want to go through the power point while listening to the audio, use the power point) Or you can watch the video which has both the power point and the audio. It’s 30 minutes total.

      • Thank you, Annette! Very much appreciate the brainfood.

  • Also wanted to recommend this link:

    Paul Hines has done some superb work analyzing and visualizing our regional & national power grids.

  • Carol Geery

    I’m glad Andy Robinson is “at home” with wind, since the closest operating wind turbine in Sheffield is more than 30 miles from his home in Plainfield and Lowell is more than 37 miles away. There’s no need for him to be concerned about the proposed projects at Grandpa’s Knob or Brighton. These are more than 50 miles away from his home.

    Convert these distances to 1000-1500 feet from his home and I’m sure he would have a different narrative.

  • Jeff Parsons

    Thanks Andy,

    You’ve hit on the strongest reason for Wind Projects. We have to take some responsibility for “turning on the lights”. Hydro Quebec is not done, 2 years ago they diverted 70% of the flow of the massive Rupert River, just for us. HQ has much more planned and remember is not just flooding valleys it’s drying up large landscapes to increase the water behind giant reservoirs. We can’t stand by and let everyone else take the hit for us.

    • Alex Barnham

      If homo sapiens sapiens continue to pillage planet Earth in the name of comfort, destruction will rain down upon all, the wise and the unwise. The real question is, will homo sapiens sapiens live up to their name? Just looking around, I venture that most homo ss are not focusing on the real answers and are just playing the blame game.

  • Jeff Parsons

    PS. Andy to lessen the effects of fragmentation-wind projects in Vermont have gated roads, and minimal vehicular traffic once construction is completed.

  • Alex Barnham

    From the number and length of comments, it is apparent that “feelings” are high either for or against wind farms. The same type of “feelings” were also high for or against the interstate highways and various other massive projects for public usage. Here is another aspect – we have outstripped our ability to live sensibly on this planet. We live like royalty and call ourselves impoverished. Unsustainable, voracious appetites for energy, food, water, clothing will certainly come to an end. The people who are sitting in the drivers’ seats are no better prepared to drive than those who are riding along. My bet is that the system will crash for lack of wisdom. Corporations that divorce themselves from the destruction they create all in the name of profits will certainly plunge over the abyss and eventually drag the entire ponzi scheme with it. The only sensible thing to do is to stop blaming each other and slow the system down or just jump off altogether.

  • Annette,
    ” I do know that when the wind blows, wind turbines put electrons into the grid.”


    ALL generators on the US grid are synchronized and spin at 60 revolutions/second, i.e., their electromagnetic waves enter the US grid in a synchronized manner and at 60 Hz; chaos would ensue, if the waves were not in sync.

    The speed at which energy travels down a power line is actually the speed of the electromagnetic wave, not the movement of electrons. The waves move from higher to lower voltage areas. The waves do not travel inside the power line, but in the air near its outside surface.

    Drawing energy from the grid lowers the voltage at various points, but the continuous energy supply, as electromagnetic waves, from the large number of generators “fills in the voltage dips” to the desired levels. 

    Energy “mixing” from various energy generators takes place at near-lightspeed, as the waves move at near-lightspeed on bare copper power lines, at somewhat lesser speeds on insulated wires and coaxial cables. Wave travel time for 1,804 miles would be 1,804 m/(0.97 x 186,000 m/s) = 0.01 sec. Typically, a wave dissipates “filling voltage valleys” well before traveling that far; chaos would ensue, if the waves did not travel at such high speeds.

    If a DC voltage is applied, as with a battery, the electrons will increase in speed proportional to the strength of the electric field. These speeds are on the order of millimeters per hour.

    If an AC voltage is applied, as with a generator feeding the grid, there is no net movement of electrons; they oscillate back and forth in response to the alternating electromagnetic waves.

    Grids are interconnected and energy, as electromagnetic waves, “flows” back and forth between them, and between time zones (such as from the Midwest to the East Coast), depending on demand. Wave flows between grids could be up the rated capacity of their connections. So-called “exports” and “imports”, MWhs, between grids are merely the DIFFERENCE during a time interval (minute, day, month, year) of the back and forth wave flows.

    Thus, it would be invalid, based on the physics, to claim “I am getting my Chevy Volt energy from a ‘clean’ grid, or from hydro, or from my solar panels (which are likely grid-tied), or from nuclear, or from wind, etc.” The correct statement is “I am getting my energy (electromagnetic waves) from the US grid.”

    Regarding drawing energy from the grid, everyone is equal; it is like drawing water from the ocean. The only, physically-valid, measure for evaluation is the energy conditions of the US grid.

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