All Actions Have Consequences

Lukas Snelling, of Energize Vermont, sent me some files, and here are some pictures of what it takes to install utility-scale wind turbines in mountainous terrain. In this case, the project in Sheffield, Vermont, which is now completed.

Sheffield Vermont wind project, during construction.

Blasting cut.

Clear-cut for pad.

Clear-cut for tower pad.


Completed pad.

Completed pad.

Access to hilltop pad.

Access to hilltop pad.


So take these images, and imagine access roads that are probably four times wider, cuts that are four times deeper, and infills that are four times more massive—that’s the project in Lowell, with its huge 3-megawatt turbines. I don’t have any images of the Lowell project that I have the rights to include, but look at the pictures at these links-

Lowell access road, Lowell pad, Lowell infill for access.

I respect Lukas and his opinions, but we happen to disagree on this particular project. From what I know, I think the costs at Lowell are worth it, and he clearly thinks that they aren’t. I think that we have to have this 63 megawatts of renewable power, and power from future projects like it, in order to have any realistic chance of phasing out fossil fuels, and he thinks that the costs in these Vermont cases is too high. And though I don’t fully agree, I can see where he’s coming from. I have a site visit scheduled for the 21st of August to go see it for myself, and will keep an open mind.

Either way, I think we can agree on this—no matter the path we take going forward, there will be costs. There will be environmental costs in some locations in order to stop more serious environmental costs in other locations. And as the economy shifts toward renewables there will be economic costs, as there are with any economic shift—jobs will be gained in some areas, and jobs will be lost in others.

So, once again—we need to be aware of the costs of our actions. We shouldn’t impact natural places in any location, even the desert or offshore, just so that another convenience store in New Jersey can run all of their lights 24/7 because electricity is so cheap. Renewable power shouldn’t just be added to the supply so that there’s ever more power to squander, and the world needs escalating carbon taxes to ensure that fossil-fuel generation is indeed replaced, and not just augmented.

And, these costs make it all the more important for the entire environmental movement to have a well-thought-out, realistic, and workable path forward. Too much is at stake to make changes (or to not make changes) that don’t have net benefits to the system as a whole. These same questions apply not only to wind, but to nuclear-power projects, or dams, or natural gas pipelines, or even fracking. We need to evaluate all of these projects in light of the whole. If we don’t “zoom out” enough, and instead only consider the local costs and local benefits, then we’re going to end up with no dams, no turbines, no solar farms, and business as usual—humanity heading toward the cliff.

Image credits: Ver Mont/Picassa

4 thoughts on “All Actions Have Consequences

  1. Cindy

    I see the point of this project being a huge impact on the landscape, and some of that impact will be permanent. Some of it will be reclaimed by nature in its own way. As I drive around Vermont and look at damage wrought by Irene, or weeks of ongoing rain, or brush fires that went out of control, I also see nature rebounding, working with the changes and surviving. If we don’t explore alternatives to fossil fuel it won’t matter to the trees, birds, fish or people because our planet will be irreparably damaged.

  2. Taborri Post author

    Good points, Cindy, something else to think about. I agree, too, that nature will “heal over” some of the damage wrought by construction–grass and vegetation, and even trees, will grow up on the roadbanks (and help hold the soil), and, once in operation, though the roads are big, they probably only have a few vehicles a day on them, and I doubt they’ll faze deer, bears, or other wildlife. Green Mountain Power also legally conserved something like 2,000 acres around the site. So, it isn’t perfect, but we might not have any perfect answers. When I go up in August I’ll be looking for runoff damage, etc.
    I didn’t put it in the post out of respect for Lukas, but I actually find some of the pictures of the finished project almost beautiful. Much to consider. -t

  3. Annette Smith

    You might find this video informative:

    Peak Keepers Discuss Industrial Wind Power
    Production Date: 12/14/2012
    Length: *1:02:00
    A 1 hour program with a panel of Vermont scientists who are part of Peak Keepers, focused on a discussion about the need to protect and promote Vermont’s mountain ecosystems, a natural resource that is under threat. Included on the panel is Sue Morse of Keeping Track, naturalist and author, Charles Johnson, Middlebury College geology professor Will Amidon and well-known botanist Dr. Steve Young. Moderator is Tom Slayton.

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