Cold Wind Blowing

There’s a long-standing battle raging over the placement of wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts. A project would call for Cape Wind to build 130 large turbines in Nantucket Sound; for those of you who ahn’t from around hee-ah, Nantucket is a small, charming island best known for being the setting of the hit NBC show Wings. Oh, and also it played an important role in our nation’s history due to it being a key whaling port. But mostly, Wings.

Here are the pros and cons of the wind farm, boiled down to oversimplicity by me: we’d get a reliable source of clean, renewable energy, but at the expense of a beautiful view and some wildlife.

Here’s the site of one activist group fighting the farm. The problem is that each side on issues like this tend to get caught up in hyperbole. From the linked site:

There are those who argue that unlike our great Western national parks, Cape Cod is far from pristine, and that Cape Wind’s turbines won’t be a significant blot. I invite these critics to see the pods of humpback, minke, pilot, finback and right whales off Nantucket, to marvel at the thousands of harbor and gray seals lolling on the bars off Monomoy and Horseshoe Shoal, to chase the dark clouds of terns and shorebirds descending over the thick menhaden schools exploding over acre-sized feeding frenzies of striped bass, bluefish and bonita.

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Well, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, those dark clouds of birdies may be okay. The organization originally had fears that the wind farms would negatively affect birds by killing them and screwing up their migratory patterns, but after further scientific study, they’ve reversed their opinion and decided that the farms may not pose a significant threat to wildlife. They’re going to hold off before giving the official big thumbs up so they can do further testing. Kudos to the Audubon Society for being open to new research, even when it seems to go against what they were used to thinking.

As for me, I’m not sure that the turbines are as ugly as the Cape residents make out.

I’m a big fan of nature, but there is something really beautiful and cool about these things whirling out on the open ocean.

As for the actual impact to our energy reserves, I’m no expert. I’ve read here and there that it’s only cheaper thanks to government subsidies, and will it really make a huge difference in our dependence upon other resources? Those of you who are interested in the scientific side of questions like this will probably want to take a look at the upcoming annual Skeptic’s Society conference: Environmental Wars! It may even be as exciting as the exclamation point makes it sound, with guest speaker, outspoken author Michael Chrichton. I think it’s pretty cool that a skeptic’s conference actually booked someone who, well, seems to hate skeptics. Expect fireworks.

Before I sign off for today, one more note — there’s a very exciting Skepchick project in the works right now, but it happens to be sooper seekrit. I already contacted a couple of you who I already know (thanks, you’ll be hearing back from me soon I hope), but now I’m opening it up a little more — I’m looking for a few good skepchicks who have some kind of scientific or skeptical education or experience and who aren’t afraid of things like cameras and publicity. No, you don’t have to get naked for this one, I promise. If you’re curious, email me at [email protected] and tell me about yourself — send a headshot if you have a decent one. I hope to be able to elaborate further in the near future. Thanks!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I've always liked the look of wind farms. If you're very close to them, they do make a whooshy noise that might be annoying, but the look is really pretty. Not like oil rigs off Santa Barbara or the like.

    Crichton, eh? They couldn't get a creationist?

  2. I looked up your insect–it is a russian butterfly, and first named by Linnaeus:

    So, unless he made some notes in 1758, it may be difficult to say just what he had in mind!

    Also of interest is that this butterfly is Red Listed for Eastern Europe. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) )

  3. If you're ever in Southern Alberta (that's in Canuckistan, by the way), you will see carefully planted clusters of wind turbines gently whooshing in the never-ending wind. As an engineer and esthete, I find them surprisingly attractive and functional.

    Suppose the windmills are subsidized…the oil industry is subsidized (at least in Alberta) by not being required to pay too much attention to the environment when looking for oil or burning off gas from existing wells. And who pays for the roads that these guys use to haul their product around?

    But you're going to find NIMBY's everywhere. Here on Vancouver Island, we have people who lose their minds every time someone proposes a new power plant…even though the population is growing all the time. Everyone wants the benefits of civilization (drinking water, electricity, police, gasoline, roads), but don't want to pay the price.

  4. I'd second the sentiments of Jeremiah. Here in Saskatchewan (Canada) we also have a fairly successful wind deployment, thanks to SaskPower. It's slightly more expensive than the fossil fuel energy, but that's due to the fact that they're using the extra few cents to fund building more wind stations, not because it actually costs more. We won't be switching off the coal plants any time soon, but we are making a pretty big dent in the amount of energy needed from them.

    All the information I've seen that shows wind power to be more expensive per megawatt draws attention to the subsidies for green power from the government, while ignoring the subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. If there actually is a reasonably impartial study about the *long-term* costs, not just the initial installation costs, I'd love to see it.

  5. There are some power political people that have homes there and claim to be "environmentalists", but are fighting tooth and nail against the winde farms. (NIMBY) One of them had an unfortunate incident with a car, a bridge and a woman decades ago.

  6. I don't see the harm in creating wind farms, but the problem I have is the same problem I have with most "renewable" sources of energy. They aren't very reliable. The wind doesn't always blow, and when it doesn't municipalities are forced to lean back on the traditional power plants, and the switching on/off of these sources actually outweighs most of the benefits. The other problem is they simply don't supply that much energy. Very few if any of them ever produce anything remotely close to "putting a large dent" in traditional fossil fuel sources. Only the most advanced (and very expensive) wind turbines in the Netherlands have ever produced anything close to a megawatt.

    Sooner or later the US and Canada are going to have to get serious about nuclear power again. It is the only viable alternative to making a "serious dent" in fossil suel consumption.

    Love the site by the way…keep up the great work!

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