Hillbilly wind power at risk in North Carolina

If you pay attention to environmental matters in North Carolina, you already know this, but I'm still catching up on a month's neglect:

The NC Senate voted 42-1 earlier this month to ban most wind turbines from the state's windiest regions. While offshore wind farms are still kosher (for the time being), anyone hoping to take advantage of the some prime kinetic energy in the Blue Ridge Mountains will have some serious lobbying to do. Rarely does anything attract that kind of support. 42 to 1?

The legislation, which amends section 113 of the General Statutes, doesn't come right out and say no, of course. That's not the way legislation is written these days. Instead you first have to read the original 1983 law, which says:

"No county or city may authorize the construction of, and no person may construct, a tall building or structure on any protected mountain ridge."

And then look at the definition for "protected mountain ridges," which is "all mountain ridges whose elevation is 3,000 feet and whose elevation is 500 or more feet above the elevation of an adjacent valley floor."

And then look at the new proposed legislation, which redefines "tall buildings and structures" to exclude windmills, but only "if the windmill is associated with a residence the primary purpose of the windmill is to generate electricity for use within the residence, and the windmill is no more than 100 feet from the base to the turbine hub."

All of which means that if you live in western North Carolina and you want to build a modest little wind turbine for your own home's use, then fine. But anything that might actually make a significant contribution to the state's renewable energy portfolio is prohibited.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal:

The bill was initially intended to set up a permitting process for the generation of wind energy in other counties in the state. It still would do that, but as it made its way through legislative committees, it was supplemented to include the language that would ban wind energy in the mountains.

The reason for the law is the fear of ruining the view. Or more accurately, depressing land values. I understand that. I live in the mountains in question (elevation approx 2100 feet) and have some spectacular views. Before the science of anthropogenic global warming became clear, preserving wilderness was my highest environmental priority. I'm still partial to the BANANA philosophy of Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (although re-developing is OK).

In a perfect world, one that runs on cold fusion, say, I'd object to needlessly modifying a beautiful view, pushing through some roads and electrical grid lines where none existed before, destroying a few acres of habitat, and killing a few birds and bats. There's nothing wrong with "not in my backyard" if you have a superior alternative.

But we don't. Cold fusion is still a pipe dream. Almost all of North Carolina's electricity that isn't generated by nuclear reactions comes from coal. And all of those coal-fired plants have to either shut down or find a way to scrub and store all the carbon from their emissions within a decade or two, or mountaintop views will be the least of a real-estate agent's fears. Replacing that electricity will almost certainly involve a large number of wind turbines, and it doesn't make much sense to build them anywhere but windy spots. Like our mountain ridges.

Among the few drawbacks of wind power are the sound they produce and the strobe-like shadows they can cast when the sun is low on the horizon. No one wants to live next to a turbine that turns the neighorhood into a disco, visually or aurally. Bu that's the great thing about the mountain ridges: almost no one lives there.

So we can either follow in the state senate's footsteps and stick our heads in the sand, or we can face the reality that there is no perfect way to generate electricity. EVERYTHING comes with a price. And at the end of the day, would a few wind turbines on our mountain ridges really be so bad? In fact, I kind of like the graceful lines of a turbine's blades, sweeping around at a leisurely pace, At worst, they're about a million times more attractive that a coal-fired power plant's smokestack, Brobdingnagian plumbing and adjacent coal heaps.

The NC state legislature doesn't get back into session until May (gee, that seems like an awfully long break) so wind power advocates have until then to convince the senators of the error of their ways, pressure the state house to turn down the bill, and convince Gov. Bev. Perdue to veto the legislation if it makes it to her desk.

Also: kudos to Sen. Steve Goss (D-Watauga) for the lone dissenting vote.

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I agree, but I'd still like to preserve *some* of the views. What if we set aside some portion of the mountain ridges in, say, the Smoky Mountains and prohibited all development there? It might even become a destination for tourists and hikers. We could call it "The Great Smoky Mountains National Park." Oh, wait...

Hum, that viewscape will be worht so mcuh when there is no electricity to power the houses that face it . . . . Not that I believe in Peak oil or anything . . . . Look, why is it that wind turbines, generating clean renewable energy, are an eyesore? Because they are man made? So are the Sears Tower and the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pyramids at Gheza. For that matter, how can the residents of those parts be so sur etheir view han't already been altered by man through logging or agriculture?

I had this talk with a climate denier a few years back. Of course in the end he still got suck on the "fact" that man could never change the planet that much because god would not allow it but my basic premise was the same, either we can spoil some views and kill a few birds or we can spoil all the views and kill all the birds. I am a fan of the first one (although I guess going back to hunter gatherer tribes would be sweet, live in harmony with nature baby)

By the backpacker (not verified) on 21 Aug 2009 #permalink

Mackinaw City, Michigan, put up two of these turbines around 2000. They are on the city's old sewer spray fields. It took me a little while to get used to seeing them, but now they I find them rather cool - especially when seen from one of the ferries heading out to Mackinac Island. As far as I can tell from my limited discussions with the year-round residents, there wasn't much of a hubbub about the installation. The two primary reasons: the city already owned the land, and there weren't any other good options for its use, AND the location doesn't obstruct any views: good views of the straights aren't from that area to begin with. Several people told me that they view them with a little pride - it shows that "a small Michigan town can progressive too". I think the long term plan is to build a few more, but there hasn't been any news about that yet.
So, perhaps there's hope for your area, and other areas as well. Sometimes a small step, like this one in Michigan, is needed.

what alot of people fail to realize is that there are many different types of wind turbines, , why not have several on the mountain that are static, vertical axis wind turbines...alot less dramatic and everyones happy

My in-laws live in Lempster, NH. They have perhaps the most spectacular view of the 11 wind turbines that have been put there and started running recently. I haven't posted my pictures of them quite yet, but I'm sure there's some available out there.

Personally, I think adding wind turbines to a mountain range is about the most beautiful addition that could be added, but it takes people actually seeing them installed to get it.

Bird and bat safety is still a concern, but people are working on solutions.

By ABradford (not verified) on 21 Aug 2009 #permalink

But it's okay for Duke Power to have the thickest most amazingly horrifying power lines strung through the mountains. The kind that make your hair stand on end and deafen you if you even come near them? That's all I remember about hiking through the mountains down there. I was terrified of the giant power lines.

I favor building wind turbines as well, although I hate to see pristine landscapes blotted by them. But they are far better than coal mines or coal fired power plants.

Regarding cold fusion (which brought your posting to my attention), you are wrong. It is far more than a "pipe dream." The effect has been replicated thousands of times at hundreds of major laboratories. I have a collection of 1,200 peer-reviewed journal papers on cold fusion, which I copied from the library at Los Alamos. The effect is closer to being a practical source of energy than most people realize, and far closer than plasma fusion or "clean coal." However, we cannot be sure it will developed, mainly because of the intense academic political opposition to the research, so we must build wind turbines for now.

You can read hundreds of papers about cold fusion here:


If cold fusion is developed, we can easily remove the wind turbines, whereas it will be more difficult to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse global warming, or to remove decommissioned nuclear power plants.

I frequently cross over Backbone Mountain outside of Davis, WV. it has about a dozen or so wind turbines along its ridgeline. I have to say, they are quite striking in their elegance, and do nothing to 'ruin the view.' (and I count myself a diehard treehugger. =) in fact, when I consider what they do - silently harvest energy without destroying the environment, smack in the middle of coal country - I'm very, very glad they were built.

By behindtherabbit (not verified) on 21 Aug 2009 #permalink

Since cold fusion has never been verified as real, it's probably not a good bet to count on it.

The thing is, the Blue Ridge mountains are huge. A few clusters of turbines will "ruin" a very small portion of the total area. It's really not that big of a deal. Personally I think they have their own beauty and elegance of a sort.

Matt Springer wrote:

"A few clusters of turbines will 'ruin' a very small portion of the total area."

That is true, but unfortunately it takes thousands of wind turbines to make a significant contribution to total energy consumption. They are ~1 MB each and on average they produce about 30% of nameplate output in a prime location on land. So it takes roughly 3,000 of them to replace one average U.S. nuclear power plant (~950 MW, operating at ~95% of nameplate power on average)

Took a cross country trip recently and quite frankly, the best sights to be seen (besides some spectacular canyons) were the windmills along some Pacific coast mountain ranges. I could almost imagine they were all waving at me as I passed. Don't really understand what's so offensive about a windmill visually since they're damn gorgeous compared to every other kind of energy producing plant out there.

Careful *rational* siting of big wind turbines is critical. Strong (not too little or too much) and predictable winds are surprisingly difficult to find. Lots of people don't really consider predictability, but it is really critical. Furthermore, by far the most effective way of avoiding bird and bat kills is to avoid putting the turbines in flyways. We are still trying to overcome the public reaction to making that mistake decades ago.

"Preserving the view" isn't a silly consideration, but it shouldn't really get much weight compared with the big factors. Frankly, most opponents are seriously over-estimating how much wind turbines will 'mess up' their views. Fear of the unknown I guess.

BTW: Thomas Dolby (who is impossibly cool) has a small wind turbine on his boat/studio (how could he not?)... and a tale of what happens when the auto-brake fails.


A typical wind turbine outputs 3-5MW (not 1 MB that's a unit of data storage).

Capacity factors vary wildly but the 2007 DEA Wind Survey has CFs for all post-3006 turbines above 35% and in prime locations 40% is common. Two in Hawaii were up near the 45% mark. On a prime piece of wind territory like this, I imagine the 40% mark would be easily exceeded. So 40% * 5MW* 100 turbines would be about 200MW on average. That's about as much as a small scale coal plant with zero emissions.

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 26 Aug 2009 #permalink


let's not get ahead of ourselves ... sub 2006 for 3006

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 26 Aug 2009 #permalink

Fran Barlow wrote:

"A typical wind turbine outputs 3-5MW (not 1 MB that's a unit of data storage)."

Yes, MW. Not MB . . . sorry. Typical land based turbines were around 1 MW each in 2003. See:


They may be bigger now, but I believe the really big ones are used mainly for offshore installations.

The ones being installed in Texas this year vary from 1.3 to 2.4 MW:


"Capacity factors vary wildly but the 2007 DEA Wind Survey has CFs for all post-3006 turbines above 35% and in prime locations 40% is common."

A few years ago in Germany 30 to 35% was normal. Offshore sites often reach 40%. Offshore wind is steadier.