By Jack Cashill
In 2008, the environmental lobby and its media allies frightened the usually level-headed Missouri voters into approving Proposition C. This Procrustean fiat required the state’s three large investor-owned utilities to ratchet their “renewable power” proportions up to 15 percent by 2021, whether it made economic sense or not.
The victory had our green friends celebrating nationwide. Closer to home, however, the people fated to live in the whirling shadows of the wind turbines have not exactly been popping corks. When Marshall White, a reporter for The St. Joseph News-Press, wandered out to DeKalb County, the site of a new renewable outpost, he learned why.
As White discovered, living next to a wind farm promises as much sensual delight for the eyes and ears as a pig farm promises for the nose.
One property owner told White he would not have bought his land had he known a wind farm would go in “right outside the window.” Said one local grandmother, “I’m scared. I just want to raise tomatoes and grandchildren.” Another fellow pointed to his trees and fields and said, “All this is about to be ruined.”
The champions of sustainability—whatever that means—describe the wind farms as “a more environmentally-friendly option for the region.” I guess a lot depends on how you define “region.” Impressively, though, they have been able to develop these wind farms without the use of eminent domain.
If you wonder why any community would willingly allow construction of scores of 500-hundred-foot high, aurally irksome eyesores in its own backyard, one good citizen of DeKalb County summed it up in a word, yes, “greed.”
This opinion was unique only in its succinctness. “I could preach for days,” said another fellow, “but the bottom line is it’s about the money.” Those following the money in DeKalb County know there are a lot of links on this daisy chain before one gets to Wall Street. In fact, the first link is likely right next door.
Wind salesmen seem to have taken a page out of Mark Twain’s classic short story, “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.” In that tale, a diabolical “stranger” sets out to prove that even a town reputed for its honesty and probity can be undone by pitting neighbor against neighbor in the quest for an elusive sack of gold.
In rural America, that sack of gold comes in the form of one’s very own wind turbine or two. The contracts to build may not be as valuable as gold, but like the wind itself, they are renewable and sustainable. They are the gifts that keep on giving.
This is pure devil’s bargain. While some neighbors realize a windfall, the only “fall” other neighbors see is in their property values. One angry resident expected to see his “slashed by at least half.” He is probably right. Who would willingly buy a home in the seizure-inducing shadow of a monstrous ceiling fan?
The trick for the wind people is to make sure the right people get the deals. In a small town, the wrong people inevitably notice. Said an aggrieved neighbor, “It’s not fair how it’s being handled, especially when three of the four zoning board people have contracts.”
The reps from the company that is developing the wind farm in De-Kalb, NextEra Energy Resources, have a feel for human weakness as fine as Twain’s stranger. To build public support, they have gone around the area planting a little seed money along with the promise of a bountiful tax harvest in the future. As with the casinos, it’s all about the children.
Like almost everywhere in America—Kansas most notably—educators seems most susceptible to the lure of OPM, other people’s money. “We talked about our need to update laptops and the cost effectiveness of Chromebooks,” bubbled one local school superintendent about his visit from a NextEra exec. “The company agreed to contribute $1,600 for the project.”
One supposes that the wind farm is not in his backyard. Were the super’s family to live in the shadow of a leviathan whose blades were twice the length of his school’s basketball court, he might not be so keen on those Chromebooks.
Unfortunately for the suffering neighbors, not a single major newsroom in America—and, quite likely, not even a minor one—borders a wind farm. The only wind victims they know about come in feathers. Birds have a much better lobby.
In Kansas, the Rock Creek wind farm near Atchison inspired the recent headline, “Wind Project Generates Concerns About Birds.” In fact, this condor Cuisinart made the Top 10 on a list prepared by the American Bird Conservancy called “Worst-Sited Wind Energy Projects For Birds.”
The good citizens of rural DeKalb County could only wish that someone would start an American Folk Conservancy to inspire headlines like “Wind Project Generates Concerns About Humans,” if for no other reason than they are ones who have to clean up the birds that have been sliced and diced.
The irony of all this is that the entities whose motives can not be explained by greed are the utility companies themselves. Their politically wary news releases are long on words like “renewable” and “sustainable” but noticeably short on words like “productive” and “profitable.”
Although utility executives are savvy enough not to say so publicly, they are doing these wind deals under long-term duress from the environmental lobby and its allies in Washington.
The elusive fear of global warming—no, scratch that: “climate change”—drives the movement and subsidizes it grandly.
The utilities tell the public that the federal Production Tax Credit and other subsidies allow them to pass savings along to customers and keep rates lower than they would be without subsidies.
But the customers aren’t fools. They know they are paying for these “savings” with their tax dollars. And in DeKalb County, alas, they are paying with their property values and their peace of mind
Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.