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My three-turbine weekend

The wind turbines are only one of the memorable things about our wonderful weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, but it was striking to see three of them, in different places. The first was along Interstate 95 south of Providence, causing a serious slow-down in traffic. We thought there must be an accident but instead drivers were gawking at the turbine. The second was out at sea, to the southeast of Martha’s Vineyard. The third is on the Mass Turnpike and because I was driving west while it was still light I finally got a look at it.

These contraptions are part of our future, and I’m trying to get used to them, and wondering how best to deal with the aesthetic problem they pose. I know that environmentalists are trying to get us to see them as attractive – at least that’s how I take the profusion of books with turbines on the cover – but we were talking this weekend about how the Martha’s Vineyard turbine – which is just a trial, presumably to be joined by more – changes what was an unspoiled seascape. Plenty of people would argue that this isn’t just a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue, but that we humans need unspoiled wilderness. Or, to take a deeper green position, that the other living things that call wilderness home have a right to be left alone.

I find that I am being more pragmatic: I don’t want to look at wind turbines, but they’re better than power stations, or than the clutter of power lines outside my house. My more immediate concern is about how much energy and raw material it takes to build them, how long they will last, and whether they have parts that can be remanufacturered.

And I’m keen to see smaller scale power generation, which could be far more flexible and efficient. The Meatpacking District in New York strikes me as ideal for wind power generation, and there’s Chicago, the Windy City. How about using El Nino to light the streets of Los Angeles, or Beijing’s spring storms to power its new subways?

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