Sean Corcoran has appeared on Climatide from time to time in his capacity as expert on all things Cape Wind (he’s been reporting on and blogging about the project for almost a decade). This week, Sean’s latest work is front-and-center. It’s an in-depth investigation of a controversy brewing here on Cape Cod – as well as elsewhere around the world – about health impacts that some claim are caused by noise from wind turbines on land. I assisted with the series by combing the scientific evidence (peer-reviewed and otherwise) on wind turbine noise and health. But my reason for featuring Sean’s series – The Falmouth Experience: The Trouble with One Town’s Turbine – goes beyond my involvement.
Offshore wind energy development – from Cape Wind to a federally-designated “area of interest” south of Martha’s Vineyard – have met with stiff opposition from fishermen who fear losing fishing grounds to energy development and from environmentalists concerned about industrializing the ocean. I’ve heard it argued that there’s plenty of space on land, so why develop the ocean?
But complaints from people living nearby wind turbines on land are raising a challenging question: how much room is enough room for a wind turbine? As Sean reports, complaints about health problems related to a town-owned wind turbine in Falmouth, MA have bolstered anti-wind sentiments and slowed the pace of land-based wind energy development on Cape Cod and around New England. And Falmouth is far from alone. The anti-wind backlash seems to be gaining momentum internationally.
There is no doubt that we need alternatives to fossil-fuel-powered energy generation. The vast majority of scientists are convinced that human use of fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. And then there’s the simple fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource, at least on a human timescale; at the rate we’re using it, the oil will run out.
But does that mean we should embrace wind or solar or any other renewable energy source blindly? Or that it’s okay to trade the controversial claims of a relatively small number of people for the undeniable health risks of mining and burning fossil fuels? Obviously, these questions go beyond science; they are ethical dilemmas that need to be answered by society. But I would argue that the search for a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable energy system should be just that. And that begins by weighing – as thoroughly and fairly as possible – the costs and benefits of all options on the table.