Market should drive substainability of wind turbines, not politics
“Fad words” such as “Sustainability” rise and fall.
An example in the context of buildings and energy: Air Pollution; Sick- Building-Syndrome; Indoor Air Quality; Energy Conservation (evolving to Energy Efficiency); Ozone Depletion; Global Warming (sanitized to Climate Change); Renewable Energy; Green (Energy Star, LEED, USGBC); and now Sustainability.
Almost all of these while accompanied with technical shortcomings (and in some cases fallacies), provide worthy challenges to rational minds.
The most acceptable definition of Sustainability recognizes the use of resources without compromising the ability of future generations to experience the same quality of life. It, like a three-legged stool, must stand on three bases: financial, social, and environmental.
It is not sustainable to attempt to use wind turbines and solar arrays, in place of larger capacity fossil fuel plants in order to provide electricity to third world countries. It is not sustainable to remove hydroelectric plants just for the purpose of returning the rivers to conditions prior to the establishments of towns and cities. It is not sustainable to simply discount the potential use of fossil-fired power plants.
Wind farms, strictly speaking, are not sustainable. However the fact that something is not sustainable does not mean it should not be considered. One of the main reasons wind turbines are not sustainable is their weak financial footing. Market-driven wind farms have not yet been proven to be costeffective. In order to be “affordable” they have to depend on substantial grants or tax incentives. And there lies the main problem.
The issue is no longer technical but political. Should the development of wind power plants be accelerated through public funds derived from taxation (even while as a country we are in serious debt)? Or should we let the development to be market driven (and risk the complete halt to it)? Could it be that the latter of these two options best meets the definition of “sustainable?” I do believe so.
There has been substantial, and partly justified, criticism on words like “sustainable,” “regional planning,” “form zoning,” and “smart growth.” But instead let’s search for those aspects we can agree and build on to make our communities even better, and provide those that follow us the opportunity for even better quality of life we at times have been taking for granted.
— Author is currently a member of the County Planning Commission. He is a former Leelanau Township trustee and Planning Commission chair. He is also a professor emeritus at Purdue Mechanical Engineering and a certifi ed zoning administrator.