Most people think renewable energy is a good idea. It’s better
than burning fossil fuel to create electricity. But “green energy”
can be controversial. Windmill farms are springing up all across the
Some people think the windmills are eyesores. But others say windmill farms
can help preserve the agricultural landscape by supplementing the income of
farmers. In the second of a two-part series on wind energy, the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Linda Stephan reports:
Most people think renewable energy is a good idea. It’s better than burning fossil
fuel to create
electricity. But “green energy” alternatives can be controversial. Windmill farms
up all across the nation. Some people think the windmills are eyesores. But others
farms can help preserve the agricultural landscape by supplementing the income of
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Linda Stephan reports:
For 30 years, Matt Mauer raised crops and livestock on his farm about 10 miles from
Michigan shoreline. Today, he’s in his backyard looking at the land now farmed by
and son-in-law. Standing there, he feels a crop they’re not harvesting.
“The good Lord makes it windy all the time for us, so let’s use it, you know.
Because I’m like
everybody else. When I get up in the morning, I want lights.”
Mauer’s hoping to put four wind turbines on his family’s farm near Ludington,
would power about 24-hundred homes. Nearby, a renewable energy company’s working with
other farmers to build a hundred turbines in the area. Mauer says many of his
neighbors want in
on the deal because they think wind energy could help save their farms.
“It’s hard to make a living just farming right now. And I consider the wind one of
the crops that
we could harvest. It will help keep farmers on the land. Like if, in this place, if
we could get
seven–thousand dollars a year, six-thousand dollars a year for four of them, that’d
make it a hell
of a lot easier to keep the people here and farm.”
The state government’s backing similar projects. It’s training financial advisors
to show farmers
how they can turn a profit with windmills.
But not everyone likes the idea. Some people who live in the area around the
say they’re worried the towers would destroy the region’s charm. That’s linked to
and to tourism. And they don’t like the size of the proposed windmills. Each one
would be four-
hundred feet tall. The blades would have a diameter nearly as long as a football
It’s a story that’s heard in many places. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the prairies of
around the Great Lakes. For example, a Michigan couple who wanted large-scale
their property ended up losing a court-battle against local government that opposed
the plan. And
two turbines already in place in Mackinaw City – between Lake Michigan and Lake
have some unhappy neighbors as well.
Thomas and Virginia Alexander’s home is about 15-hundred feet away from the windmills.
They’re in their eighties and they both wear hearing aids… but even without them,
they say the
windmills are loud…
Tom Alexander: “There’s things about it we don’t appreciate, at times the noise –
not always –
depending upon the wind and the direction.
Virginia Alexander: “Yesterday. Very noisy yesterday. The wind was high and they,
really hear them.”
Tom Alexander: “Just a continual swish, swish, swish, swish, swish.”
Windmill developers say the sound is no louder than normal speech. But this noise is
goes beyond the frequencies of normal speech. The sound can travel long distances
the ground and the air. They keep Virginia Alexander awake some nights.
Tom and Virginia Alexander’s son Kelly lives next door with his family. He calls
windmill victim. He has this advice for others:
“Don’t let them go in your backyard. There are places they can go. You don’t just
put those in
somebody’s backyard. I don’t think it’s right.”
A lot of people agree with the Alexanders. Even wind energy boosters concede that
key to successful projects. David Johnson heads up the program for the state of
encouraging farmers to allow windmills on their land. He says turbines should be
where there’s lots of wind and few neighbors. But he says when people say ‘no’ to
they should consider the alternative.
“So, does that mean that you should build another big coal-fired plant? Is that the
of doing it with the global warming impacts and the mercury pollution and so on that
that? Is that the choice that the public wants to make?
States across the nation are struggling to find the right balance between clean
energy and the
beauty of an uncluttered landscape. Few regulations are in place right now. More
communities will be facing the decision of whether clean energy and keeping farmers
on the land
is worth the price of adding wind turbines to the scenery.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Linda Stephan.