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Wind farms continue to fan debate

Larry Woody • Jan 27, 2017 at 10:30 AM

From New York to the mountains of rural Tennessee, wind farms continue to spark controversy and debate.

A group of concerned citizens in upstate New York recently arose in opposition to a proposed wind farm near their community known for its natural, pristine beauty.

A similar Tennessee uprising was sparked last year by a proposal to build a wind farm on a scenic Cumberland Plateau mountaintop. That debate continues.

Proponents of wind farms insist they represent the future of clean energy. They say the electricity-generating farms produce tax revenue and create jobs.

Opponents claim wind farms are not cost-effective because they require government subsidies. In addition, the towering turbines are visually invasive, and their construction and operation has a detrimental environmental impact.

The future of the proposed Tennessee Crab Orchard project remains undecided.

Developers initially hoped to begin construction this year. A group of concerned Cumberland County citizens banded together to oppose the project, while some others in the area support it.

Influential state politicians, including U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Congresswoman Diane Black, have thrown their support behind the anti-wind farm faction. They express concerns about the adverse environmental impact, in addition to the farms being subsidized by taxpayers.

It has been suggested that a state referendum be held, and let citizens vote on the issue.

Among those opposing the wind farm is the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, a non-political association dedicated to the protection and preservation of the state's wildlife and environment.

TWF executive Mike Butler expressed his concerns in an editorial, calling wind farms "grossly inefficient" and "not positive for the environment and wildlife."

Butler cited a report claiming a single West Virginia wind farm kills thousands of birds and bats annually. Another report found that an Oregon wind farm killed at least 38 golden eagles, along with 336 other protected birds that fly into the turbines. Another survey claims that the giant, whirling blades kill approximately 600,000 birds annually nation-wide. Wind farm proponents insist those numbers are inaccurate.

While the cost/return of wind farms and their destruction of wildlife may be debated, there is no disputing their impact on a natural area. The proposed Crab Orchard wind farm would consist of 23 giant turbines, each towering 600 feet high.

The turbines would be visible for miles, impacting not only the 1,800 acres of land on which they are built, but much of the surrounding area as well.

Also, the natural area around a wind farm has to be clear-cut to accommodate the construction of the giant turbines, and must remain cleared in order to maintain them.

That makes the scarring permanent.

The concern is that if the Crab Orchard project goes through it will encourage building more wind farms across the state - opening an environmental Pandora's Box.

Tennessee's natural areas are rapidly disappearing beneath developers' bulldozers, and once lost they are lost forever. More and more environmentally-concerned citizens are saying no.

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