Posted on May 19, 2016
In 1867, when the naturalist John Muir first walked into the Cumberland Mountains, he wrote, “The scenery is far grander than any I ever before beheld. …Such an ocean of wooded, waving, swelling mountain beauty and grandeur is not to be described.”
In January, Apex Clean Energy announced it would spoil that mountain beauty by building 23 45-story wind turbines in Cumberland County.
I urge citizens in Cumberland County — and all Tennesseans — to consider ten questions before allowing these massive wind turbines and new transmission lines to destroy the beauty of our state.
I still can recall walking into Grassy Cove in Cumberland County one spectacular spring day in 1978 during my campaign for governor. I had not seen a prettier sight. Over the last few decades, pleasant weather and natural beauty have attracted thousands of retirees from Tennessee and across America to the Cumberland Plateau.
Apex’s proposed Crab Orchard Wind Project would be built less than 10 miles from Cumberland Mountain State Park, where for a half century Tennesseans and tourists have camped, fished and canoed alongside herons and belted kingfishers around Byrd Lake.
It will be fewer than five miles from Ozone Falls Scenic State Natural Area, where the 110-foot water fall is so picturesque that it was filmed as scenery in the movie “Jungle Book.”
Here are my ten questions:
1. How big are these wind turbines? Each one is over two times as tall as the skyboxes at the University of Tennessee football stadium, three times as tall as Ozone Falls and taller than the Statute of Liberty. The blades on each one are as long as a football field. Their blinking lights can be seen for twenty miles. These are not your grandma’s windmills.
2. Will they disturb the neighborhood? Here is what a New York Times review of the documentary “Windfall,” said about New York residents debating such turbines: “Turbines are huge…with blades weighing seven tons and spinning at 150 miles an hour. They can fall over or send parts flying; struck by lightning, say, they can catch fire…and can generate a disorienting strobe effect in sunlight. Giant flickering shadows can tarnish a sunset’s glow on a landscape.”
3. How much electricity can the project produce? A puny amount, 71 megawatts. But, that’s only when the wind is blowing, which in Tennessee is only 18.4 percent of the time according to the Energy Information Administration.
4. Does TVA need this electricity? No. Last year, TVA said there is “no immediate need for new base load plants after Watts Bar Unit 2 comes online.”
5. Don’t we need wind power’s carbon-free electricity to help with climate change? No. Nuclear produces over 60 percent of our country’s carbon free electricity and is available 92 percent of the time. Wind produces 15 percent of our country’s carbon-free electricity. Relying on wind power to produce electricity when nuclear reactors are available is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when the nuclear navy is available.
6. How many wind turbines would it take to equal one nuclear reactor? To equal the production of the new Watts Bar reactor, you would have to run three rows of these turbines, and transmission lines, along I-40 from Memphis to Knoxville.
7. Can you easily store large amounts of wind power and use it later when you need it? No.
8. So even if you build wind turbines, you still need nuclear, coal or gas plants for the 80 percent of the time when the wind isn’t blowing in Tennessee? Yes.
9. Then, why would anyone want to build wind power that TVA doesn’t need? Because billions of dollars of wasteful federal taxpayer subsidies allow wind producers, in some markets, to give away wind power and still make a profit.
Who is going to guarantee that these giant wind turbines get taken down when they wear out in 20 years and after the subsidies go away? Good question.
What do you suppose John Muir would have written if his first view of the Cumberland Mountains had been massive, unsightly wind turbines instead of “waving, swelling mountain beauty?” What if he had seen sprawling transmission lines instead of “forest-clad hills?”
I hope that citizens of Cumberland County — and all Tennesseans — will work to stop out-of-state wind producers who are encouraged by billions in wasteful taxpayer subsidies to destroy our mountains.
There are few places in our state more beautiful than Cumberland County. We should not allow anyone to destroy the environment in the name of saving it.
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Sen. Lamar Alexander may be reached at alexander.senate.gov/public/index.