Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on May 18, 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 that it would spoil that mountain beauty by building twenty-three 45-story wind turbines in Cumberland County.
I urge citizens in Cumberland County—and all Tennesseans—to ask themselves ten questions before allowing these massive wind turbines and new transmission lines to destroy the beauty of our state.
And please look at the accompanying photograph of Palm Springs, California, littered with wind turbines, and ask, “Do we really want Tennessee to look like that?”
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.
The 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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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% of the time, according to the Energy Information Administration.
- 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,” and just last week TVA put up for sale its unfinished Bellefonte nuclear plant.
- Don’t we need wind power’s carbon-free electricity to help with climate change? No. Nuclear power is a more reliable option. Nuclear produces over 60% of our country’s carbon free electricity which is available 92% of the time. Wind produces 15% of our country’s carbon-free electricity, but the wind often blows at night when electricity is not needed.
- 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 along I-40 from Memphis to Knoxville—and don’t forget the transmission lines. Four reactors—each occupying roughly one square mile—would equal the production of a row of 45-story wind turbines strung the entire length of the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. 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.
- Can you easily store large amounts of wind power and use it later when you need it? No.
- So even if you build wind turbines, you still need nuclear, coal or gas plants for the 80% of the time when the wind isn’t blowing in Tennessee? Yes.
- 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.
Many communities where wind projects have been proposed have tried to stop them before they go up because once the wind turbines and new transmission lines are built, it is hard to take them down. For example, watch the documentary “Windfall” that I mentioned earlier.
In October, the residents of Irasburg, Vermont, voted 274 to 9 against a plan to install a pair of 500-foot turbines on a ridgeline visible from their neighborhoods.
In New York, three counties opposed 500- to 600-foot wind turbines next to Lake Ontario. People in the town of Yates voted unanimously to oppose the project in order to “preserve their rural landscape.”
In Kent County, Maryland, the same company that is trying to put turbines in Cumberland County, Apex Clean Energy, tried to put down 25 to 35 500-foot turbines a quarter- to a half-mile apart across thousands of acres of farmland, where the air serves as a route for migratory geese.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Stephen S. Hershey Jr., a local state legislator, had last year introduced a bill that would give county officials the right to veto any large-scale wind project in their jurisdiction:
Hershey, a Queen Anne's County Republican, said he was moved to put the bill in after learning that the turbines would be nearly 500 feet tall and spread across an area of thousands of acres. He called that a "massive" footprint "in a relatively rural and bucolic area."
William W. Pickrum, president of the county commissioners, wrote the Senate committee that the project "will most certainly have a negative effect" on farming, boating and tourism in the county and hurt property values.
The legislation ha[d] the support of local conservation groups and of Washington College in Chestertown. The school's interim president, Jack S. Griswold, warned in a letter to school staff and supporters that the turbines would "despoil this scenic landscape."
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”?
As a United States senator I have voted to save our mountaintops from destructive mining techniques. I am just as eager to protect mountaintops from unsightly windmills.
I have voted for federal clean air legislation and supported TVA’s plan to build carbon-free nuclear reactors, phase out its older, dirtier coal plants, and put pollution control equipment on the remaining coal plants. Already the air is cleaner and our view of the mountains is better.
I hope that citizens of Cumberland County—and all Tennesseans— will say a loud “no” to the out-of-state wind producers who are encouraged by billions in wasteful taxpayer subsidies to destroy our mountains.
Some say tourists will come to see the giant turbines. Maybe once. But do you really think tourists—or most Tennesseans—want to exchange a drive through the natural beauty of the Cumberland Mountains for a drive along 23 towers more than twice as tall as Neyland stadium whose flashing red lights can be seen for 20 miles? If you do, just take another look at the photograph of what has happened to Palm Springs, California.
If there is one thing Tennesseans agree on, it is pride in the natural beauty of our state. 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.