I was having dinner with my in-laws last night (happy birthday, Cindy!) and someone mentioned a story in the Boston Globe about Gloucester, MA. Apparently Gloucester is launching several wind turbine projects this year, including one that will generate all of its municipal power. This project, projected to save the city $11 million over 25 years, is so profitable that it’s described as a “windfall” by local officials. The savings will be plowed back in to the community to build a new public safety building…a win for the community, the environment, and city’s bottom line.
As I was reading up on Gloucester another turbine story came across my desk: renewable energy in Scotland now accounts for over a third of that used in homes and businesses. That’s a displacement of 8.36 million tons of carbon, or the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road. That’s equivalent to shutting down the country’s largest coal-fired plant. Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change (why doesn’t America have one of those?) welcomed the figures, adding “the Scottish government is committed to maximizing opportunities from the transition to a low carbon economy.”
These are both great success stories that showcase the economic benefits of wind power. What really strikes me however is how fluidly these projects were adopted. As the world starts to make its transition to renewable resources, my gut tells me that wind power is going to be embraced ahead of other types because it is local. That means
- Costs are local. Turbines are constructed in a town, by a town, for the benefit of that town. With fewer variables to consider, cost-benefit analysis is relatively straightforward and it’s easy to see the savings accumulate. In these times of slim municipal budgets, projects that save a town millions of dollars each year are bound to be popular.
- Opposition is local. Renewables on the national stage are subject to many competing agendas and negative lobbying by the fossil fuel industry. Smaller wind turbine projects avoid this kind of harassment by flying under the radar. Local opposition (usually complaints about sight lines or noise) can be addressed by compromises on location or with engineering modifications.
- The investment is visible. Though removed from residential areas, the Gloucester turbines will be visible from most parts of the city. Residents who see the turbines frequently will be reminded of their practical benefits and larger purpose. Each turbine is a monument, a source of pride from sustainable living and a symbol of the larger effort.