We were driving in the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania. Ahead on a distant ridge appeared a line of electricity generating windmills. I suspected that the road might cross close to one of the windmills. Having never seen one up close, I drove on. Sure enough, there at the top of the ridge, right beside the road, stood a windmill. I pulled off the road into a small gravel lot and beside a chain link fence with two trailers inside it. As we got out of the car two armed guards emerged from the trailers and started walking toward us.
I am inclined to start explaining when an armed guard starts walking toward me. I quickly explained that we had never seen one of these things before and had just stopped to look. I kept my hands in sight and spoke in the least threatening way I know how. The guards smiled and said that was fine. They came down to the fence and began telling us about the windmills. They told how much they cost and how many homes each one can power. One guard went back to the trailer and brought us some literature. It was all very interesting. They explained how fast the blades turn and how there is something that keeps them from turning too fast when the wind blows too hard. We asked lots of questions and the guards seemed to love having company and someone to appreciate the windmills.
My last question was different from the rest. I wasn't sure if I should ask it, but I did. "Why is it that these windmills have to have armed guards here?"
His face changed expression. Then he told us that people had come and shot at the windmills and almost hit a technician who was working on one of them. After that the company decided that they had to guard the windmills. He said they hoped that someday they would not need guarding any longer.
As I asked myself why anyone would shoot a windmill, I remembered some signs I had seen down in the valley. The signs said "NO turbines in Bedford County." I later examined one of these signs and visited the website of the organization that sponsored them. I expected to find something extremist and perhaps ill-informed. Instead I found an environmentalist approach to the subject. "Save our Allegheny ridges" is their name and slogan. And being an environmentalist myself I have sympathy for their position. But I also recognize the need for renewable energy to replace our dependence on the oil we are running out of and paying more and more to get. I recognize that drilling miles deep under the oceans and in riskier and riskier places will inevitably lead to more and more disasters like the one we are now seeing.
It is strange to me that people in the Gulf region still support "drill, Baby, drill" despite the effects of the oil spill on their environment. The lure of jobs and money is too strong, I suppose. And if this holds true for all of us it means that we will keep moving irrationally toward ruin, despite all warnings to the contrary. On the other hand, I do not live on the Gulf and my livelihood does not depend on the oil economy. I wonder what my position on these issues would be if I were in their places.
I have read the "NO turbines" materials on their website and I see their side of the debate. I've read that the North Carolina legislature is blocking any windmill building on ridges in the state. There certainly are no easy choices to be made.
My one and only experience with one of the windmills was not unpleasant. They are very large and they certainly detract from the beauty of the mountains. But no more so than transmission towers and microwave relays and power plant smokestacks. They are remarkably calm and quiet things, actually, especially being so large. Given the alternatives, they might not be so bad. We certainly don't need to be shooting them.