For better or worse, wind energy is changing our natural landscape. Not everyone is pleased. But Anita Diamant suspects most people will come around. In this photograph, wind turbines from the Smoky Hills Wind Farm dwarf the Excelsior Lutheran Church near Wilson, Kansas. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

The wind turbine is officially a sanctioned icon of American ingenuity, on display in (what seems like) three out of five car commercials. As the newest model Chevy or Toyota zips by, the Brooklyn and Golden Gate Bridges signify urban prowess from sea to shining sea, the vast desert straightaways remind us of pioneer days and rugged individuality. And now, clusters of sleek, white twirling rotors signify the cool triumph of the present.

To be sure, these high-tech windmills are an elegant alternative to belching smokestacks and looming nuclear plants. They are beacons of hope that seem to promise we’ll be able to invent our way out of the coming climate catastrophe. They prove that our new technology is beautiful, despite the evidence of clunky cell towers and bleak solar “farms.”

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their fair share of detractors. Critics complain their whooshing sound is annoying and that the blinking shadows thrown off by these overgrown fans are potentially hazardous. While studies dispute the latter claim, planning boards and developers should certainly take every precaution.

Maybe someday they will come to be seen as national treasures, like our cherished bridges once decried for ruining the landscape in the name of commerce and progress and greed.

So it was a good thing that the new turbines in Gloucester, my favorite vacation spot, are located in an industrial park on a hill surrounded by fields and forests. With no neighbors to annoy, the local media had no objections to report. In fact, many residents signed their names on the blades that are more than 100 feet across and rotate in winds that average 16 miles an hour. “I wanted to put my name on a piece of history,” one woman told the Gloucester Times. The turbines provide power for municipal buildings like City Hall, schools, police stations and even the sewage treatment plant, all while saving the cash-strapped city almost $470,000 a year.

They are even the source of bragging rights; Gloucester is the first Massachusetts city with not one but three big turbines, including the tallest one on the East Coast. They all top 400 feet, higher than the Statue of Liberty, a mere 305 feet by comparison. The tallest, at 492 feet, is just 63 feet shorter than the Washington Monument.

They are, in other words, hard to miss, visible all over Cape Ann, and well beyond. From one odd angle, the Madonna on top of Our Lady of Good Voyage Church looks like she is about to be toppled by needle-like propellers, which are over a mile away.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes the first time I saw the turbines from Good Harbor Beach, which is the place I try to envision while waiting for the dentist’s syringe. They don’t loom so much as hover, but they do, undeniably, change the landscape. To the equation of sea + sand + sky — “giant whirligig” must be added.

This is not meant as a rant against the encroachment of civilization. I want my power, my connectivity, my internet. I’ve never been bothered by the acres of condominiums that sprawl across from my “pristine” seaside retreat. And I’m downright fond of the two-story motel that commands a view of the beach, retro neon sign and all.

I suspect that, after a few years, the giant turbines won’t seem intrusive and newcomers will see the twirling towers as local landmarks, like the lighthouses. Maybe someday they will have cute nicknames or even come to be seen as national treasures, like our cherished bridges once decried for ruining the landscape in the name of commerce and progress and greed.

Tags: Environment

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  • Sue Hobart

    You are not as smart as you think. Come spend some time in Wind turbine effected homes and see how well you embrace the infrasound. Believe me if I could have “thought ‘ my way out of abandoning my beautiful 6 acres in Falmouth I would have… but migraine headaches, vertigo, tinnitis and tachycardia are nothing I choose to live with so I left.. and Voila, most of the symptoms are gone… just like before the Webb turbine took my quality of life and shattered it.

    Do some REAL reporting and check with some of the real victims.. there are thousands listed on the Wind Turbine Syndrome website… It’s real, it will be proven and clinging to the old school happy green salespitch is pathetic at this point.

    And another question…. Who convinced us that generating electricity form any source would save the planet. I am pretty sure if all the power went out forever other than the sun the earth would survive, heal and flourish.

    Enron owned corruptible land, Ge bought is and decided they could make more money selling turbines than mining for coal… So the biggest sham ever began… keep digging, its no different than all other profiteering.
    Turbines just have the best public relations campaign ever conceived. ( But then smoking was touted to be healthy once too!) Buyer beware.

  • ytreggah

    Massachusetts has made a major health problem : Torture
    Thousands of complaints are falling on deaf ears – politically deaf ears.
    Residents health issues are being put above financial gains !

    Over 50 residents of Falmouth are sick from the sounds coming from a large, town-owned wind turbine. Mediation has been ongoing over eight months with no end in sight. Residents have left their homes and moved into basements.

    Today residents of Scituate filed court action against the commercial wind turbines noise in that town. Low frequency sounds are making people sick !

    Kingston has even more complaints which involve the board of health and future court action.

    Fairhaven has been in court with noise and infra sound issues with the Board Of Health .

    At a meeting last year at Barnstable High School residents were told you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette . The eggs are you and I .

  • Tess Alexandra Pope

    “In 2011, the British Acoustics Bulletin published what is now the 10th independent review of the evidence on wind farms causing annoyance and ill health in people. And for the 10th time it has emphasised that “annoyance has far more to do with social and psychological factors in those complaining than any direct effect from sound or inaudible infrasound emanating from wind turbines”.

    Two factors repeatedly came up. “The first is being able to see wind turbines, which increases annoyance particularly in those who dislike or fear them. The second factor is whether people derive income from hosting turbines, which miraculously appears to be a highly effective antidote to feelings of annoyance and symptoms”.

  • DoctorJC

    I Cognoscenti refers in Italian to those “In The Know.” Unfortunately, Anita Diamant is not one of them. She writes fiction, and therefore doesn’t feel compelled to look below the surface while writing her elegy to Industrial Wind Turbines. She doesn’t report that there is no basis in scientific or economic fact supporting the proposition that erecting giant electric generation plants in the NorthEastern residential communities reduce carbon emissions or save money in the long run. In fact, there has not been a single case where an Industrial Wind Turbine in the North East USA hasn’t produced electricity at a substantially INCREASED cost.

    Siting these monstrosities in industrial areas that are only a few hundred feet from people’s homes is not safe. The World Health Organization has suggested that IWTs should be no closer than 2 kilometers from a home. Others have demonstrated that, in order to eliminate complaints from nearby residents, IWTs should be placed a minimum of a distance equal to 20 times the height of the Wind Turbine. In New South Wales, Australia, people living 8 miles away from a “Wind Farm” have been made ill. In Waterloo, a farming town in Australia next to a huge wind farm, chickens have begun laying eggs without yolks. There are numerous reports of people who had supported the erection of Industrial Wind Turbines and even were receiving compensation for them, have withdrawn their support once the Turbines began operating due to the ill health effects. Others have simply abandoned their homes since they are no longer livable or salable.

    So, why do so many companies want to build Industrial Wind Turbines? For one, they work where there is constant wind which can be found far off shore or in areas like the Great Plains which has also been referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.” If an oval were drawn stretching from Iowa to Texas, and IWTs were erected in already spoiled areas, there would be enough electricity generated to fuel the entire country. More importantly, “It’s the money , Stupid.” There are enormous tax breaks and subsidies available to support the development of so-called “clean energy.” Were it not for the millions of dollars developers can make, there would be no wind turbines on our horizon. For example, Mr. Sumul Shah has built a number of Industrial Wind Turbines on the South Shore including Fairhaven and Hanover. When the Lumus (Sumul spelled backwards) Wind Company didn’t complete Hanover’s Turbine on time, he owed the community $700,000 and he has simply walked away without completing the project. N one answers his phone anymore. There are also political pressures to demonstrate progress towards Green Technologies. However, when the government deliberately misleads the public with specious scientific backing, hires several individuals with past financial and political connections to the wind industry and purports that he has convened “an independent panel of experts” to review adverse health effects from Industrial Wind Turbines in a limited amount of old literature, he went too far. All the new scientific literature and peer-reviewed articles substantiating health problems emanating from Industrial Wind Turbines were dismissed.

    I am a life-long environmentalist and outdoorsman. I support energy conservation which is far and away the most cost effective way of reducing our carbon footprint. I believe that solar power has far more long term benefit and less environmentally destructive effects in the NorthEast than does wind. The cost of solar is plummeting and should be less than current rates per kWh within the next 2 years or so.

    Aesthetics are subjective and quite personal. When Anita Diamant says she thinks Industrial Wind Turbines “are beautiful,” I can’t argue with her. However, whenever I visit the Berkshires, which has been judged by the National Geographic as one of the 15 most scenic places in the world, whenever I see Industrial Wind Turbines on the ridge lines in only the poorest communities in Berkshire County, I feel deeply saddened. Perhaps, they wouldn’t look so terrible if they too changed colors along with the Fall Foliage display. The people who live there are the ones who really suffer.

    Finally, as a physician, I am most concerned with the public health effects associated with Industrial Wind Turbines in the NorthEast. People from all over the world have emerged with identical health complaints following the installation of Industrial Wind Turbines. People in England, Australia, Ontario, Maine, and Massachusetts don’t know one another but they feel equally ill. Their complaints are not the product of an international conspiracy or Cabal. These people are decent folks who are suffering and whose humanity demands that we come to their assistance.

    Industrial Wind Turbines are NOT “Giant Whirlygigs in the Sky.” They are giant industrial electricity generation plants located perilously close to innocent people’s homes. Anita Diamant may be a respected writer of fiction, but when it comes to Industrial Wind Turbines she is NOT one of the “Cognoscenti.”

    • David C. Holzman

      >>>In New South Wales, Australia, people living 8 miles away from a “Wind
      Farm” have been made ill. In Waterloo, a farming town in Australia next
      to a huge wind farm, chickens have begun laying eggs without yolks.

      Do you have some documentation? I don’t believe either of these. If the chickens are *really* laying eggs without yolks, I’d be interested to know what else is going on in their environment. Endocrine disrupters, perhaps? As for the people in New South Wales, perhaps its some sort of mass hysteria. Back up beepers and leaf blowers are far worse annoyances.

  • Kevin_ORourke_AWEA

    AWEA appreciates Ms. Diamant’s thoughtful consideration of, and appreciation for, the utility of developing wind power to create a cleaner energy future for New England.

    To add to the discussion, there are some important facts to consider regarding concerns about health impacts from shadow flicker or sound from wind turbines.

    Shadow flicker from wind turbines occurs much more slowly than the light “strobing” associated with epileptic seizures. The strobe rates generally necessary to cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy are 5 to 30 flashes per second and large wind turbine blades rotate far more slowly.

    Also, last year, the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health commissioned a panel of experts with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology and sleep medicine, neuroscience, and mechanical engineering to analyze “the biological plausibility or basis for health effects of turbines (noise, vibration, and flicker).” Their study concluded that “Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation.”

    Further, the Massachusetts study also found no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” Also, the strongest epidemiological study reviewed by the panel suggested that there is not an association between sound from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health. The full report of the panel of independent experts can be found here:

    Our future choices on how we decide to power our society will always require a thoughtful cost-benefit analysis. As wind is an inexhaustible resource that generates no air or water pollution, and requires no mining or refining of fuel; it remains the most benign form of energy production available today.

  • DLaBonte

    I really enjoyed Diamant’s Last Days of Dogtown–set in the area she is writing about. I just hope she doesn’t ever get used to the three new invaders of the Cape Ann skyline. Turbines are not much like whirligigs. A First Wind spokesperson characterized to Brimfield residents that for a 2.5 MW machine, the hub alone is the size of a mini winnebago. They are actually more like giant food processors–fatal to birds and very noisy. It doesn’t take long after the turbines start up for people to be impacted. This includes people who support the idea and who benefit financially. Ask the people in Falmouth, Kingston, Princeton, Cohocton, NY, Mars Hill, ME. It ‘s not hard to find problems with turbines, despite the manufacturer’s use of the most aesthetic design. The noise, vibration, strobing, and economics all quickly dispel assumptions that they are benign or even that they will reduce power plant use. Maybe some day there will be wind capture that makes sense, but right now the technology doesn’t exist. So don’t get too attached to the new skyline. The heyday of IWTs may already be over.

    • David C. Holzman

      I can imagine the strobing being terribly annoying if it were coming into your window or even your yard. But noise and vibration? I’ve stood next to the wind turbine in Chelsea (which you can see driving down rt 2 towards cambridge next to some stacks) and one of the four in Hull, photographing them and admiring them. There is very little sound (and I HATE leaf blowers, and back-up beepers, and I quit going to the West Side Lounge (restaurant on Mass Ave. Cambridge) after they turned up the music, and I never leave home without my ear plugs) and I didn’t notice any vibration at all. Now that I know about the turbines on Cape Ann, I will be driving up there one of these weekends to admire them.

  • Sewall House Yoga

    anyone who thinks wind turbines are wonderful solutions to global warming need to watch windfall the movie and this as well

  • Paco

    Some of the posted comments are missing. Please restore.

  • pointpanic

    What bothers me about essays like these is their fundamental assumption that we can “invent” our way out of any crisis or concern with “American Ingenuity”. I also resent the thesis that despite our concerns about encroachment on natural landscapes, we’ll eventually just “learn to love ‘em” . That’s a disingenuous canard vomited on us by all technocrats and wannabes.yes, her point about the condominiums is a fair one but why add to it by adding giant windmills? At any rate the basic problem of all too monstrous human footprint on the planet is not addressed here. Given our atrocious and dark history as a species on this planet, our species must learn humility in the face of nature and the cosmos. This cliched mythology of an essay is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Marie_Jane123

    You say, “And now, clusters of sleek, white twirling rotors signify the cool triumph of the present.”
    Cool? Triumph?

    The industrial wind turbine is regressive and destructive. These 50-story, 60-ton white elephants are not cool. They stab violently at the skyline, they deface our ridges and horizons, they destroy habits and are hazardous to humans.
    Industrial wind turbines? Whirligigs, they are not!

  • Marie_Jane123

    Wind is anything but an inexhaustible resource; it is intermittent at best and coal and gas power plants must kick in for back up for the industrial wind turbine’s “down days” and they have many down days. And, a U.S.A. overrun by undependable industrial wind turbines will call for more use of the more dependable and predictable coal and gas. How dependable and predictable is the wind, the fuel source of the industrial wind turbine? Wind is erratic, sporadic, capricious at best and needs back up. There is no off/on switch.

    Another comment from another “reader” speaks to how quiet it is standing close to an industrial wind turbine. He would have a different impression and a more realistic insight if he stood 600, 900, 1000, 2000 feet away from that 50-story machine. Depending on which site he visits, he may need to walk around housing to get the true picture and the homes between him and the industrial wind turbine house the victimized where noise and vibration have infiltrated.

    • X-Ray

      And yet, in MA, where the current crop of turbines are sited in offshore waters, there is still an uproar based on “visual pollution”. NIBMBYs

      • Kevon Martis

        Actually wind turbines are created by anti-coal NIMBYs.

  • Marie_Jane123

    You have written, “They are beacons of hope that seem to promise we’ll be able to invent our way out of the coming climate catastrophe. They prove that our new technology is beautiful,…”.

    The referred to flicker is, in fact, strobing. Strobing is intense and dispels the flicker image of soft butterfly-like movements. Strobing sickens people. Picture if you will an 18-month old who blinks every time the industrial wind turbine blade’s shadow passes over her house. Picture the epileptic who has symptoms of an oncoming seizure as a direct result of the strobing from the industrial wind turbine close to his home. Research this Ms. Diamant because this is the reality. This is the reality of industrial wind turbines haphazardly placed too close to where humans live.

  • T Pirro

    I am “late in” on this one but the city of Gardner, ma. has 4 turbine. Two at Mount Wachusett Community College and two more at the MCI North Central Correctional facility. Granted the two at MCI North Central Corr. are NOT producing power (apparently the wiring to local the sub-station and in the prison are not up to code to accept the turbine power…a “minor” over-site) despite being “in the sky” for 2 YEARS…Gardner does have 4.

    • Marie_Jane123

      Hi T Pirro, is there more to the story?
      Do you have any idea how much money the 2 at Mt. Wachusett iwts are saving the town or the school. I wonder what it cost to have the 2 MCI industrial wind turbines be idle for 2 years and what they cost to purchase. Sounds like a bit of poor planning.

      • X-Ray

        And poor situation management and oversight.

  • X-Ray

    “The wind turbine is officially a sanctioned icon of American ingenuity . . ”
    Actually, most current turbines are designed and produced overseas, or locally
    assembled by subsidiaries of foreign companies.

  • Tourist

    You have killed the town for me Ill never visit it again ! I will find some other place to spend my money you fools make me sick