Wind-farm developers accustomed to encountering neighbors who want to keep towering turbines away from their backyard are now meeting more organized, national opposition.
Two groups -- Industrial Wind Action (IWA) and National Wind Watch (NWW) -- are taking the movement beyond its NIMBY origins. They're using Web sites to link far-flung communities and groups that oppose wind projects and spread the word about the threats such projects pose to natural resources and the quality of rural life.
"Of most immediate concern for communities targeted for wind power facilities is their huge size, unavoidable noise, and strobe lights day and night, with the consequent loss of amenity and, in many cases, health," NWW says on its Web site.
"For people concerned with the environment, the adverse impacts of the giant machines and their supporting infrastructure on bird, bats, beneficial insects, and other wildlife -- both directly and by degrading, fragmenting, and destroying habitat -- are a growing concern," it continues. "With these and other adverse impacts, the construction of industrial wind energy facilities in most places cannot be justified."
IWA founder Lisa Linowes said wind promoters have mischaracterized her group as fear mongers bankrolled by fossil-fuel interests. "A lot of people think that opposition is born out of fear of change," she said. "That is so far from the truth." (Click here for IWA's Web site.)
Frank Maisano, a Washington energy lobbyist, said national wind opponents are not influential but are capable of stirring up local opposition in areas that have scant experience with turbine farms. "It's not very hard to be successful in shutting down wind projects where there are none," he said. "These groups have played on ... fears very well."
Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for American Wind Energy Association, the industry trade group, maintains that most successful wind ventures don't face significant opposition. And Ed Cherian, the northeastern U.S. development director for the Spanish wind-power company, Iberdrola, said a total of three people spoke in public meetings this summer against a 12-turbine farm the company plans to build in Lempster, N.H. -- and one was IWA's Linowes, who is a New Hampshire resident.
"To call that an organized group of opponents is probably an overstatement," Cherian said. "[Linowes] has decided, for one reason or another, to make it her life's work to oppose any wind power."
But Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says the groups have been "enormously successful." "We could have three wind farms in Maryland right now," he said, "without this narrowly focused, aggressively vocal, dubiously funded campaign to stop wind power."
'Targeting our ridelines'
In an interview, Linowes said she favored wind power until a project was proposed in 2005 for Lyman, N.H., where she lives. She resisted the construction of a meteorological tower that UPC Wind needed for its wind farm. UPC -- which subsequently withdrew its application for the tower -- declined to comment for this story.
Linowes, who has a degree in computer science and an MBA, became active in town politics and conservation issues after her fourth child was born a few years ago. Before that, she and her husband, Jonathan Linowes, started, ran and then sold a software development company. IWA has become a full-time pursuit.
"I used to call myself an environmentalist," she said. "Now I know that means turning against some of the things you've fought so hard to protect."
In 2005, Linowes organized a gathering of 55 wind-power foes from Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Kansas and elsewhere in Hawley, Mass. The impetus for the meeting, she said, was the influx of wind companies into the mountains of the Northeast.
"They were clearly targeting our ridgelines," she said.
From that meeting sprang National Wind Watch. Linowes served as the group's vice president and spokeswoman until spring 2006, when she said she and the board began to "have differing views on how active we should be at the policy level." Linowes said she sided with those who believed the organization should go beyond its educational role and get involved in legislative lobbying, so she formed IWA.
NWW's leader, Eric Rosenbloom, a freelance science writer based in Kirby, Vt., tells a different story and denies there was a board split over policy. "The board ... did not shy away from engaging policy," Rosenbloom said in an e-mail. "Rather, as spokesperson Lisa was unwilling to represent the board's consensus about various issues and preferred to speak for herself. Thus she alone left to create IWA as a vehicle for her individual activities."
Rosenbloom said IWA and NWW differ over whether wind power should be permitted in some locations.
Linowes' IWA maintains that wind farms may be appropriately sited on the Great Plains, offshore or other areas where they wouldn't threaten birds or encroach on densely populated areas. Rosenbloom's NWW opposes all wind development. Even grasslands have fragile ecologies that could be upset by large turbines, he said, and offshore development is too expensive to be feasible without large tax breaks and subsidies.
The current craze for wind comes from a desperate, but misguided search for alternatives to fossil fuel, Rosenbloom said. "I share that desperation, really I just don't think wind is going to help," he said in an e-mail.
Rift between enviros, turbine foes
Dan Boone, a former federal wildlife biologist who has been opposing wind projects since 2002 and has his own anti-wind power Web site, said IWA and NWW and other groups are helping forge a national movement by saving local turbine-farm opponents time and money.
"It brings people up to speed much quicker," he said, noting that Linowes in particular had helped turn back the 50-turbine project proposed in Pendleton County, W. Va. "There's no recreating the wheel."
Linowes has been most helpful with small, fledgling groups. She and IWA served as advisers to Save God's Country, which is fighting AES's proposed 80-turbine project in rural Potter County, Pa. "They gave us a direction," said Herb Miller, a former New York advertising executive and a leader of the north-central Pennsylvania group.
Boone, who formerly worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wilderness Society, said there has been a rift between environmentalists and wind-power opponents. Environmental groups see wind power as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to an accelerated warming of the Earth's atmosphere, Boone said, while he and other wind foes see turbines as destroyers of landscapes.
Boone sees the past 15 years of environmental activism as a story of resource allocation. In the 1990s, when money for environmental causes was scarce, the environmental community divided into "fiefdoms," he said, and those who dealt with global warming -- the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council -- got most of the cash. He explains the difference in terms of homocentrism vs. biocentrism: The big groups work on behalf of a healthy human environment, while the old guard still promotes wilderness protection for wilderness' sake.
Many anti-wind activists are former members of large environmental groups.
"We are all small, underfunded groups," said Eleanor Tillinghast, president of Green Berkshires, a group that opposes what it considers unsightly development in western Massachusetts. "We object to national environmental groups and international companies pushing us around."
One of the biggest and best-funded wind-power opponents is a NIMBY group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which was founded in 2001 to oppose Cape Wind, a 130-turbine project to be sited about five miles off Cape Cod.
In 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the alliance took in almost $3.3 million in donations, including $1.1 million from oil magnate Bill Koch, the founder and president of the Oxbow Group, a holding company focused on energy development. The alliance employs four lobbying firms, spends about a third of its take on legal fees, pays its president $114,000, and just opened an office in Washington to lobby during the federal review process.
Freelance journalist Wendy Williams, co-author of a book about the Cape Wind fight, said IWA's focus on the word "industrial" was drawn from the Nantucket Sound alliance. "The phrase 'industrial' was the direct result of focus groups," she said. "It frightened people who thought they lived in a pristine environment."
Alliance President Charles Vinick, who managed environmental and programmatic work as vice president of the Cousteau Society for 18 years before joining the fight against Cape Wind, said he is an occasional reader of the IWA Web site. "She tries to get data out there, and I think that's helpful," Vinick said of Linowes.
Likewise, Jack Buchan, a lawyer who owns nearly 500 acres near a proposed 34-turbine wind project at Shaffer Mountain, said he has not enlisted IWA or NWW to help fight the project. He has a Web site and $100,000 donated by an anonymous group to fight the project.
While he finds Web sites like NWW and IWA helpful, Buchan said that money is what's needed for the fight since the major environmental groups have "turned their backs."
"They think wind energy's the cat's ass," he said. "They've been brainwashed."