Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The wind in the willows

The image here is from a news story in the 30 October issue of Science": "DOE Gives $151 Million to 'Out-of-Box' Research." The U. S. Department of Energy has awarded grants to 37 companies, universities and national labs that are pursuing cutting-edge energy technologies, including funding for the novel wind turbine design illustrated here. This is an artist's reconstruction of what the turbines might look like on an unidentified coastline, presumably chosen from a stock photo archive.

As it turns out, I recognize this bit of coast. It is at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, just over the hill from my summer cottage -- one of the most unspoiled land-and-seascapes in Ireland, and the setting for the films "Ryan's Daughter" and "Far and Away."

Over the years I have been involved in two efforts to preserve the visual integrity of this stretch of shoreline, once to prevent the Irish telephone company from stringing wires on poles along the coast road, and once to stop the building of an interpretive center celebrating the Irish-language culture of the Great Blasket Island (just off the coast to the left of the photograph).

The telephone wires were buried. The interpretative center got built, in an environmentally sensitive way, and a fine thing it is too. I was deeply moved by the human story on my first visit.

Ireland is aggressively pursuing wind power. I have written here before of my ambiguous feelings about the sleekly beautiful turbines, turning majestically in formerly wild landscapes -- torn between my enthusiasm for alternate energy sources and my dismay at the loss of wildness.

I think it fair to say that the particular scene presented in the above illustration would never be allowed to happen, not in this iconic place. But not so far away new turbines sprout up every day. In New England, the battle rages about building a massive wind farm in the waters off Cape Cod, between the Cape and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Alternate energy sources are inevitably small scale and widely distributed. Sooner or later each of us will have to decide how we feel about having the sources of our power in our own backyards.