Shell Wind Project: Ferndale Has Plenty of Hot Air

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 @ 11:09 a.m. / News

mills

The discussion around Shell’s proposed wind energy project outside of Ferndale has been going from bad to worse. Old codgers have been shaking their fists at the thing for months now, both in community forums and in the letters page of the Ferndale Enterprise. But yesterday a Huffington Post scribbler, Lorraine Devon Wilke, took it national and made the whole “debate” even more dismal.

Wilke’s Twitter profile lists her as a resident of Playa del Rey, but she evidently has a thing for Cream City, as well as a second home here. She previously penned a goopy profile of the Enterprise’s Caroline Titus, which included some musing on which megastar will play the Ferndale publisher and LoCO superfriend in the inevitable Hollywood biopic (“… Demi Moore or Julia Roberts or some other actress with the edge, the smarts, the looks and that indefinable spark Caroline brings to the table”). Judging from this latest anti-wind blast, it appears that Wilke – like most monied city folk who adopt some “quaint” small town somewhere, and also like the shopkeeps who pander to them – would prefer that Ferndale remain preserved in amber for all eternity. (See also: here.)

Unfair? I would submit that it is not. In common with most essentially NIMBYist agitators, Wilke throws everything she can think of at the towers, a la Richardson Grove, in the hope that something might stick. Maybe it won’t produce that many jobs. Spotted owls might conceivably be discomfited. Wind energy isn’t very “green” at all. Traffic would be bad for a while. Shell is an oil company!

But in the end, and to her credit, Wilke sums up with something like her true reasons for not wanting a clean energy plant in her neighborhood:

“We are stewards of this land we live on. Our immediate concerns and needs do engage our moment in time, but in realistically and ethically seeking solutions we cannot eschew all responsibility to future generations. How much of our natural planet do we preserve for them? How much of it do we sacrifice for jobs, money and new technology, green or otherwise? As a concerned environmentalist, a property owner who loves the area, and a parent who hopes my son’s grandchildren can still find natural, unspoiled, unindustrialized rural land to enjoy long after we’re gone, I personally cannot support the Shell Oil wind turbine project in Ferndale.”

Just about everything is wrong with this, though. The area in question has a road running through it and is currently used to graze cattle, so it only looks “natural” and “unspoiled” and “unindustrialized” to someone whose point of reference is Santa Monica. And it seems a pretty safe bet that our great-grandkids, looking back, will eventually wish that we’d have plumped for more windmills and fewer fossil fuels. We can go ahead and assume that will be triply true for the great-grandchildren of the residents of places like the Niger River Delta, where the land is no doubt quite beautiful too. Or was, rather.

But all this is premature, which is in itself a sign that this is driven by hyped and unsavory politics. The company hasn’t even finished its Environmental Impact Report yet, so no one knows what effect the project might have on endangered bird species – or, indeed, much of anything else. It seems clear that there will be some traffic impacts with regard to construction, but whether those would affect Ferndale or Rio Dell no one is quite sure yet. In any case, those impacts would be temporary, and Ferndalians have suffered through much worse and survived. And you wouldn’t even be able to see the windmills from town. (Why rich folks worldwide seem to hate the sight of windmills is another question, which I leave to the psychology faculty.)

Perhaps we can just all cool down a bit with this? Maybe it’s a good idea, maybe it isn’t, but trading a few acres for 50 megawatts of more-or-less permanent renewable and emissionless energy seems to be a deal worth considering.

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