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Should A New Wind Farm Come To S.D. County?

As covered in today's discussion, the best argument in favor of wind appears to be economic -- it is relatively inexpensive and offers fairly rapid cost-recovery compared to other alternative energy sources. For some, this is sufficient reason to pursue wind as an option; in fact, this seems to be adequate for a large number of proponents. I myself an more interested in externalities. In the complex world in which we live, externalities determine the real, long-term viability of any solution. Saying wind turbines are a cost-effictive in terms of a simple ROI calculation is not the same as asserting they are a wise or responsible choice.

What are some of those externalities? Some positive impacts include: reducing dependence on foreign oil (though by most projections only by a few percent); lower carbon emissions and other forms of pollution; and an increase in U.S. jobs. Some negative impacts include: lower property values; harm to birds, bats and other wildlife; dedicated use of public lands (i.e. that restricts other uses); and possible human health impacts. There are probably many other facets to consider, but these represent the diversity of impacts.

How these externalities are evaluated when making a decision about wind power depends on our individual and collective values. Are jobs more important than wildlife? To some yes, to others no. Is human health more important than material profit? To some yes, to others no. Is wild landscape more aesthetically appealing than a wind farm? To some yes, to others no. And so on. I think the reason it is so difficult to make an easy, inclusive decision about such things is that people have fundamentally different values. So what can we do about this situation?

I think a fundamental shift is required in how we discuss these issues. Presenting the same polarized debate only perpetuates the rift between extremes. As part of an ongoing effort to resolve such differences and find better solutions, journalists could rise above the squabbling and dig below the surface a bit more. They could challenge unspoken assumptions and superficial sound byte responses, and help present a larger, clearer view of things. They could focus on edifying, healing and uniting voices rather than competing or dividing ones. They could help build a new vision for the future instead of regurgitating the age-old arguments. I hope that KPBS can entertain doing this in the future, as I have always thought of public radio as an ideal forum for exploring topics with more depth than traditional news orgs.

January 27, 2010 at 11:11 a.m. ( | suggest removal )