Rethink ideas about New England's 'viewshed'

Berkshire Wind Power Project, in Hancock, Mass.

Berkshire Wind Power Project, in Hancock, Mass.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

New Englanders might want to read an interview in the New England News Collaborative with Philip Warburg, who used to run the Conservation Law Foundation, authored Harvest the Sun: America’s Quest for a Solar-Powered Future and recently wrote an article headlined “What Red State Kansas Can Teach Blue State Massachusetts about Renewable Energy’’.

He cites a “wind technology training program {in a rural county in Kansas} at the community college. It started in about 2007 with some 5 students, today it’s got 150 students. And they find jobs immediately on graduating from their 2-year certificate program. In fact, they’ve expanded now to include solar technology, so it’s been renamed a renewable energy technology program. Again, not something you would necessarily expect at a community college in the middle of Kansas farm country, but in fact, it provides local employment for a lot of people … and it’s really seen as a huge economic boon.’’

Of course, densely populated and wooded southern New England doesn’t have the wide-open spaces of Kansas but it does have a treasure in offshore wind and more than adequate solar energy (we’re at the latitude of Portugal) to justify major education programs for people going into the wind and solar industries. Let them do their part to weaken the likes of Saudi Arabia.

On wind power in New England, he writes:

“I think we have to think in a more expansive way about what it means to integrate renewables into our landscape. So it might mean more wind turbines, for example, in the Berkshire Mountains or in the White Mountains or in parts of Maine. And I think we can also learn from Kansas in looking off of our shore and saying well actually we can develop wind power on a very large, you could say industrial, scale without creating the kind of reactions we got from vacationers on the Cape … to the Cape Wind project.’’

He may be too hopeful about affluent New Englanders’ tolerance of changes to their “viewsheds.’’ And yet:

“If we took a longer historical view of the New England landscape … we might be more forgiving of the introduction of technologies like wind and solar. If you look at New England’s landscape during the 19th century, it was largely a farmed landscape. We now have reforested New England because farming just doesn’t make that much economic sense on a large scale in New England…. So we’re very attached to thinking of New England as pristine forests, when in fact they’re not pristine forests.’’

To read the whole interview, please hit this link.