Op-Ed: Missing Point in Debate over Wind Turbines

July 5, 2017

by Cmdr. John Pickerill

There has been discussion recently over a possible wind farm in my county. Residents close to the proposed turbine towers are concerned about the health effects, about disrupted rural landscape and about what it will do to their property values. Some are suggesting that newly proposed countywide zoning would have excluded the turbines or minimized any harm. They are wrong.

Both a former county councilman and the mayor brought up a relevant point in separate articles for the local newspaper: If you are going to defend the property rights and freedom of the individual, you must acknowledge that a property owner has the right to use his property however he sees fit. But both overlooked the do-no-harm clause, i.e., as long as the property owner isn’t preventing someone else from doing the same or causing harm to someone else in the process. It is a prerequisite for any freedom.

A landowner has the right to install a wind turbine or anything else on his property but he has the responsibility to make sure it doesn’t harm his neighbors. Scientific studies suggest that low-frequency noise from wind turbines, for example, may make people sick (sleep disorders, headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate).

If that turns out to be true, the landowner should be forced to take steps to prevent such harm, perhaps by increasing the setback of the towers from the closest property line or by installing noise-canceling technology. But let’s not pretend the answer is more restrictive and broader land-use zoning. There are five counties in Indiana with large wind farms (Benton, Randolph, White, Tipton, Madison) and all of them had countywide zoning.

Taking a step back from the current debate, there’s another point to consider. It regards the government subsidies to install wind turbines. Because we all are forced to pay taxes, we are forced to pay for these wind power subsidies. In a free society no energy source should receive any taxpayer subsidy. Each power source  — coal, oil, natural gas, ethanol, nuclear, solar, wind — should have to compete on its own merits, on being able to provide the best product (reliable electrical power) for the lowest price for the least harm to people or to the environment.

Coal, oil and nuclear are typically criticized in that regard. But fabricating solar cells produces some nasty by-products. And again, wind energy produces possible health problems to those living close by, endangers wildlife such as bats and consumes a large amount of energy just to fabricate, transport and install those giant wind turbines and towers.

No energy source has clean hands and none is truly 100-percent “green.” The government’s role here is limited to upholding property rights and interceding if a property owner is doing harm to his neighbors. With those guarantees in place, it is the free market and ingenuity that will determine which energy source (or combination thereof) best serves our community.

John Pickerill, past chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. A graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, Pickerill retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Commander.



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