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New Mexico Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy and Sustainability


Opinions - humor, musings, rants and tirades, et cetera.

Tilting at windmills

Thanks to xkcd.com for helping us keep a bit of a sense of humor about all this.

Local Artist/Engineer voices feelings of many.

I have been struggling to understand my resistance to the appearance of windfarms in the landscape for some time, years in fact. In thinking about the issue of viewshed today I realized that, yet again, we are discussing the issue in a way that has been framed by Industrial Wind to be in their favor. If objections to the appearance of wind farms are discussed from the framework of aesthetics it is forever hopelessly mired in the realm of subjectivity. Some will hate them, some will like them, and most will be indifferent.

What occurred to me today was that my real objections to windfarms (and ANY large industrial facility sited in an otherwise unblemished rural landscape) is simply the fact that they are large, man-made structures imposed on in an otherwise unmolested natural landscape. My objection is really more anthropological than aesthetic. Perhaps because of my training I have couched my objections in aesthetic terms, but really it is something else. What distresses me is a sense of the violation of the natural landscape by the works of man. It seems absolute to me, that no matter whether one likes or dislikes the visual appearance of wind facilities, that they are inherently and irrevocably artificial works of man and not elements of the natural landscape. Whether their presence hinders or improves the appearance of that landscape is really immaterial, because that landscape has forever been altered from its virgin condition. And that is my concern and my objection.

I have a great quote from the fellow who runs the scenic byways program for South Dakota, lamenting the fact that the landscape there today still appears the way that it did to Lewis and Clark and Sitting Bull. In twenty years, that will not be the case, and it will be primarily due to industrial wind. But the damage is far greater than destroying the visual history of a few hundred years. Think about our mesa and the whole scenic corridor along I25. Not only does it appear much as it did in the time of Geronimo, it appears largely the way it did BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF HUMANKIND AT ALL! We are not merely undoing the history of a few hundred years, we are undoing the work of geologic time. The fundamental question is not one of mere appearance, but rather of the value of preserving the natural landscape as it was before the presence of man.

We know that the presence of man can have an irreversible impact on the landscape. An interesting book just came out which attempts to reconstruct the ecology and appearance of Manhattan Island before European settlement. It makes the case that if it been preserved unmolested it would comprise one of our most impressive National Parks. If the La Sierrita facility is constructed, the evidence of its presence will persist for millenia, literally. Is it the inevitable consequence of humankind's presence to disrupt the natural landscape everywhere? We have National Parks and Wilderness areas, but these constitute barely one percent of our land. Does that mean that every other acre should be festooned with the works of man? Is there to be no protection for any other rural landscapes? It would seem that in the name of saving the environment we are simply substituting one form of damage for another.

One very troubling and potentially devastating aspect of industrial wind is that the siting criteria involve an entirely new set of overlays for the pattern of human occupation of the landscape. Historicly, large man-made structures like cities were sited based on access to transportation arteries or natural resources. Industrial Wind instead seeks locales possessing access to the grid and dependable breezes. And a utility-scale windfarm has a similar footprint and ecological disruption as a small town. The tallest man-made structures in our state are probably wind turbines! These new criteria for siting the works of man open up a host of areas which have not to date experienced the adverse effect of human activity. Whether the featureless plains of West Texas or the mesa country of New Mexico, these once virgin and open spaces are now potential hosts to massive man-made structures which will forever alter their aspect.

I think these ideas are important and may show a path for addressing view shed issues completely independent of personal aesthetics. Paradoxically, these ideas came about in trying to address one of Jacobson's radio show questions about what would be better, suburban sprawl or a windfarm. The answer is neither, both are objectionable and once either occurs the damage has been done. Neither suburban sprawl nor a windfarm should be permitted in many areas, and not just banned from National Parks and Wilderness Areas.

Bill Dolson

James Lovelock - One last chance to save mankind (in NewScientist Magazine, January 22, 2009)

Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning. I am not against renewable energy, but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It's absolutely unnecessary, and it takes 2500 square kilometres to produce a gigawatt - that's an awful lot of countryside.

Oppose NM Senate Bill 17

(Thankfully, this bill has been tabled by the NM Senate, but the forces behind it would still like to hand control of our lands to the energy companies, and we expect they will resurface and try something like this again.)

This bill is a nightmare, and a gift to the Oil and Gas Association. Just in familiarizing myself with the bill, all the ammo we need is in the State's own Fiscal Impact Report.
Pertinent Agencies:
Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department (EMNRD)
State Land Office (SLO)
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED)
New Mexico Association of Counties (NMAC)
For one thing the bill is opposed by the NMED, NMAC and SLO and the ENMRD who would be given jurisdiction is lukewarm.

  1. First, it could remove NMEDs regulation of air pollution from oil and gas operations with resultant damage to the public health and possibly even cause loss of federal grant money to the department.
  2. The NMAC points out that it could strip counties and cities of any government authority over oil and gas operations including applications, permits, and operations. One possible outcome is that municipalities would have no control over adverse effects of oil and gas operations on water supplies, a major environmental risk with oil and gas operations.
  3. The EMNRD admits that the courts have upheld the right of local governments to regulate activities in their jurisdictions. This bill would muzzle rights of local governments as upheld by the courts.
  4. The bill is poorly drafted and even the ENMRD, who would be given exclusive jurisdiction over oil and gas says "it is extremely difficult to predict the probable effect of passage of this bill."
  5. The SLO says the bill would prevent it from enforcing its own regulations and remove county and municipal authority also. All decisions on oil and gas development would be made at the state level by a three member panel appointed by the Governor and State Land Commissioner. Currently the SLO requires oil and gas leases to comply with all regulations at the city, county, state and federal level.

What a disaster of a bill!

Backup from the Fiscal Impact Report:

  1. NMED suggests that ... public health impacts resulting from unregulated air pollution from oil and gas operations would exacerbate health problems.... Additionally, USEPA has approved the state's implementation plan for regulation of air quality by the New Mexico Environment Department. Unregulated sources of air pollution in the state would jeopardize that approval and likely lead to disapproval of the state's implementation plan, ultimately resulting in loss of federal grant funding to the Department.
  2. The New Mexico Association of Counties (NMAC) notes that this bill would remove all local authority and the authority of other instrumentalities of the state relating to oil and gas operations "except those specifically provided pursuant to law." This clause is vague and its intention and application confusing and unclear. The bill does raise the issue of whether local government authority regarding oil and gas operations would be eliminated and preempted. In fact, NMAC adds, the bill might preempt other state agencies, such as the Environment Department, from administering air quality and other health and safety regulations relative to oil and gas operations. One possible interpretation of SB17 is that all jurisdiction to enforce the Oil and Gas Act would belong exclusively to the oil conservation division of the Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department so that counties, municipalities, and other state agencies would not have any authority or any input on oil and gas permits, applications, and operations. In this case, local government would be stripped of its ability to protect wells, waterways, and other infrastructure related to the delivery of potable water in oil and gas operations. Similarly, NMAC concludes, the Environment Department's ability to protect air quality regarding oil and gas operations would be eliminated. This is a significant health, safety, and welfare concern, and could substantially compromise water and air quality in the state.
  3. EMNRD states that recent years have witnessed proposals by oil and gas operators to extend oil and gas development to areas of the state not previously explored. Local groups opposed to such development have sought protection from local government, resulting in proposal or adoption of local ordinances (e.g. in Santa Fe County and Rio Arriba County) to comprehensively regulate oil and gas development. ... The New Mexico Oil and Gas Act assigns responsibility for regulating oil and gas operations to the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), but does not state that OCD's powers are exclusive. Court decisions relating to conflicts between state and local jurisdiction over other activities indicate that, in the absence of a specific legislative prohibition, local governments generally may regulate any activity (presumably including oil and gas operations) within their jurisdiction, as long as their requirements do not conflict with state law or state regulatory requirements.
  4. ...Senate Bill 17 limits political subdivisions to exercising "those [powers] specifically provided by law." The phrase "specifically provided by law" is inherently vague... The bill leaves considerable scope for varying judicial constructions. At least three widely divergent approaches suggest themselves... In view of these varying possibilities, it is extremely difficult to predict the probable effect of passage of this bill.
  5. SLO states that the legislation may prevent the State Land Office from enforcing or promulgating its own regulations concerning oil and gas operations on state trust lands and potentially affect the authority of the Commissioner of Public Lands as trustee for those lands under the state's statutory lease. Alternatively, SLO adds that the bill would remove county and municipal authority over local land use issues. Decisions on local land suitability for oil and gas development would be made at the state level by the Oil Conservation Commission three member panel with appointees by the Governor (2) and State Land Commissioner (1). Currently the state's statutory oil and gas lease requires oil and gas lessees to "...comply with all laws, regulations, rules, ordinances, and requirements of the city, county, state, federal authorities and agencies, in all matters and things affecting the premises and operations thereon which may be enacted or promulgated under the governmental police powers pertaining to public health and welfare..."

Best, Bill Dolson

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