Don't Tilt at These Windmills

Don't Tilt at These Windmills

2 Mins
August 30, 2011

This weekend, the environment—Hurricane Irene, to be specific—took away my electric power. Beginning Saturday night, I had, in my apartment, limited ability to communicate (I couldn’t charge my cell phone at home), read (I didn’t have enough light), cook (most of my appliances are electric), or even bathe (I had no hot water). It reminded me how much I benefit, most days, from the work of my local power company and the people who run it.

Perhaps the environmental regulators and lobbyists could use such a reminder. They’ve been working for years to make life harder for the people who produce the electricity that makes modern life possible. And now there’s talk about criminally prosecuting the people who produce electricity by one of the methods that was supposed to be least harmful to the environment: modern-day windmills.

It turns out that when you have blades spinning in the air, sometimes birds fly into them and get killed. Charismatic birds, even, such as golden eagles. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nearly five hundred thousand birds are killed annually by windmills, and the American Bird Conservancy warns that President Obama’s plans for increased wind power could double that number in 20 years. Of course, that one million would still be less than the ten million lost to power lines, the eleven million lost to cars—and the five hundred million killed by cats every year.

Los Angeles' 120-megawatt Pine Tree Wind Project.

The Pine Tree Wind Project in the Tehachapi Mountains of California, which the Wildlife Service says is subject to “an ongoing law enforcement investigation,” and which may face the first prosecution over the loss of birds in a wind-power facility, is not actually a private enterprise: It’s run by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Nevertheless, both the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post are hinting that prosecution is possible—and even though the water and power department is local government, not enterprise, this would be prosecution for production.

 And what production! Energy is what makes action possible—and life is a process of action. The energy that runs our bodies we obtain from food, but what makes it possible for human beings to do so much more than our bodies can is that we invent and use tools, and especially machines that run on artificial power. An active human life in today’s world is thus sustained nearly as much by electricity as by food.

Producing the energy that sustains human life should not be a crime.

Postscript: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my local power company, which got my electricity back on by the time I got home Monday.