As a skier, I am saddened by what I see happening in our New England mountains. As I drive to Sunday River or ski down the slopes at Saddleback or Sugarloaf, I see long expanses of giant white wind turbines on previously pristine mountaintops. Ironically, the huge rotors are often not moving, but they are always not pretty - in my opinion.
For years environmentalist fought ski areas over putting one lift up to a summit for thousands of skiers and riders to enjoy. Now some of these same environmentalists support desecrating entire ridge lines with heavy-duty roadways and giant wind turbines towering 400 to 450-feet with wing spans greater than a 747. I do not get it. How do these big white erections pass as "green"?
Have you been to Rangeley or Big Rock in Maine lately, or seen the ski area turbines at Bolton Valley, Burke or Jiminy Peak? Sunsets in ski country used to be just you and alpen glow, the rising moon and stars, maybe an occasional groomer headlights sweeping the snow on the slopes. Now these monstrous turbines light up at night across entire mountain ranges which were previously dark and undeveloped.
There has been no meaningful reduction in fossil fuel use per unit ever documented with wind energy, according to Wind-Watch.org. I have heard that wind energy output is as much as four times more expensive than traditional energy. Additionally, the longevity of these expensive, expansive wind turbines is dubious. The ultimate irony is that when the wind blows too much, the turbines must be locked down or they will blow apart. If the wind does not blow quite enough, they are still and useless (and always unsightly).
Some ski resorts claim to run on wind energy, but that does not mean they provide their own self-sufficient power plant with their turbine. Since wind energy cannot be stored, and is only effective in optimum wind speeds, ski areas sell their surplus of kilowatts when and if the wind blows, and they buy their power from the grid with those wind credits. As for the jobs created by wind-energy, those are largely our tax dollars spent on government subsidized grants and employment, many are overseas jobs. I will not even begin to dissect the health concerns for folks living within the shadows of these huge blades, the noise and the flicker effect, check out wind turbine health concerns on youtube.
I am no scientist, just a skier with serious concerns. Ski lifts do impact the mountains, no doubt, trees are cut and I suppose wildlife is disrupted - although I have witnessed many critters and animal tracks while riding chairlifts. Ski lifts serve thousands of people, delivering them to a natural environment they might not otherwise visit, and I believe the majority of skiers and riders have a deep respect for their alpine environs. Ski resort operators work hard to be good stewards of their land.
As a skier, I am all for "green" energy, and I see the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, but I am not a fan of wind turbines as a long term energy solution. The only long term certainty of wind energy, in my opinion, is the permanent scar to our mountains.
Fellow skiers should educate themselves on wind energy, take a look at the output and the outcome, then take a look at the view next time you are outdoors on top of your favorite ski mountain.
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.