TCS Daily


'We Know Where You Live'

By Herbert Inhaber - October 24, 2002 12:00 AM

The supposed coming age of renewable energy is often held up as a peaceful kingdom where the energy lion will lie down with the environment lamb. Gone - or at least severely reduced in size and influence - will be those nasty and gargantuan oil companies, with their tentacles extended across the globe. Those nuclear reactors, spewing who knows what, will be banished from the landscape. No more disturbing the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine places. Caribou and other gentle creatures will be able to frolic without a worry.

Instead, everyone will be able to disconnect from the electrical grid, making himself a sturdy individualist. Amory Lovins, the guru of alternative energy sources, has often described himself as a Jeffersonian, implying he models himself after the rugged farmers of the 18th century. (Jefferson was a far-seeing man, but I doubt that he could imagine the billions of dollars of energy subsidies that Lovins and other environmentalists advocate.)

British Wind Energy Association
I was reminded of the promise of a kinder, gentler energy age after seeing a recent news story about the British Wind Energy Association. The Association gave a slide presentation on its plans for British wind energy, and posted the slides on the Internet (see slide 25 of 38). Big mistake.

You might thhink that the group is a bunch of eccentrics, testing wind turbines in their backyard. Not so. It is made up of large energy companies, eager for the gigantic subsidies that the British government will hand out when the turbines are completed. It seems all the dabblers in wind - the Jeffersonians bringing about the peaceable kingdom - have been banished to the back row.

The turbines themselves are as immense as the subsidies. Recent news stories for a proposed turbine farm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, spoke about 40-story windmills in long rows. British wind farms will be similar.

All of this sets off a conflict with the British love of their green countryside. Some Britons and Scots might not mind towering windmills peppering the landscape, but many others object vociferously. What tools do they use to complain? They don't have the vast resources that the energy companies have. So they are reduced to writing letters to the hundreds of British newspapers. This is an ancient and legitimate form of protest.

Now enter the British Wind Energy Association. They have the resources to go through all of these tiny newspapers, and they found that 25% of the all the letters complaining about the turbines came from the same 16 people. Nothing wrong with pointing this out. But then came the shocker. One of their slides listed the names of seven letter writers and, in bold letters, stated "We Know Where You Live - You Gave Your Address at the Bottom of Your Letters."

Now if this isn't intimidation, I don't know what is. The BWEA may not plan to firebomb the houses of the British Seven, but the implication is that they could perpetrate some dastardly deed on them if they so chose.

All of this brought to mind something that happened to Ralph Nader years ago. He was propelled from being an obscure Connecticut lawyer to an expert on everything from nuclear power to food because General Motors, whose Corvair he had been suing, decided to have a private detective tail him. When Nader brought this to the attention of Congress, he was portrayed as a victim of the largest corporation in the world, although the detective never found out anything about Nader.

If the British Seven continue to write letters and speak up at planning board meetings, who knows? Perhaps they will be mysteriously reduced to the British Six or Five. I wonder if those who continue to protest large energy companies will ever shed a tear for the British Seven as they did for Ralph Nader? I suppose that's asking too much.
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