Opinion/Guest View: Preservation Society lawsuit over wind turbines is misguided

Darrell Brown

Newport Daily News

December 29, 2023

The Preservation Society of Newport County, alarmed at the prospect of seeing wind turbines on the ocean horizon, filed suit in federal court last month demanding a halt to two ambitious and necessary clean energy projects.

Preservation Society lawyers released renderings showing what the turbines in the projected Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind projects might look like from the former palaces of the Astors, Morgans and Vanderbilts. They are barely visible – tiny white twigs miles away across the water from the Newport Mansions.

The 704-megawatt Revolution Wind project – 15 miles from Newport – would power more than 350,000 homes in Rhode Island and Connecticut. South Fork Wind – 20 miles from the mansions – would generate enough renewable energy to power approximately 70,000 Long Island homes.

However, in their court filing, Preservation Society officials made it clear why the turbines must not be built: They will, Society leaders said, “despoil” and “industrialize” views from the mansions.

A little context here: More than six million Americans live within three miles of an oil or gas refinery. They are more likely to have higher rates of bladder, lung, breast, colon and prostate cancers. These families have higher rates of lymphoma, a higher rate of terminated pregnancies and an increased risk of heart disease. Children living close to a fossil fuel refinery are exposed to higher rates of chemicals and emissions that cause asthma, respiratory problems, itchy throats, and irritated eyes. They are more likely than other children to suffer brain damage from lead exposure. Refineries are also extremely loud, smell terrible and plague neighborhoods with smog, oil spills, toxins in water, train derailments, fires, explosions, and constant vehicle traffic. The Environmental Integrity Project estimates that 81 refineries in the U.S. release about 1.6 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into abutting waterways, including chlorides, sulfates, dissolved solids, selenium and nitrogen. Study after study have shown that residents living near refineries area far more likely to be Black, Brown or low income.

Beyond the cancer, shortened life spans and miserable living conditions for those who must live beside refineries and wells, fossil fuels are also damaging all of us with massive wildfires, devastating storms, rising seas, floods, drought and high heat. The answer is to turn off the spigot and move away from oil and gas now, before even more damage is done, and the best way to do that is with clean energy – most effectively, energy provided by offshore wind.

Unfortunately, up and down the East Coast, offshore wind is threatened by lawsuits and political delays stemming both from misinformed concerns for wildlife and from wealthy waterfront property owners who don’t want to see those thin spinning sticks miles away at the edge of the ocean.

Here in Rhode Island, those who live in communities abutting industrial facilities suffer direct harmful health impacts from pollution. The proposed windmills would be miles offshore with powerlines buried deep underground, so the health impacts are non-existent. The wealthy are not more deserving to be free of toxins and pollution, but that’s exactly what they’re claiming in this lawsuit because blocking offshore wind will sentence other communities to years of pollution.

When Revolution Wind and South Fork are built and you see them from the shoreline – if you can see them, because, let’s face it, they will be barely visible – take pride in that view. By providing our country with clean, renewable energy, those tiny lines on the far horizon mean thousands of families won’t face the sickness and shortened lives that are required to produce fossil fuel energy.

Darrell Brown is Conservation Law Foundation vice-president, Rhode Island