More Fear Sown By Opponents to Clean Energy

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About a year ago, while consulting with Traverse City Light and Power on the utility’s plan to generate 30 percent of its energy from renewable resources, I recognized the surprising and damaging trend developing within grassroots environmental groups to sow fear and block clean and renewable energy projects.

That trend is growing bigger. Opponents to a big Duke Energy proposal to build the 112-turbine Gail Windpower installation in Benzie and Manistee counties here, many of whom view themselves as grassroots environmentalists, deployed a polemical film and junk science to scare people.

Late last month, my friend and former colleague at the New York Times, Felicity Barringer, reported that opponents to wireless smart meters, used to improve energy efficiency, are fighting a plan to install the devices, accusing them of causing cancer. Electromagnetic radiation from the meters, say critics, can injure living tissue, though multiple studies have failed to conclusively link such radiation to human disease. Sitting in front of the television years on end, for example, can certainly produce pyschic and bodily harm. But it won’t be from the electromagnetic radiation produced by the appliance.

That won’t mollify opponents, of course, who advance the “be safe rather than sorry” view of risk management, regardless of what the science says, especially if they ideologically oppose new technology. I’ve interviewed activists charged up about the purported risks of electromagnetic radiation. A few talked to me from their cellphones.

You recall, if you read this blog, that fraud science was also used in the struggle over a wood biomass gasification plant in Traverse City. Instead of embracing a utility proposal to build a state-of-the-art energy plant, a clean renewable proposal that would provide 10 mw of electricity and replace an equal measure of dirty coal-fired power, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council fought the plan. The Traverse City-based group, using a couple of hectoring regional residents and some out-of-state activists touting rubbish science, built a fear-based campaign that accused the utility of proposing an industrial monster. The high-tech plant, about as big as a bakery, was said by opponents to be a grave risk to public health, would slaughter the forests, and disturb the peace. The region’s two major news publications and broadcast media embraced the activist message and the plan died in June.

At the time I noted that the bitter language and hyperbolic authoritarian tone of the Traverse City greens, some of whom I’d worked with for years, sounded a lot to me like the language of the local Tea Party. Felicity reports the same phenomenon is occurring in northern California, where greens are trumping up charges of health consequences over the use of smart devices that Tea Party activists view as a threat to privacy.

You wonder how the United States can progress when so many people share the same nervous view of the future?

— Keith Schneider

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