There has been a lot of discussion recently over a possible wind farm here in Montgomery County, and how it relates to property rights or even government-dictated land use zoning. Residents close to the proposed wind turbine towers are concerned about the health effects, disrupted rural landscape, and what it will do to their property values. The pro-zoning crowd is suggesting county-wide zoning would have somehow stopped the wind turbines from coming or preventing their harm.
Former county councilman Aaron Morgan and Mayor Todd Barton each recently wrote a newspaper column about it. And both of them did bring up a relevant point: If you are going to defend the property rights and freedom of the individual, you must acknowledge that a property owner has the right to use his property however he sees fit … (as long as the property owner isn’t preventing someone else from doing the same or causing harm to someone else in the process). But the error both Morgan and Barton made was failing to mention that second part, the do-no-harm clause, which is a pre-requisite for exercising any freedom.
A landowner has the right to install a wind turbine or anything else on his property, but he has the responsibility to make sure it won’t harm his neighbors. For example, scientific studies are now coming out claiming low-frequency noise from wind turbines can make people sick (sleep disorders, headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate). If that turns out to be true, the landowner should be forced to take steps to prevent harming his neighbors, perhaps by increasing the setback of the towers from the closest property line or by installing noise-cancelling technology.
But let’s not pretend that land-use zoning will somehow prevented wind turbines from coming or doing harm. That claim by Mayor Barton and some of our county commissioners is clearly ridiculous. As Will and Darcy Crook pointed out in their letter to the editor on July 1, there are five counties in Indiana with large wind farms (Benton, Randolph, White, Tipton, Madison) and all of them already had county-wide zoning. It should also be mentioned that former Tipton County Commissioner Jane Harper, who originally voted for the wind farm in her county, now regrets that decision, has publicly acknowledged the harm it has done, and has since been warning other counties not to repeat the same mistake.
But taking a step back from this current debate, there’s another point to be made, and that is with the government subsidies to install wind turbines. Because we all are forced to pay taxes, we are forced to pay for these wind power subsidies. And that’s the point. In a free society no energy source should receive any taxpayer subsidy. Each power source — be it coal, oil, natural gas, ethanol, nuclear, solar, wind — should have to compete on its own merits on being able to provide the best product (reliable electrical power) for the lowest price for the least harm to people or to the environment.
All power sources tend to produce pollution of some kind, including solar and wind, and no source of energy should be allowed to harm anyone or damage anyone’s property. Coal, oil, and nuclear are typically criticized the most in that regard. But let’s not forget that fabricating solar cells produces some nasty by-products. And wind energy produces possible health problems to those living close by, endangers wildlife such as bats, and consumes a large amount of energy just to fabricate, transport, and install those giant wind turbines and towers.
No energy source has clean hands and none is truly 100-percent “green.” The government’s only role here is to uphold property rights but to intercede if a property owner is doing harm to his neighbors. With that guarantee in place, it is the free market and ingenuity that will determine which energy source (or combination thereof) will best serve our society.