Windmills aren't ugly (or expensive). Pollution is. Fortunately, the priorities of the Danish government in this area are spot on.

by Tim Anderson (

I've always found it odd and annoying that whenever the mainstream western media cares to comment on clean, renewable, environmentally friendly energy sources, they often feel obliged to balance the story by making up a side of the story that basically doesn't exist.

Take windmills.

Windmills are 'green'. If civilisation still exists in a few hundred years, or few thousand years, I'm convinced windmills will still be spinning on the horizon, somewhere. Probably in vast numbers.

When mainstream media 'debates' the merits of windmills as an alternative energy source, the issue of 'ugliness' (of windmills and windmill farms spoiling the landscape) tends to appear as part of the 'downside' analysis, often coupled with a quote from someone like 'Farmer Bob' saying something like, 'windmills destroy the natural landscape so I don't like 'em!'

The problem when this occurs is not 'Farmer Bob's' view, which may or may not be real. The problem is the media actually bothering to print it. If you want an example, here's a typical one.

That fact that
pollution is ugly kind of neuters this argument. You see, never ever in the history of mankind has there been invented, much less seen, a conventional powerplant of any kind that was especially beautiful - try as the French do to draw nice pictures on the side of their nuclear generators.

you gotta love the French for trying...

this power plant in Norway (that I recently drove by) is
perhaps about as close to beautiful as is possible...

This means that debate over the potential 'ugliness' of windmills (miring the landscape) is a non-debate. It is contrived. It exists purely to provide (false) editorial balance.

On the other hand,
cost is a real issue. Simply put, windpower remains a more expensive alternative to conventional power sources. It is getting cheaper, of course. Therefore, it takes a certain amount of political willpower to push on with it as a national project while it remains, in relative terms, financially costly.

As The Copenhagen Post noted recently, Danish government policy does a good job stimulating the production of wind power by guaranteeing the rate at which it will buy power from windmill owners. This is costly, but windmills continue to spring up all over Denmark, so it seems to be having it's effect - there are currently some 5400 of them across the country, apparently, providing just under 20% of the country's power. Not bad at all.

This is an example of government policy at it's best, and the Danish government (who I have been known to criticise) deserve full credit for it. Intervention in an area where the economic cost remain hard to pin down (higher cost of energy dragging down the economy vs. an increasingly dirty and polluted country - whatever the precise economic costs of this pollution).

You see, whatever the financial or economic costs, common sense shouts the answer loud and clear. More windmills, please!

Just imagine if governments of the various developing economies of the world simply insisted on focussing on green, renewable energy sources and perhaps even chose not to develop any faster than they could implement them.

Unfortunately, unlike when I write something on my little blog, space in newspapers is limited, so the article from The Copenhagen Post failed to get to the more important outcome of this policy - namely stimulating research and development which is what really reduces the cost of windmill energy generation.

Denmark is a world leader in windmill technology, lead by Vestas, so it's smart policy of the Danish government, and a good lesson for other governments - particularly of small countries.

It's still not easy for your typical economist to account for environmental costs in a meaningful analysis thanks to decades of overfocus on outdated neoclassical economic thinking, which is still by in large overrepresented by the mainstream media and most MBA classes - and which should more meaningfully be called 'tunnel vision'. Still many economists are fully aware of the issue and try to account for it (as a mainstream publication, The Economist, is one of the best).

Fortunately, common sense is typically capable of fast-forwarding to a sensible and meaningful conclusion, even if the details of the analysis remain sketchy (cue the economic researchers).

So kudos to the Danish government for having the courage to subsidise producers of windpower. Let's hope more countries follow suit.

2 Response to "Windmills aren't ugly (or expensive). Pollution is. Fortunately, the priorities of the Danish government in this area are spot on."

  1. Matea says:

    many many similar things happening in the world... for example, in Slovenia, here is this debate going on lately 'pro et contra' windmills. of course there is the nuclear power in question if country/government decides to 'close this deal'. but not likely to happen as 'experts' came up with this brilliant excuse that many kinds of birds that are not used to windmills in the area are going to entangle into it... sure, rather say that birds are stupid than state the real reason. in the meanwhile, 2nd nuclear reactor is about to begin building...

    Anonymous says:

    there's a really cool article about the danish island of samsø in this month's Oustise magazine. Apparently, its the most carbon-negative settlement of its size on earth. its pretty interesting.

    med venlig hilsen,

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