On a recent trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., I opted to take an Amtrak train instead of drive, despite the fact that the train mysteriously takes twice as long to cover the same distance. I am a huge fan of rail travel and have seen many parts of Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China and Japan through the window of a train. Sadly, the U.S. is far behind all of these places in terms of commuter rail infrastructure and seems to lack the political will to make the necessary investments in high speed rail
So, despite the inconvenience of a typical Amtrak experience (5:15 a.m. departure, long travel time), I rode the rails from Pittsburgh to D.C. — passing through some of the most scenic parts of southern Pennsylvania, West Virginia and western Maryland. With fall in full glory, there were some magical views of the sun rising over the Youghiogheny River, early morning mist wafting off the water and over the trees.
However, another sight soaring above the fall foliage caught my eye: the long white blades of wind turbines. As detailed in this compelling article by Jason Bailey about reinvesting in Appalachia
, wind energy represents a very real alternative to coal in this economically and environmentally degraded part of the country. With the potential to create more jobs than the coal industry currently provides, and transition the region from a destructive mining economy to a 21st century green economy, renewable energy needs to be part of a larger reinvestment in Appalachia's energy infrastructure.
Despite the potential for wind energy, as part of a diverse renewable energy portfolio including solar, geothermal, nuclear, hydro and others, to transform our economy, it's not without its opponents. Most recently there has been opposition to coastal wind farms in the Northeast, largely by those complaining about the aesthetic value of wind farms, noise created by turbines and perceived damages to property value.
Even if wind energy is not a perfect solution, and it's certainly not on its own, it becomes an issue of social and environmental justice when high income communities continue to block the development of wind farms, leaving the burden on economically depressed and politically marginalized communities in Appalachia to supply the nation's energy needs. I don't live under a wind turbine so I won't judge those who do, but personally I find the sight of wind turbines thrilling. And there's absolutely no doubt that I'd rather see a wind turbine out my window than an oil/gas rig or the utterly ruined fragments of a mountaintop
Photo: Chris Tittle