Scenic high-tension power lines

In one of the neighboring towns I found placards lining the road, begging us to spare their scenic neighborhood from the _______ Power Plant.

Curious, I googled it to discover someone wanted to take some unused farm acreage and fill it with solar panels. You read that correctly: people were objecting not to a coal-burning power plant that would dwarf the skies and belch filth into the air, nor to a nuclear plant that would render us all radioactive one night while the security guard was texting “Its 2 boring here  what r u doing l8r?”

No. Solar panels.

You want to know the irony? Half a mile down the road are power lines, the big kind of power lines that march for miles on end, ninety feet high with the trees clear-cut on either side.


But this leads me to a question, and I was wondering if anyone could answer.

We already have long swaths of clear-cut land beneath our power lines. It would be easy to set up miles upon miles of solar panels beneath those power lines and hook them right into the power grid. Why aren’t we doing that?

Those long swaths of clear-cut land beneath our power lines? Those places where no one will build because they’re ugly and high-tension power lines might cause illness due to their electrical fields? Why don’t we put wind farms under them?

Since most people claim that solar panels and windmills are eyesores that will disrupt the beauty of their neighborhoods, why not stick them in a place that’s already ugly?

Why not go to those coal-burning plants that tower up into the sky and belch out black smoke and line the south sides with solar panels?

It seems to me we have the locations to do these things. Why fight to put renewable power sources in new places when the power companies already use land for the power lines?

Basically, sun and wind don’t occur just in beautiful places.

So don’t stop that solar farm from going live. But hey, why not put another one just up the road, under the scenic and beautiful electric lines?


  1. beonin

    I like this idea, a lot. There are all kinds of places that would be good candidates for renewable energy plants that aren’t scenic.

    Although, I find wind farms strangely beautiful.

    1. philangelus

      I think wind farms are awesome too, but a few years ago I remember an uproar at Cape Cod because they would ugilfy the coast or something like that. **eyeroll**

  2. Kate

    I would like it if good environmental impact research was done for wind farms, because they can be hazardous to migratory birds and insects if you don’t pay attention to migratory patterns. But I think you have a good solution to the NIMBY issue. 🙂

    1. philangelus

      Oh, that’s a really good point! I know there are some species that now only exist under power lines because those places are pretty much undisturbed. Everywhere else we’ve put up houses in their habitats. 🙁 It would be a shame to harm those species further.

  3. xallanthia

    In addition to the problems wind farms can cause for migratory birds (and bats), they’re also loud. Really loud. But the main issue with putting wind farms in conjunction with high voltage power lines is that modern commercial wind turbines are big. They’re *really* big. The blades on those towers are at least 70 ft long. They wouldn’t fit!

    But to also address the issue of solar power, which is a much better thought even if I still don’t think it would work. Power line right-of-ways do more than simply keep land clear so that vegetation doesn’t interfere with the lines. They are also important for maintenance. Power companies need access to those lines to fix problems. Most of the time this can be done with a normal truck, but not always. Enough land needs to stay clear for the maintenance to continue.

    Additionally, while they aren’t pretty, power line right-of-ways do provide edge habitat, because they generally provide a transition zone between the forest and the “field” (area under the line). One could make the argument that uninterrupted forest is preferable, and indeed it probably is, but edge habitat is very valueable because a lot of organisms thrive on the edge, feeding in the field and living in the shelter of the trees. Installing solar panels under the lines would remove that edge habitat.

    The solar panels would also require more maintenance. And, instead of a grass (or rock) area visible on those mountains, you’d have big glittery areas. Prettier or not as pretty? People are not likely to agree on that.

    Solar cells on the sides of power plant towers are unlikely to work for the same maintenance-related reasons. Additionally, while a power plant is regulated in regards to how much particulate can leave its land area, they can be quite grimy close-up, and that grime would settle on the solar panels and reduce their efficiency.

    Solar panels on the roofs of buildings are a great start, and I’ve recently heard the price is going down, which means hopefully more people will be able to afford to put them on their roofs, as well as businesses. Still, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that even a solar farm is subject to NIMBY, because NIMBY never made sense to me anyway. Either an idea is good or bad; either a plant should or should not be built. If I wouldn’t be happy about a nuclear plant going up 10 miles from my house, I shouldn’t be happy about it going up 10 miles from someone else’s house either.

    1. philangelus

      Thank you! You brought up a lot of legitimate concerns, and I have to say again that one thing I love about blogging is that readers are so good about pointing out when I’ve missed the mark. 🙂 (No sarcasm. That’s how we learn.)

      The turbines I’ve seen before are a lot shorter than a 70 foot radius! I had no idea they came that big — those must be hugely powerful. I was thinking more like having twenty of the smaller ones, ones that would fit beneath the power lines. That alone would invalidate the whole plan. So: nice idea other than the fact that it’s impossible to implement. 😉

      I’d heard the edge habitat thing before, especially in conjunction with some species that seem now to only live under power lines because people leave them alone there. I imagine there would be a way to work around, that, though. for one thing, the panels don’t have to be right on the ground, and they don’t have to be end-to-end the entire length of the line. Maintenance would be a problem, though. The crews need access to both the panels and the towers.

      NIMBY doesn’t make sense, but I guess people get very emotional about things that disrupt their personal life. Right now I have a gorgeous view out my back window because it’s all conservation land and flood abatement land for the river. If someone wanted to build five cell phone towers and put up a wind turbine, I might initially react by being upset. The question is moving beyond that initial reaction to an actual analysis of the problem and coming up with a logical response. I suspect when it’s people’s homes and their fear of losing property value, that’s very hard to do.

      But speaking of logical responses, thank you so much for breaking it down for me! I really appreciate the time you took. 🙂

      1. xallanthia

        70ft is actually the small end of the size range I found. In fact, when I read that part of your post, I thought, “those things are big and I doubt they would fit, but I should check before I say so.” Then I found the numbers. Have you ever been next to one, or even close enough to hear it? They’re a lot bigger than they look. I was astonished at the size when I drove very close to one, crossing the mountains in West Virginia. Even small turbines intended for home use (I found some googling) would have trouble because of the trees and the power lines–all these things cause wind turbulence which decreases tower functionality.

        For solar panels, even mounted off the ground they would significantly alter the habitat in their shade, probably such that a lot of the food species generally found in field habitats would no longer be prsent.

  4. Monica

    Smart idea!

  5. Marie

    I’m sending you a picture I took of some modern turbines. They’re beautiful and fascinating to watch.

    People may worry about the electromagnetic radiation but that was debunked as a cause of leukemia as can be done only with government-controlled health care. The British government turned over the health records, names, and address of every child diagnosed with leukemia in the country over a certain time period to the researchers. The researchers measured the level of electromagnetic radiation in the bedroom the child had been using when diagnosed. Then they found a matched control – they matched for gender, child’s age, parents’ ages, social class, income, educational background – everything you could think of. Then they measured the electromagnetic radiation in the control’s bedroom. The kids with leukemia had NOT been exposed to more radiation.

    My husband found the original journal article and we read it while we were house hunting in 1999, and the above summary was from memory, but I’m positive about the conclusion because we continued to consider the house. We ruled it out eventually because it had a longer commute and the back door was unusable until you added a deck. (They had nailed doors over the lower portion of the sliding glass door to keep anyone from falling 10′.)

  6. Cherilyn Michener Reno

    I live two houses over from high-tension lines–the low brush growing there does indeed provide lots of cover for deer, raccoons, rabbits and the like. Also in parts of our town (including on our road) there are hiking and equestrian trails running beneath the power lines, so the clearance area provides recreational facilities as well.