Baggage, belonging to evacuees from the assembly center at Puyallup, Washington, is sorted and trucked to owners in their barracks. Photograph: Francis Stewart/National Archives

Proposed Wind Energy Site Stirs Bitter Memories For Japanese Americans

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Those of you who follow CleanTechnica regularly are aware of the pushback from various special interest groups over where wind and solar energy installations should be sited. Rex Tillerson, former US secretary of state and former CEO of ExxonMobil, once sued to prevent wind turbines from being installed on a distant mountain ridge where they could be seen from the back porch of his palatial home.

More recently, extreme right wing groups — who bleat about freedom all the time — are objecting to solar panels being installed on farmland because they don’t conform to their idea of what a farm should look out. The fact that farmers can actually earn some reliable income from those panels cuts no ice with the objectors.

Another big clash over wind and solar is local versus state or federal control over siting. Lots of local communities are annoyed that states and the federal government are riding into town, dictating where those renewable energy facilities should go, and then riding out again to tell other local communities their silly objections have been overruled.

We confess that CleanTechnica has often sided with those state and federal authorities. Getting wind and solar power facilities built and online as soon as possible is absolutely essential if the world has any hope of avoiding overheating to the point where humans will struggle to survive. Is there any situation where we might see things differently?

Image credit: Stan Honda, National Park Service

Lava Ridge is a parcel of public land under the control of the federal Bureau of Land Management located about 2 miles from the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho, where some 13,000 Japanese Americans were held prisoner during World War II. The proposal put forth by Magic Valley Energy, a subsidiary of the New York-based LS Power, would install up to 400 wind turbines 740 feet tall within sight of Minidoka. The wind farm would cover 197,474 acres and produce up to 1000 MW of renewable electricity. America needs that renewable electricity, so what’s the problem?

Opponents say they are not opposed to the Lava Ridge project, but question whether the BLM, which manages 10 million acres of public land in Idaho alone, couldn’t build the wind farm somewhere else. 400 wind turbines on the horizon would irrevocably change the sacred, austere nature of the former camp, they say.

To understand their concern means taking a journey back in time to when Minidoka was filled with internees. Multiple survivors and their supporters say the turbines would destroy the feeling of desolation that is integral to how they remember the internment period.

“Minidoka is a memorial to all those who suffered at the site,” Robyn Achilles, executive director for Friends of Minidoka, tells The Guardian. “Survivors and their descendants make emotional pilgrimages to Minidoka where they remember, heal, and share stories to ensure these violations of civil liberties do not happen again. Minidoka is our past and our future.”

“Minidoka is one of the few federally recognized sites of Asian American history in the United States and it is essential that it be protected as a place for learning and healing for future generations. The proposed wind farm would gravely jeopardize the views and solemn nature of the site,” said Naomi Ostwald Kawamura, executive director of Densho, a nonprofit focused on preserving such historical sites. Consider a similar project being proposed near 9/11’s Ground Zero or Arlington Cemetery, Kawamura said. “It would be unthinkable to desecrate them with a project and size and scope of Lava Ridge.”

Mary Abo and her family were among those held at Minidoka. She and her elder sister, Alice, waited 50 years before revisiting because the memories were just too painful, but when they eventually did, the experience was empowering. “It’s good to see we weren’t broken people,” says Abo, now 82. “So it was good to go and feel how it was and to know we survived.”

When her family was released from Minidoka, she says “We lived in two worlds — my home world where it was okay to be Japanese because everybody was Japanese and then the world which was white, where I went to school. I always felt I didn’t really feel American, because I didn’t look American, as portrayed in the books. And the history books never talked about the incarceration. It just talked about the bombing [at Pearl Harbor].”

Experts say the trauma of incarceration is passed down from generation to generation. When the families left the camps, they returned to find their homes and businesses gone. Some say they were looked at with even more disdain by white neighbors.

Alternatives To The Lava Ridge Wind Farm

Lava Ridge wind farm. Image credit:

Magic Valley Energy says Lava Ridge is the best place to build this proposed wind farm for two reasons — the wind speeds are consistent and there are opportunities to connect to the electrical grid nearby. It has indicated it could reduce the number of turbines to help mollify opponents. Amy Schutte, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement: “The BLM-preferred alternatives show how the public process can lead to a compromise all sides can appreciate.”

Paul Tomita, who was interned at Minidoka at age 4, scoffed at that idea. “What happened to us — we can’t move that site. That’s where it happened,” he told The Guardian. “The windmill, they could move it anywhere.”

In March, the lower chamber of the Idaho state legislature unanimously passed a resolution condemning Lava Ridge, saying much of the energy would be sold out of state. Legislators also claimed it would produce no more than 20 full time jobs. Those are the typical lame excuses we expect from people who object to wind and solar developments on purely political grounds. Idaho gets $1.69 in federal dollars for every dollar its citizens contribute in federal taxes, yet its citizens routinely engage in virulent anti-government fulminations.

The Takeaway

There are lots of reasons why local concerns should not be allowed to impede wind and solar developments that are so critical to the US meeting its carbon reduction goals, but if there was ever a valid reason not to build a wind farm on public lands, the history of Minidoka must surely qualify as one.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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