The Washington Post reports on a proposal under consideration in Delaware to construct an offshore wind energy farm with 200 huge turbines. This is not the first such proposal for setting up wind generating facilities in America's coastal waters - after all, steady and reliable winds are a critical requirement of this form of alternative energy production - but none have yet been permitted here. Apparently the debate in Delaware is not over the need for more electricity production but whether new fossil fuel plants or wind farms should be providing it. The Post quotes Peter Mandelstam, the President of Bluewater Wind, the New Jersey company proposing the project, as emphasizing the environmental benefits of this technology:
"A third of Delaware will be underwater by 2100," Mandelstam said, citing University of Delaware research. "And we take that very seriously."
Which might, one supposes, be an argument for locating them closer to the existing shoreline, rather than at one of the two locations under consideration farther out to sea. All kidding aside, there are environmental consequences of wind farms which place conservationists in a particularly uncomfortable bind when it comes to supporting alternative energy projects like this. On the one hand, we know how important it is to wean ourselves from fossil fuel to meet our energy requirements and reduce the anthropogenic factors influencing global climate change. On the other hand, we have difficulty embracing specific projects because some of their localized impacts have regional and even global consequences.
I am not going to get into the aesthetic argument, except to say that from my perspective this is the weakest objection that opponents of wind farms raise and it sets them up for NIMBY accusations. Some conservation groups favor developing siting criteria with the energy producers that would identify resources of conservation importance and areas with reliable and economically viable wind generating potential and avoid the intersection of these two interests. In reality, the places with the best winds have plenty of resources of conservation interest, especially flyways for migrating birds. The concerns about fisheries impacts have been, in my opinion, less convincingly argued, but birds and turbines are a bad mix.
Delaware Audubon society representatives have said at an energy conservation and alternative energy forum last winter that they believe the turbines could be sited and developed in a way that minimizes the threat they pose to birds:
"Shore birds such as red knots are already endangered, Delaware Audubon Society President Mark Martell said. Still, he and Dover resident Ron Zink of the Delaware Sierra Club said pollution offers a greater threat to birds and the rest of the environment."
The developer has agreed to relocate a potential site from Delaware Bay to one of the two offshore sites because of concerns about birds.
The Oakland Tribune reports that in 15 years, new wind farms could generate up to 7 percent of US electricity. There are real costs and benefits at multiple scales to consider, but someone has to make a commitment move on renewable energy production and with good monitoring and stakeholder engagement, this proposal may be the one that gets us heading in the right direction. If approved, the wind farm could come on line as early as 2012.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds