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Cape Wind Can Now Help America Start the Clean Energy Future

Frances Beinecke

Posted April 28, 2010 in Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming

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America took one giant step into the clean energy future today when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the Cape Wind offshore wind project. Finally, we can move forward with this critical tool for addressing climate change.

I spent every summer of my childhood on Cape Cod, digging for clams and collecting shells on Nauset Beach. My father still goes to there regularly, and the Cape means a great deal to my family.

When the Cape Wind project was proposed, I traveled to Denmark to see for myself what an offshore wind farm looks like.

One morning, we boarded a boat from the charming tourist town of Nysted.  As we left the marina, a light haze made it hard to see the 72 turbines from shore.  But when we drew closer, the white towers appeared in an arc of clean, gleaming lines. I was struck by the simple ingenuity of the project. From the quiet hum of those turbines, Denmark taps into a free and inexhaustible resource and generates enough electricity to supply 145,000 households. All while releasing zero global-warming pollutants.

After we returned to shore, we spoke with Nysted's mayor, Lennart Damsbo-Andersen. When the wind farm was first announced, residents were very concerned about what the turbines would do the town’s charm and livelihood. Now, the mayor told me, “We look back and wonder what we were so worried about.” Life goes on much as it did before the wind farm.

Denmark generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind—the highest proportion in the world. The Danes have figured out how to make wind power work and how to address issues if they arise.

My trip to Denmark was four years ago. In that time, not one offshore wind project has been approved in the United States until today. Meanwhile the temperature continues to climb, the Arctic continues to melt, and America continues to lag on clean energy.

Kudos to Secretary Salazar for taking this first critically important step into the cleaner energy future. Cape Wind experienced thorough environmental reviews, and every detail was examined. I am confident it will be a safe and successful project.

I will always return to the Cape, and now, when I look out on the seascapes I love so much, I will be pleased to catch sight of wind turbines. That is the view to the future.  

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Comments

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.May 2 2010 03:59 PM

Appearance might not seem so tolerable if these turn out to be un-maintained wrecks, rusting, and lying as hazards to navigation. This can of course be fixed with money. The towers will be removed for scrap metal, but the concrete foundations will require some funding to get cleared away. Projects in the sea are notably burdened with risk and maintenance requirements are commonly underestimated.

All that would be ok if we could see our way forward with a viable source of power. The problem is that this project is not going ahead as a viable economic project. It is only moving because of artificial injection of money, which is ok for getting things started, but there has to be a scaled up concept that could stand alone. Denmark puts on a good show of it, but it appears that there is a very high price that the electricity users will pay. Maybe the austere Danes will cut way back on their use of electricity and thus manage ok. Maybe we can do the same. Uh, well, lots of luck with getting America into austerity mode.

The biggest problem though is that wind does not always blow. Where-ever there is a wind power system there has to be also a back-up reserve capacity that can respond quickly. The first thing that comes to mind is a system of peaking natural gas plants standing by. Great, but cost in these as a part of the wind project cost. OF course, where wind failure is reasonably predictable, the gap will be filled from reserve coal fired capacity.

Stored energy would seem to be more attractive, so the next thing would be pumped hydro storage. I have suggested elsewhere that a more efficient form of hydro storage would be to find a hydro facility that is producing electricity and get them to agree to -not-do-that- when the wind systems were working, with the promise that the hydro power not produced would be replaced by the then functioning wind systems. This would be a 100% efficient storage system. It does require exercise of hydro facility gating capabilities, and in "run of the river" situations some holding basins and gating equipment would be needed. But oops, watch out for this one. If it works, why do we need inefficient peaking generators that use expensive natural gas? Hmm.

I wonder what the actual plan is for the Cape Cod system.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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