Make Your Case

Harnessing the Winds of Change

Why the U.S Federal Government Must Take Action in the Offshore Wind Debate

Everyone needs electricity. Well, unless you’re Amish. Still, for the 99.3% of Americans who use energy more than horses, the power behind that socket has to come from somewhere. By 2030, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects the American demand for electricity to grow steadily, with a 24% increase just for electricity to power air conditioning. Such demands will only continue to deplete the electricity-producing sources America currently relies on including foreign oil and coal. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that every electricity-generating resource must be put to work if America wants to even attempt to meet future energy demands. For this reason, the U.S. federal government should more aggressively support the construction of offshore wind farms along America’s coasts.

The term “more aggressively” applies to two actions: funding and execution. The first, funding, requires the federal government to continue to provide money for the development of offshore wind technology. This is especially important because much of the technology necessary to build farms along American shorelines, such as floating turbines to combat the ocean depths of the West Coast, have yet to be produced. The second action, execution, refers to the need for the federal government to guarantee the construction of viable offshore farms.

Currently, both areas demand improvement. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in 2008 renewable energy met 7% of the nation’s total energy demand, with wind power making up only 7% of that small figure. Such a number pales in comparison to the potential that has been proven to lie in American breezes. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with the proper development, wind power “could provide 20% of this nation’s energy needs.”

It’s not that the federal government isn’t aware of this. In fact, the NREL is an offshoot of the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Program, an organization that published the 2008 report “20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply.” Between its glossy covers, the report sets the goal of “[increasing] U.S. wind manufacturing capacity.” Developing offshore wind will play a key role in meeting this objective.

Perhaps Alla Weinstein says it best in this simple statement: “We need all the energy we can get.” Weinstein works as CEO of the Seattle-based green energy company Principle Power, which develops deep ocean wind turbine technology. Although her career may be based around this debate, Weinstein’s comments shouldn’t ring any less true, especially considering how much power offshore wind has been proven capable of generating once developed. It’s enough energy that the coast of Maine is known in the green energy community as “The Saudi Arabia of Wind”. It’s enough energy that the vast majority of the outstanding and superb areas of the DOE’s wind resource map appear along our country’s coasts. And it’s enough energy that in 2008 with only seven offshore wind farms Denmark produced 25% of all its energy needs.

In the scheme of electricity generation, America lags behind not just Denmark but most of Europe in realizing the potential that comes with harnessing the ocean breeze. Last year more wind power was installed in European Union countries than any other electricity generating technology, including gas and coal. Right now, not only does America lack a spot on that green energy gameboard, we don’t even have a piece to play with. In order to make up for this lost time and begin making our stand in a new energy market, companies like Principle Power need the full backing of the U.S. government. Since October, the DOE has provided offshore wind research more than $38 million (find the two related press releases here: #1 and #2). However, this recent surge in funding is a deceptive sign of involvement. The Cape Wind project of Massachusetts, for example, reveals how lethargic the government has truly been in creating a working wind market.

As has often been the case with Cape Wind, which the Wall Street Journal describes as the “unwitting poster child for the hurdles facing alternative-energy projects in the U.S”, cost arguments often hinder progress. It’s no secret that developing offshore wind will take money. Even Parks of Principle Power admits the high price tag:

“Offshore wind is an emerging technology so it’s going to be more expensive,” she said. “Onshore wind has already gone through this ‘learning curve.’”

One project along the Oregon coast offers an example of this difference. Off Tillamook County, Principle Power plans to develop a 40-turbine farm, a project the Oregonian reports could total $450 million. (This figure is “close enough” to current projections, Tillamook People’s Utility District (PUD) General Manager Patrick Ashby said via e-mail.) Comparatively, the first phase of the Columbia River Gorge Biglow Canyon, a 76-turbine onshore farm, cost between $255 and $265 million to construct. Both projects plan to produce a similar amount of electricity.

Such price differences should not sway the U.S. government’s involvement in the development of offshore wind. Rather, they should inspire more aid. As the Wall Street Journal detailed in a December 2008 article, for “offshore wind to become a realistic part of the energy mix” the government must develop offshore and deepwater equipment”. Thus, only by providing funding to expand the offshore wind market in America can this area of green energy ever hope to grow, and in light of this country’s growing energy crisis there can be no question that more resources must be made available.

At the crest of the offshore wind energy wave surf companies like Principle Power, which continues to seek private donors for the development of its offshore products. These organizations, however, cannot be expected to break the trail alone. The U.S. government must make it a priority to fund research and, once that research bears fruit, to make sure it doesn’t rot on the vine as Cape Wind has for the past eight years. Unless the average citizen plans to start burning candles and lighting lanterns, all power resources, especially those that can prove as fruitful as offshore wind, must be developed. In the end, we as Americans cannot wait for the winds of change to blow our way.


One Response to “Make Your Case”

  1. larissaf Says:

    Beth Kramer’s post argues that the federal governments needs to be more aggressive in supporting the construction of offshore wind farms along American coasts by providing more funding for developing them and by guaranteeing their construction. Kramer shows evidence that the government is not taking full advantage of offshore wind farms by using studies from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Judging by the use of mainly institutional sources, Kramer seems to address a narrower group of people interested in the specific topic of offshore wind farms. Her post is persuasive by providing solid evidence and specific statistics; however contains so many sources and information that it is slightly confusing and to follow.

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