Monday, April 16, 2012

Off-Shore wind farms, Climate change, and the Great Lakes


The revival of off-shore wind farms for five states, including New York State, with President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ approach on energy is likely to stir up fear and trepidation for those who had fought against the New York State Power Authority’s Great Lakes Off-Shore Wind Project (GLOW)—but it shouldn’t. However one might dislike the issues that come with wind power, they pale to the serious threats from Climate Change that are now looming over the Great Lakes.

Actually, the president is offering several domestic energy options as he attempts to protect and preserve our energy security from those nations who have held us hostage over our fossil fuel addiction. We must applaud him for that. But there is no talk about energy and Climate Change in the president’s approach, which is like talking about yin without yang. Good grief, it’s our use of energy that has got us into this Climate Change problem in the first place.

Because using ‘Climate Change’ is too politically toxic, President Obama only mentions energy security and jobs in his latest energy plan. It’s a lost opportunity for our nation’s leader to explain why renewable energy, like off-shore wind--is important as our planet warms up. So, we end up with this energy mix: oil, natural gas, nuclear, fuel efficiency, wind, and solar.

Among these choices, it is wind power that seems most intractable for New York State. It tends to get defeated even as Fracking looms over the state. But fortunately, we have off-shore wind power as an option once again.

Obama Administration and Great Lakes States Announce Agreement to Spur Development of Offshore Wind Projects Multi-state, multi-agency Memorandum of Understanding enhances coordination and speeds review of potential projects | Washington, D.C. – Ten Federal agencies joined with five Great Lakes states to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will streamline the efficient and responsible development of offshore wind resources in the Great Lakes.” (March 30, 2012) Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yet, for all the exuberance over President’s Obama’s new initiative for off-shore wind, it’s going to be a hard sell in New York State. It’s a not-in-my-back-yard or NIMBY issue down to the bones. The GLOW project was shot down and killed only a year ago.

“Today, New York's plan for offshore wind in the Great Lakes arrived at its final chapter. The New York Power Authority has officially closed a plan to site turbines offshore in Lake Erie or in Lake Ontario. That's right, GLOW has gone out. "Community acceptance" The Great Lakes Offshore Wind project had been at the heart of many rowdy town hall meetings in Western New York since it was proposed in the spring of 2009. Some environmentalists supported the plan. Others said it would wreak environmental havoc. But whatever the reasons, many lakefront communities passed resolutions condemning the project.”(September 27, 2011) NYPA: Great Lakes offshore wind is dead | Innovation Trail

I’ve been at meetings where wind power has been blamed for noise on such a catastrophic level that would make one go mad, or the flicker effect from the sun bouncing off the blades that would also make one go mad. Wind turbines kill birds and bats. One person ranting in my ear said that wind turbines have been known to crack house foundations. And, there’s the argument that building off-shore will kick up some nasty stuff that industries left behind years ago.

“Opponents of the project say wind turbines could obstruct views of the lake, and that construction of the turbines could kick up chemical-laden sediment left over from the lakes’ industrial age.”(April 12, 2011) Great Lake towns still waiting for GLOW | Innovation Trail

This last argument is interesting given the changes that are coming to the Great Lakes because of Climate Change. You have to put kicking up chemical-laden sediments on the bottom of the Great Lakes in perspective. Whatever disturbances might come from making way for wind turbines will be nothing compared to having to dredge up the waterways for shipping because of predicted lower water levels in the Great Lakes. Arguing over sediment disruption due to installing off-shore wind is penny wise and pound foolish.

As for the other arguments, let’s tick them off. Noise and bats don’t count with off-shore wind because the turbines will be too far out in the water to hear them and bats don’t fly far out over the lakes for bugs. The distance over water point will also solve the flicker effect and as for house foundations, I’m sure an earthquake set off by Fracking is more likely to crack those.

Birds are another issue. Wind Turbines do kill birds, especially in migratory routes. But there are solutions. Just ask the Audubon Society:

New Federal Guidelines a Step Forward for Bird-Friendly Wind Development On Friday, March 23, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe released unprecedented federal wind guidelines intended to improve siting of wind development across the country and reduce impacts on birds and other wildlife. The guidelines were developed with the assistance of a 22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee which included experts from the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon, and Bat Conservation International. The committee, created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in 2009, worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend guidelines to avoid or minimize impacts to birds and their habitats by land-based wind energy facilities. (April 12, 2012) National Audubon Society

As we reconsider off-shore wind power, the bigger point that we should all get this time around is that it has become much more than an aesthetic or NIMBY issue. Off-shore wind power has the potential to produce a sizeable amount of our energy needs—along with a smart grid, increased battery storage capacity, energy efficiency and conservation that can make a real impact on putting less GHG’s into our atmosphere. It’s not only a problem of physics—put more GHG into our atmosphere and the place warms up—it’s a moral problem:

Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery Prof Jim Hansen to use lecture at Edinburgh International Science Festival to call for worldwide tax on all carbon emissions Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a "great moral issue" on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasa climate scientist Prof Jim Hansen. (April 6, 2012) The Guardian

For those deeply concerned about the Great Lakes and the potential threat imposed by off-shore wind, they must put their complaints in perspective; it must be measured against Climate Change.

What is the likely climate future for the Great Lakes region? In general, the climate of the Great Lakes region will grow warmer and probably drier during the twenty first century. Climate models predict that by the end of the century, temperature in the region will warm by 5 to 12°F (3 to 7°C) in winter, and by 5 to 20°F (3 to 11°C. From Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region (2003) by The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Ecological Society of America

Even fishermen who help contribute to the billion-dollar Great Lakes fishing industry must be willing to put up with off-shore wind farms because their favorite fish species are already changing as the waters warm. Also, as water levels drop with Climate Change, even our hydroelectric plants, often hailed as New York’s answer to renewable energy, will be adversely affected. Not to mention nuclear plants, which need water for cooling.

President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ approach for solving our energy needs may please or not disproportionally displease a sufficient number of potential voters in this year’s election to get him reelected, but Mother Nature, who doesn’t get a vote (and little respect from our economists, who treat her as a ‘negative externality’), rules. Our energy choices are integral to our solutions to Climate Change. And our solutions are threatened if New York State again trounces off-shore wind and our leaders fail to lead on Climate Change.

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