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Offshore wind or offshore oil?

 Posted by on April 29, 2010
Apr 292010
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Up around Cape Cod, they were so worried about how the Cape Wind project might affect their views, or more precisely, their property values, that the opposition to this groundbreaking project dragged on and on. It took nine years to get final approval, which came yesterday from the Department of the Interior.

Two years ago we ran a story about another wind project, in nearby Hull, Mass., where the vast majority of residents are quite pleased with their money-saving wind turbines, which are a lot more up close and view-affecting than the Cape Wind project will ever be. Richard Miller, operations manager of the Hull Municipal Light Plant (HMLP), said then: “There has been no resistance on the part of the residents.”

Perhaps wind is a little less intimidating once it’s saving your school district $20K a year.

Around that time, we also ran a conceptual photograph of what Cape Wind is projected to look like from the Cape. Here’s one example of the developer’s vision of how the view won’t (or will, depending on your perspective) be affected:

Projected view of wind installation from Nantucket (Cape Wind Associates)

Projected view of wind installation from Nantucket (Cape Wind Associates)

You can see that the horizon is dotted with something on the right. Those are the planned wind turbines at five miles out.

I can understand that this is a change. The view is altered — a bit. Ted Kennedy, ardent proponent of many progressive causes, didn’t like it at all. But it seems pretty benign looking at it here.

Contrast that picture with those showing the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico:

Oil slick April 25, NASA

Oil slick, April 25 (Photo: NASA)

Oil rig explosion April 20 (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Oil rig explosion April 20 (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Some will say, these are apples and oranges. Wind will power homes, replacing coal, natural gas and maybe nuclear power generation. Crude oil mainly serves the transportation sector. You need both. They’re not a replacement for each other. Check that.

But this does illustrate the power spectrum — from the vastly dirty example of this large oil slick creeping toward the still-recovering estuaries in Louisiana to the cleanest, greenest power source.

This view-altering oil spill is not just a bummer for coastal real estate, it’s life-threatening for nesting birds, marine life and the entire coastal ecology, which has been in recovery since Hurricane Katrina blasted through, also carrying spilled oil. As an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day continue to spew into the Gulf from the collapsed BP operation, it will certainly affect shrimp and other fishing enterprises, hurting Gulf region employment and your dining options.

Like the Massey coal mine collapse earlier this spring, this is just one more example of how the true cost of our energy infrastructure cannot be tallied by adding up the price of the produced commodity. Starting with the loss of 11 lives in the initial explosion, the costs are steep. There’s the cost of the clean-up — in the billions, though President Obama says BP must pay the total tab. But BP will never be able to reimburse the region for the likely millions that will be lost in tourism dollars and shrimping revenue. This damage, like the harm to dolphins and threatened sea turtles, can never be fully recaptured. (Bloomberg News sources estimate that the disaster will cost the insurance industry $1.5 billion.)

This oil mess serves as a potent reminder that we need to change our transportation priorities. This year, a handful of Americans will begin running their vehicles on wind and solar power. How? Take an EV coming onto the market, plug it in to a home running on clean energy. That’s a wind-powered or solar-powered car. When you consider all that wind can do — or for that matter, solar, the ultimate on-site power solution — it’s hard not to conclude that we need to make a hard turn in that direction.

Climate change or no climate change, we’ve got to get our head on straight about our energy priorities.

This latest political mantra of trying to please everyone, and appease oil interests, this plan that brought us to Obama’s decision to open more U.S. coastline to oil drilling, has some merit. We do not want to fight wars to find oil. But it risks tethering us to dirty energy sources for too long.

This psuedo-patriotric “it’s all good” strategy in which Barack Obama’s rhetoric and BP’s commercials seemed to eerily echo each other, may not find the right balance. And we need to re-balance our plan, in favor of the future.

I will refrain from quoting Marx here (such a turnoff when Americans quote communists!) but let’s just say that those in power tend to remain in power because they control things. I’m speaking here of big oil or Big Oil. The status quo exerts major inertia, and can justify its continued maintenance, given all those jobs (and Congressmen and women) it supports.

At the end of the day, though, we wouldn’t want to find ourselves lost in a petrified forest of fossil fuels, still searching for a greener path. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar saw that when he approved the Cape Wind project this week.

So if the sight of that oil spill terrifies you, (see ABC’s Good Morning America coverage for video), then consider making changes to reduce your oil consumption.

We ran a piece on that topic called Travel Lighter for Earth Week — when this oil spill occurred on April 20, just in time for Earth Day, April 22.

And if you live on the Eastern Seaboard, which Obama just opened up for oil exploration, you can tell your governor’s office that you’re OK with what wind does to the horizon, but not so fond of the idea of drilling for oil off your beautiful coast. Just explain that you’d prefer a tiny intrusion on the horizon to the potential beach-annihilating, wildlife killing, Maryland-sized occasional uncontrollable oil spill.

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