Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wind Turbines: part of rethinking energy policy

Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand. A conclusion drawn by a pro-wind environmental group or wind turbine lobby? No, it comes from the U.S. Interior Department in a recent report on wind turbine potential. (Read Los Angeles Times article.)

The report cited that wind turbines in the shallow waters off the eastern coast could produce up to 1,000 gigawatts of electricity - enough to handle 25% of the nation's demand. But it's not all a bed of roses. West coast wind turbine potential is hampered by the underwater terrain - primarily deeper waters that make the placement of turbines more difficult.

The report also touched on a sensitive issue with many environmental groups: offshore oil reserves and the possibility of more offshore oil drilling. This points to the need for a comprehensive and cohesive energy policy - no easy task and one that has eluded us to date because it was always easier to just keep drilling for more oil.

My thoughts . . .

A national energy policy is faced with having to address several important issues: the economic/political ramifications of our dependence on oil, particularly foreign oil; the need to develop a wide range of alternatives - some of which may not be as cost effective but may benefit the environment; the need to address the environmental safety issues in developing any and all forms of energy; and the reliance on objective science to determine the impacts of any new or existing form of energy. It's a mouthful any way you look at it.

The "drill, baby, drill" contingent that would like to see offshore and Arctic drilling resume or begin in earnest are opposed by many in the environmental movement. But a middle ground may have to be found here. I sense that germ of compromise in many of the comments from eco groups stating that objective scientific research is needed to determine the impacts of drilling (in other words, they are not entirely opposed to the idea as long as we don't repeat the oil spill disasters and environmental mistakes of the past). That holds true for many other forms of energy development. We need to focus our technological capabilities toward ensuring the highest degree of environmental safety for every form of energy under consideration - wind, solar, and yes, even nuclear and oil.

I'm not sure that our society can beat its addiction to oil by going cold turkey; we'll need to ween ourselves off of it. But if any new drilling does take place, it can't be for the purpose of returning to the status quo. Whatever oil is used, it must be done more efficiently - it becomes a two-fold issue: where we get it and how we use it. The underlying goal being to eliminate as much use of carbon/CO2 producing energy sources as possible.

Science and technology must play a massively critical role in all of this, in both developing the technologies that will provide efficient energy use that is economically reasonable while also determining what is safe for the environment. The two go hand in hand - with one caveat: to sacrifice the environment for the sake of expediency or the dollar would lead to irreparable damage. We are at that critical ecological tipping point.

No comments: