- Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 October 2011 17:48
- Published on Wednesday, 19 October 2011 17:48
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If you drive through Montana, Wyoming, or South Dakota, you’ll notice a relatively new addition to the landscape and that’s wind turbines. They look like propellers mounted on tall polls and here and there they’re perched on hillsides, lined up on the open planes, and on some days, when the wind really gets going, their speed controls have to kick in to keep them from turning too fast. On the open prairie the weather is unpredictable, but there is one guarantee, there is always a wind blowing.
The same is true when you get a little closer to home. But in this case, it’s not the open plains of the American
west, but rather, it’s the open sea, just off the coast of our own mid-Atlantic shores, here in Virginia.
Wind power, at a production level, has been around for over a decade. The Europeans, who have a long history of experimenting with alternatives to conventional power generation, in addition to land-based wind turbines, have begun using offshore turbines as well. The Netherlands have several sea-based power stations, as do the Norwegians, and the British now operate three offshore sites. After all, Britain is surrounded by water, and as any North Sea or Channel mariner will tell you, the wind off the Sceptered Isle is always blowing.
As the U.K.’s Minister for Energy and Climate Change, The Honorable Charles Hendry, (a Conservative Party Member of the British Parliament) put it, “wind energy’s costs are in the construction and maintenance alone as the resource itself is free.” That’s why the cost per kilowatt hour of wind energy, even adjusting for construction costs, has proven surprisingly affordable.
With that in mind, it’s surprising, that the east coast of the United States, with almost a thousand miles of wind buffeted shoreline, doesn’t have a single, offshore, wind generating facility. The conditions are right. They’re even superior, in terms of the harshness of the weather, to the conditions normally found in U.K., the Netherlands or Norway, but amazingly, we still don’t have one functioning facility.
Fortunately, that’s about to change.
Last week Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell announced the Poseidon Atlantic Project. It’s a new testing and certification initiative for offshore wind generators. It’s the first of its kind in the United States. While the Virginia Port Authority will be facilitating the work, at the core of the project, is a private company, Poseidon Atlantic LLC. This is a corporate partnership of U.S. Ecofys, a subsidiary of Ecofys, Europe’s largest wind turbine producer, the Dutch based, Fugro Engineering (a world leader in wind turbine siting), and a U.S. builder of wind turbines, Real NewEnergy. The development of the first site, likely to be just offshore in Hampton Roads, will be managed by Fugro’s Norfolk Office.
This is a ground breaking initiative and may finally break the log jam of law suits, misplaced environmental concerns, and not in my backyard objections, that have kept the U.S. from building wind turbines off the Atlantic Coast. It’s curious, that we have been more receptive to drilling for oil on the Atlantic Coast than we have to building wind turbines. Something seems desperately wrong with that picture.
The potential advantages to the Commonwealth are considerable. Virginia, if this initiative takes hold, could become base of operations for wind power generation up and down the east coast. Virginia could also be the place where new offshore wind technologies are tested, where technicians are trained, and who knows, perhaps even where some of the next generation of wind generators will be at least partially manufactured and assembled.
For those who try to make every issue a partisan contest, here is a thought. There is nothing Democratic or Republican about harnessing the power of the wind. It’s a technology supported by a Democratic Administration and now being aggressively championed by a Republican Governor. The simple fact is that wind power is out there, and as England’s Mr. Hendry says, “it’s free.” And most of all, with the technology, and capability to use it, so readily available, we have already waited too long to put it to good use.