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Where do we stand on wind power?

They’re often called unattractive, noisy and deadly for birds. Some have blades as long as a football field and there are predictions future blades could grow stout enough to put a 35-foot cruiser inside. The Department of Energy budgeted a record $79 million for them last year, and literally billions of private sector dollars are being spent on them.

We’re talking about wind-powered turbines and, no longer relegated to hillsides or farm land, they could soon be coming to a waterway near you. So says the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. that held an information presentation for area boaters at the Lakeside Yacht Club in downtown Cleveland last week.

Clearly an effort to get ahead of possible objections to wind turbine towers protruding from the waters of Lake Erie, LEEDCO indicated it hopes to have at least seven towers up and running around 2013, with an undetermined number of additional towers to follow.

“Their presentation was impressive,” said Warren Dempster, commander of the Great Cleveland Boating Association. “They gave us a lot of information, like where they want to place the towers offshore, about seven or so miles northeast of Cleveland. They even contend the towers will be good fishing attractors and they’re considering cleats on the bases so anglers could tie up to fish.” GCBA, which has some 9,000 members in 44 boat clubs, so far has not established a formal position on the turbines in the lake.

Overall, the whole subject of energy from the wind is still evolving. The wind industry appears to believe bigger is better. For example, Vestas, an industry leader, is developing an offshore turbine of epic proportions, the mega V-164, a seven-megawatt giant that will measure more than 600 feet from its base to the blade tip. Vestas has already delivered 578 smaller turbines to five European countries including the 100-turbine Thanet Offshore Wind Farm in Britain.

Here in the U.S., interest in wind farms in waterways trails Europe. However, plans like LEEDCO’s should rapidly elevate the discussion for all boating interests. “We have concerns about possible blight, access restrictions, navigation and safety, to name some, and we’re going to examine the subject at our next board meeting in October,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Similarly, MRAA’s retiring president Phil Keeter says: “Generally speaking, we aren’t opposed to alternative energy. However, the idea of big wind farms placed in navigable waterways may be where we must draw a line. We’re certainly studying the issue.”

In at least one way, the development of wind farms on water is remindful of the ethanol experience. Ethanol development gained so much early momentum, especially politically, even the eventual acknowledgement that ethanol is an abject failure couldn’t stop it. Because we’re boaters, we have to sense that seeing potentially hundreds of wind mills out on our waterways give rise to an uneasy feeling, to say the least.

So, looking forward, what, if any, policy should our industry have concerning offshore wind farms?

Comments

14 comments on “Where do we stand on wind power?

  1. Michael Tamulaites

    We should embrace this technology as for powerboaters it should prolong the inevitable end of cheap gas and for all mariners they are better than additional oil rigs or nuclear power plants. As electric motors get better and transmission lines (the grid) are updated, wind created electric power is a great addition to our power generation capabilities.

  2. Scott Croft

    I’m with you, Jason. I also don’t buy into the “ugly” (Ie. Cape Wind off Nan
    tucket) or “boating danger” argument one bit. And I think anglers have something to gain.

  3. Glenn

    Everything has a life cycle. What happens when these things become old and are no longer financially viable? What happens when the base rots from rusting? What happens if the company who owns them goes bankrupt? Who will be responsible for their demolition (in 25, 50 or 100 years)?

    The reports I have read say that it takes as much energy to build and install these things as they will produce over their lifetime. In my mind that makes these investments marginal to begin with. There has to be some set aside to pay for their eventual removal and restoring the lake bottom back to original.

  4. Dick

    I agree completely with Glenn. I you want to see windmills rusting, abandoned, blades left on the ground, new windmills next to rusted ones, no oversight, and generally a state of disrepair, go to California. Drive the route between Ontario and Plam Desert. When you see the valley of the wind you will see exactly what Glenn describes. If they do that on land, what will happen on the water? There has to be controls to build and maintain this type of energy.

  5. Wolf Triebsch

    Mr. Schultz, on wind ( ? ), there are solutions and ideally suited for marinas .
    Floating or fixed docks incorporating and drawing from sustainable energies ( Solar + Wind ) making marinas independent from any central grid and cost. A combination of breakwater docks , which will produce fresh water through an RO system using wave energy ( site conditioned ) , as well as electricity. Independent sewage treatment methods incorporated into docks, without holdings tanks and expensive pump-out costs, an almost ideal WATERWORLD.
    Look out for ‘ SEBOMARINE’s ‘ Intelligent ( and environmentally friendly ) Systems Applications for the Marine World.

  6. Preben Kristensen

    Glenn, I have also read reports about the energy to build and install them being more than the energy you get out of them – and of the HUGE demolition costs and problems. Only the reports I read was talking about about nuclear power plants.

    If something CAN go wrong – it WILL go wrong. This has be illustrated in both nuclear, oil rig and oil transportation catastrophic accidents – and in the long-term serious air pollution damages created by fossil fuel powered power plants.

    Wind turbine accidents CAN and WILL happen too, but even with the worst intentions, it must be difficult to conjure up a catastrophic windturbine accident scenario in the league of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and latest Japan, the worldwide major oil spills from tankers and platforms – or the long term damages to both humans, animals and the environment (CO2, particles and acid rain) from massive fossil fuel emissions.

    Norm mentioned that they have often been called “deadly for birds”. The RPM of these things are very low, around 10 – 25 RPM, So collisions are not very common. All Buildings, in particular glass covered high-rises are also deadly for birds. Cars kill tens of millions of a animals, incl birds, world wide every year – and anglers and hunters are specially deadly for fish and animals. Let’s get things a bit into perspective here.

    That aside, I agree that, like the other energy industries, responsible ownership criteria, adequate safety, maintenance and demolition guarantees should apply. Just like they (surely?) apply to the rest of the energy sector!

  7. C. Moore

    Take the fed’s (taxpayers) subsidies (gifts) away & all these feel good add little projects & they all go bust in a hurry.
    The wind doesn’t blow all the time, except in Washington DC.
    The sun at it’s highest potentially only shines half the day, except in outerspace.
    Take the Ethanol subsidies away from corporate farmers (ADM, etc.) & the useless blended fuels go away. Remember Canada doesn’t add a drop of energy reducing ethanol to gasoline up there. Ask your self why? The Brazilians who are using up to 100% ethanol in the vehicles are adding oil platforms off there coast as fast as possible so they can get better fuel milage by converting to gasoline.
    Norm again your respondants to these enviromental issues are always more Soundings subscibers or “envro trolls” than Tradesonly (dealers & marine professionals) subscibers. I knew it would be before I clicked on your post. It does reinforces what marine professionals & boaters are up agianst. So we don’t get complacent you should post a similar Enviro post quarterly.

  8. CaptainA

    I am all for these wind projects. The less we have to rely on fossil fuel the more security the USA will enjoy. Furthermore, this will provide more oil supplies for other products such as fiberglass hulls. This will help tame the production costs of fiberglass boats. Bring on the wind mills.

    If you want the govt to subsiding them–I am ok with that as long as they stop subsidizing, corn, ethanol and petroleum production as wlell.

  9. Scott Croft

    Dick-

    I appreciated your comments. My parents lived out there and that wind farm is one of the biggest in the US – I’ve toured it personally and did not see the bad conditions you describe. I think using this one as an example is a little unfair. I do agree with you though that controls are necessary (willy-nilly growth is not good).

    Glenn-

    What about the life cycles for other energy systems, such as dams, or fossil-fuel power plants? Are we not worried that these structures can fail or get old as well? WInd power should be treated no different – but it should not be singled out as any more of a future threat than these other systems.

    thanks guys for your comments- this is a good debate!

  10. Randy Hall

    Although I am all for green energy there are some side effects from wind power that have not been thoroughly explored. There are many health issues reported by people living near wind farms. Do a search on wind turbine syndrome and low frequency noise to get more information. Housing prices in the vicinity of wind farms often plummet once the projects are anounced.

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