On today’s episode of the Speak Up Blue Podcast, Andrew discusses wind energy in the U.S. and it’s potential for becoming a large source of renewable energy. Wind energy, which converts wind power into usable energy via a series of large windmills and turbines, accounts for only about 4% of generated electricity within the United States. Even in states like California, which has a reputation for leading the way in sustainability, large-scale wind energy projects can be controversial. However, that didn’t stop Governor Jerry Brown from signing into a law a mandate that by 2030, California has to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources.
In order to accomplish the daunting yet necessary challenge of shifting away from oil, coal, and natural gas, California will have to entertain all methods of generating sustainable energy. That includes solar, geothermal, small hydro, and wind energy. While they all have their benefits and drawbacks, none seem to be as polarizing as wind. In order to generate power, these wind farms (groups of windmills) need to be placed in a relatively large, flat area. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that many people have advocated for placing them offshore. And though this does free up space on shore for development, recreation, or a city-wide game of ultimate Frisbee, establishing offshore wind farms can pose some ecological risks to the marine environment. Installing the wind mill into the ocean floor disrupts benthic habitats, and the construction of the turbine itself can generate noise pollution, which can be harmful to some ocean animals.
Efforts are being made to counteract these negative impacts, though. Trident Winds and Statoil are two energy companies who have developed plans to build a “floating wind farm”, which will allow windmills to harness wind energy offshore while reducing their overall impact to the marine ecosystem. And because these farms aren’t physically drilled into the benthos, they can be placed further offshore and are more cost-effective than their tied-down counterparts. And the fact that they can be installed further from the shoreline is critical, because that directly addresses many people’s largest concerns with wind farms: they look bad.
I understand that coastlines and beaches, to many folks, are some of the last places touched by development. Putting ten large windmills in the ocean could shatter this image of natural, pristine coastlines. But I also know that most offshore wind farms will not be visible from the beach, most U.S. coastlines haven’t been pristine since we invented floating plastic bottles, and smoke stacks and power lines don’t look much better. Sooner or later, we’ll have to address our energy crisis on a national level. Rather than seeing wind farms as colossal ugly machines that ruined our coastline, maybe we can learn to see them as inspiring symbols of a better future, one that is working to utilize renewable energy as often as possible in as many ways as possible.
Enjoy the Podcast!