Offshore Wind Farm Plan Stirs Debate
A proposed wind farm that would rise above the waters off Rehoboth Beach, Del., is stirring anew the debate over the role wind power will play in fighting global warming. Beloved by environmentalists and their comrades in Congress, wind power nevertheless has encountered a series of roadblocks of late--not the least of which was the determination by some in Congress that the turbines, which can reach up to 400 feet tall, could endanger military aircraft by interfering with radar systems.
But a controversial Defense Department report that had left some sectors of the wind industry last year in a state of paralysis concluded in September only that more study was needed.
In the meantime, wind power is blowing strong. The Delaware proposal, which should get a preliminary green light this week from state officials, pits wind power against its traditional archrival: cheap, plentiful, but dirty, coal. So far, locals seem to be favoring wind, despite the fact that the turbines will be visible, albeit slightly, on the horizon of heavily trafficked beaches. Those beaches, and the tourists they attract, are a major source of state revenue.
Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, John Warner of Virginia, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are among a handful of powerful politicians who have made their distaste for wind clear, in part because the turbines disrupt vistas. Still, wind farms are proliferating. In 2005 and 2006, about 2,400 megawatts of wind power was added each year, together enough to power more than 1.4 million homes. This year, that number is expected to jump to a record-breaking 3,000 new megawatts. All of that, however, is land based.
The real fight is in the water, where engineers say wind blows strongest. But some environmentalists fear for bird safety, and locals fear for their blighted landscapes (and property values). To date, three offshore wind farms have been proposed, one off New York's Long Island, one off Texas's Gulf Coast, and the other off Massachusetts's Cape Cod. Opposition has hampered them all. Cape Cod and Texas are vying to be the nation's first, but neither farm is expected to be finished before 2009 or 2010.
With pressure mounting to combat climate change on Capitol Hill, it seems that the process is now spinning more smoothly for wind power. But in politics, there's always the chance of blowback.