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Daniel J. Graeber

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Nothing Blowing in the U.S. Wind Energy Sector

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 12:10 pm

The U.S. government said it was finally ready to open up areas off the mid-Atlantic Coast for the development of offshore wind farms. The government said it conducted an assessment of the region and found there wouldn't be any environmental or socioeconomic problems with moving ahead with offshore wind. It's about time. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory found offshore wind energy has the potential to supply four-times as much energy as the entire grid produced in 2009. President Obama last year announced major renewable energy targets and this year called for an "all-of-the-above" energy policy. But with European efforts already way ahead of the curve, the United States is losing the clean energy race.

The NREL said it considers offshore wind a good energy choice for the United States. There is the potential to generate as much as 4,150 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it was finally ready to vet proposals for wind energy leases for the Outer Continental Shelf off the mid-Atlantic. While the NREL said its figures didn't include cost or transmission availability, the offshore wind estimate is 3,125 GW more than the entire U.S. electric generating capacity in 2009.

Impressive, right? Sure, unless one compares those figures with the offshore wind sector in France, a country about the size of Texas. France has the second-best wind energy regime in all of Europe and already enough offshore wind installed to meet some of its energy demand. This year, London cackled with glee about the untapped oil reserves left in the North Sea, yet the United Kingdom, a country that's about the size of Oregon, is already the world leader in installed offshore wind capacity. How much offshore wind energy is installed in the United States? None.

The U.S. Energy Department said offshore wind was an attractive power source but noted offshore wind turbines are expensive and require a lot of maintenance. Conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity complain wind farms off the New Jersey coast would cost jobs, increase consumer electric bills and wind up costing New Jersey taxpayers about $100 million. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, meanwhile, complains wind farms planned four miles off the Massachusetts coast would spoil the view. You know what was seen in the background during last year's British Open at the Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Ireland? Three nuclear cooling towers. And nobody complained.

Authorities at the U.S. Interior Department said they were examining "sweet spots" off the mid-Atlantic Coast for offshore wind development. Obama during the 2011 State of the Union address set a target of generating 80 percent of the country's electricity through clean energy resources like wind by 2035. This year, he called for an "all-of-the-above" policy for domestic energy. Democracy is a great thing in that it allows everyone a voice but loud doesn't mean influential. The United States is losing the green energy race, which means a continued reliance on carbon-based natural resources, in part because some folks are upset about the view.

Daniel Graeber is a senior journalist at the energy news site Oilprice.com. He is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. More of his articles can be found on his Authors page at Oilprice.com

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