Monday, March 26, 2007

Getting Both Sides of the Story on Energy

A friend sent me this story from the Cape Gazette on a mailing from the Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council in support of NRG's coal plant proposal to 10,000 Sussex County residents about ten days ago. The story quotes the council's executive director David Walsh on the union's PR efforts in support of NRG:
He [Walsh] said the trades council supported the mailings and assisted NRG in getting them out because the council contends it is important to make sure beach residents hear both sides of the energy story.
As a union executive, it's his job to work with industry to create jobs for his members, which apparently is what Walsh was doing when he offered these comments reported in the News Journal two weeks ago:
But David Walsh, director of the Delaware Building & Trades Council, accused "academics and activists" of distorting accounts about emissions and risks associated with NRG's proposal, and said the project would assure the region good jobs during construction and operation.
Apparently the council was so concerned about distortions from academics that, as the Cape Gazette reports, it quoted one professor in its mailing:
In the brochure, Willett Kempton, University of Delaware professor, was quoted, saying “Disadvantages of offshore wind include: higher installation and maintenance costs in comparison with land sites, undeveloped regulatory regimes over water, technology not yet optimized for water locations, and immature offshore wind resource assessment methods.”
While this quote is correct, Kempton said it was taken out of context from the original study on wind done by Kempton and other University of Delaware researchers. Kempton said the study went on to show many of these problems could be resolved and that wind would be a good choice for Delaware, but the brochure does not include any of those statements.
“Having this one sentence represent my view is misleading,” Kempton said.
I've spent many hours and thousands of words on the long term economic and environmental rationale for wind power. So hat's off to this one Sussex County resident who summed it up better than I have:
Mike Rhue, a draftsman and self-proclaimed practical environmentalist, stood out in the crowd at a recent hearing as he explained in simple terms the problems with the applications and some possible solutions.
Rhue said new technology, whether it’s new coal, natural gas or wind technology, can only be researched so much on the drawing boards. He said technology must be applied and used before all the bugs get worked out.
“I can’t tell you what the price of coal is going to be in 30 years. I can’t tell you what the price of natural gas is going to be in 30 years,” said Rhue.
“But, I can tell you what the price of wind is going to be in 30 years. It’s free.”


Blogger Klaus Daimler said...

I have not had the chance to read through your entire blog (I will with time), however I do find this story compelling.

At the conclusion of your post you recount the wisdom of Mike Rhue. Despite my own beliefs about the permitting process of offshore wind, I think he makes some excellent points.

While wind may be free 30 years from now, I have serious concerns about the siting of offshore renewable energy. As a year round resident of Cape Cod, my particular interest is Nantucket Sound.

I have grappled with how to address the growing demands for energy, climate change, and preserving a place. I am optimistic about offshore renewables, but I have a difficult time accepting the false choice Cape Wind represents for residents of Massachusetts.

7:28 PM, March 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Klaus, What concerns do you have specifically? Is it dead birds? Navigation? Fishing grounds? Or is it the view from the shore? I cannot tell what false choice you are talking about.

Here is the choice that Delaware is grappling with; are we going to build smokestacks and burn resources that we cannot replace, or are we going to build a windpark off the coast? That is quite literally the choice. Now I ask you which would you rather see from your beach blanket in July, windmills or smokestacks?

8:37 PM, March 27, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

Klaus, thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comments.

All of the energy sources on the table here in Delaware involve what economists call negative externalities.

The neighbors of coal power plants live with elevated mercury emissions. Coal is extracted using a technique called mountaintop removal, in which the tops of mountains are dumped into rivers and creeks. The natural gas plant in question sits on the northern edge of Delaware's most populous city, surrounded by mostly working class neighborhoods. And yes, the offshore wind turbines being considered will be visible from Delaware's beaches.

As for the comparative economics of fossil fuels and wind power, the break point is not thirty years in the future, but soon, and certainly within the useful life of any power generating facility now being considered.

The costs of fossil fuels are likely to increase sharply over the next thirty years, particularly given the need to impose controls on carbon emissions.

Please read more and feel free to offer further comments.

9:55 PM, March 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dealware story in salon

11:20 AM, March 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Walsh is blood-related to our ever-elected County Sheriff, marriage related to Councilwoman Walsh and he was poised to stand against her in the mad DEM bid for Joe DiPinto's Generalassembly seat.

I wonder what good becomes of blatant nepotism in our public service positions and this guy bears out my reservations.

11:57 AM, March 28, 2007  

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