Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cape Wind, the right way to use our ocean?

What's the "environmental" position on Cape Wind, the proposed windmill project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod? We can't rely on a simple reading of who's in favor and who's opposed, because credible enviros are on both sides. So I guess we have to think a bit and dig in.

First of all, opponents are not JUST rich people trying to protect their views. There's undoubtably some of that going on, but they do have some good arguments on their side.

Proponents are doing more than building a clean & green energy facility. They're planning to make a pile of money in a place where almost no other industry would stand a chance of building a facility.

Passions are running high, what's an ocean advocate to think? Well, a few people have asked for a blogfish take on Cape Wind, so I guess I gotta go there.

The start of an answer comes from taking a somewhat larger perspective...what's the best and highest use of the ocean in the area proposed for Cape Wind? Is it wind power, freeing us a little bit from the CO2 treadmill? Is it commercial fishing, a traditional practice that has given us food but also a sadly crashed cod fishery? Is it shipping and boating, using the water's surface for transportation?

And how would we begin to answer these questions? We'll never get there if we do it one project at a time. That approach will probably tend to favor the highly intensive, big infrastructure projects that make the most money.

This reminds me of the dam-building frenzy of the middle 1900s, when all the "good" river sites were built up with dams. River conservation didn't stand a chance and salmon harm was mitigated with hatcheries that failed us and the fish.

We could easily get into an ocean project feeding frenzy, with wind farms and carbon seqeustration taking the sites with the best potential to succeed, regardless of the low intensity ocean values that exist at these sites.

I think we need a comprehensive ocean zoning process before we do Cape Wind or any other major construction project, whether it's green energy or oil drilling or whatever. If we build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound, I want to know that the piece of ocean used isn't better used for fishing, shipping, or a marine refuge.

Asking whether we should do Cape Wind is the wrong question. We should be asking where should we build wind farms in the ocean. This might be the right spot, but we won't know if we don't ask all of the right questions. What are the ocean bottom values? Is this place uniquely valuable as pristine ocean? Is it the right place to end all uses, so that those poor cod can live unmolested somewhere and repopulate Cape Cod waters?

Maybe somebody already knows the answers to these questions, but I don't see them in my brief perusal of the facts and figures. Anybody in blogfishland know the answers?

Here's a few places to look for some thoughts:

National Resources Defense Council

The Conservation Report

Note added: Existing offshore wind farms in Denmark are reported to have few harmful environmental impacts, after a rigorous process to make sure they're put in the right places.


Up Welng said...

Tag. You're It!

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you link to reports of the European off-shore wind farms?

It's been a while since I heard an MP3 presentation, but I thought those very concerns (from the "good arguments" link) had been tested, over there.

Anonymous said...

Wind turbines create infrasound-very low frequency sound below human "ear" perception.
...Google "military infrasound" to see the effects/symtoms seen in the human species when subjected to high but short duration levels(pressure fluctuations).
These also create low fequency electromagnetic fields.
Salt water is natures organic conductor.
Sound travels readily thru salt water as does current.
Low frequency sound does not get attenuated as quickly as higher frequency.Thunder is an example.
A large collection of these interact to create dissonance.
I would doubt there would be any experimental evidence to show how marine life would react to this constant hummmmm.
We would be a lot smarter to learn/teach our children how to turn the on button- off!
--but hey? who ever said we were the smart bunch!

Mark Powell said...

Thanks for the comment, odograph, I added a link to news reports on a study of Danish offshore windfarms, at the bottom of the post.

Anonymous said...

thanks! that one looks interesting.