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Two Offshore Scenarios: Clean Wind and Burning Oil

| Thursday April 29th, 2010 | 7 Comments

The contrast between the promise of renewable energy and the perils of fossil fuels was on full display yesterday, and it could not be more stark.

Hours before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced approval for the nation’s first offshore wind farm, which will generate as much as 454 megawatts of clean, limitless energy, the US Coast Guard said it would begin a controlled burn on a massive oil slick floating towards the Louisiana coast from the remains of an oil rig which caught fire and sank last week, likely killing 11 platform workers.

In a post earlier this month — Do Fossil Fuel Disasters Help Renewable Energy? — I hypothesized what the effect on the renewable energy industry would be from an Exxon Valdez-style disaster. The Deepwater Horizon accident has not reached such epic proportions, nor is it likely to (although it’s getting worse). But it is in a more heavily populated portion of the country, and it comes at a time when fossil fuels are under increasing criticism and competition from clean energy.

Alternative energies

No one is suggesting the wind or solar industries are or should be gloating over the deaths and environmental destruction ensuing from the oil rig fire (or the Massey coal mine accident earlier this month). But when the dust settles, the fact is these disasters have a tangible upside for clean power.

Like political attack ads, what these made-for-TV contrasts are doing, I would argue, is giving clean energy a boost in the public’s perception by further diminishing the reputation of fossil fuels. This change in perception is valuable in real dollars (think of it as advertising and lobbying money not spent), especially given that a cap on carbon seems increasingly unlikely in the near or even medium term.

But while it might be comforting to believe we can simply exchange oil rigs for turbines, the reality is we may need both. Non-hydroelectric renewable energy, including wind and solar, still accounts for a mere 2 percent of total electricity generation nationwide. And while the electric vehicle industry is starting to break into the mainstream, the fact is the vast majority of Americans will be driving gasoline-powered cars for a while to come.

So here’s hoping clean power can capitalize, in a respectful way, on the opportunities presented by such contrasts by pushing their fundamental message — that we need to find a new way of providing energy — further into the minds and hearts of Americans.


▼▼▼      7 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Skyler

    what happens if the wind stops?

    • Bill

      Has the wind ever stopped blowing over that stretch of ocean?

  • mrsleep

    What happens if we create a cleaner environment for nothing?

  • Lee F. Canel

    I heard that US regulations did not include a fail-safe shut off that is required in Euorpe. If true, it is anouther case of inadequate oversight akin to the financial crisis and a lack of regualation of Wall Street. In this case, bias towards the oil industry by the prior administration ended up causing an environmental disaster we must all pay for. Efforts should concentrate on preventing and minimizing the potential for environmental damage, not on trying to stop domestic drilling that enjoys strong popular political support. Such regulations are feasible and could have a huge impact. Stopping drilling is a longshot at best. Lets choose making as big a positive impact as possible, not tilting at windmills.

  • UncleB

    Blowing tops off of mountains for coal, beating other nations into the stone age, and polluting with oil spills everywhere we go – the American Way! So much easier but less romantic and dramatic to make use of the more than adequate supplies of Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal and Geothermal renewable, or perpetual , clean and safe electric power from these sources – but contrary to the barracuda Capitalists dramatic and dangerous romance with the world! Now The Gulf, home of countless riches including the potential for Algae, based bio-fuels, in jeopardy, placed there by BP a giant corporation ready to show America corporate states-man ship to the tens – watch these sly bastards follow the Exxon Valdez pattern and hold the damages claims up in court until no body notices they only have to really pay ten cents on the dollar, and a devalued ten cents at that! John Wayne would have these assholes for breakfast! So would Ronald Regan, but Obama will bend and break and go to court for fifty years before a cent in damages is ever realized by the little guy victims – Ask the Canadian natives how they were screwed out of fair settlements! The American way is to make way for the corporations regardless of the cost to everyone except the shareholders. Watch the “Little Guys” lose big on this one, just like the Exxon Valdez ! Assholes every one of them! Defenseless, poor, lawyer-less, resource-less, assholes!

  • UncleB

    Blowing tops off of mountains for coal, beating other nations into the stone age, and polluting with oil spills everywhere we go – the American Way! So much easier but less romantic and dramatic to make use of the more than adequate supplies of Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal and Geothermal renewable, or perpetual , clean and safe electric power from these sources – but contrary to the barracuda Capitalists dramatic and dangerous romance with the world! Now The Gulf, home of countless riches including the potential for Algae, based bio-fuels, in jeopardy, placed there by BP a giant corporation ready to show America corporate states-man ship to the tens – watch these sly bastards follow the Exxon Valdez pattern and hold the damages claims up in court until no body notices they only have to really pay ten cents on the dollar, and a devalued ten cents at that! John Wayne would have these assholes for breakfast! So would Ronald Regan, but Obama will bend and break and go to court for fifty years before a cent in damages is ever realized by the little guy victims – Ask the Canadian natives how they were screwed out of fair settlements! The American way is to make way for the corporations regardless of the cost to everyone except the shareholders. Watch the “Little Guys” lose big on this one, just like the Exxon Valdez ! Assholes every one of them! Defenseless, poor, lawyer-less, resource-less, assholes!

  • Bill

    Has the wind ever stopped blowing over that stretch of ocean?