February 1, 2010
It's Not Blowing in the WindBy Brian Sussman
A push in the U.S. Senate for an alternative to proposed "cap-and-trade" legislation began in earnest on the day of the Massachusetts special election, when Senator Byron Dorgan, (D-ND) said that a kinder, gentler energy bill had better prospects of passing, especially in light of the controversial battle on health care.
"In the aftermath of a very, very heavy lift on health care, I think it is unlikely that the Senate will turn next to a very complicated and very controversial subject of cap-and-trade, climate legislation," Dorgan told reporters during a conference call. "I think it is more compelling to turn to an energy bill that is bipartisan."
Dorgan, who read the tea leaves at the bottom of his own cup and has announced that he will not run for reelection this year, made his comments in reference to a study procured by Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), a nonpartisan organization "that works to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil." SAFE's study supports opening up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling 45 miles from shore. A 2006 law put those waters off limits.
The bipartisan compromise that Dorgan envisions involves allowing offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf, while at the same time mandating that as much as 20% of the country's energy derive from renewable sources.
Dorgan's plan is the typical politician two-step; give the right-wingers a little drill-baby-drill, and give the libbies lots of green power. Interestingly, his plan conveniently coincided with a press release issued the same week from the Department of Energy proposing that wind generate 20% of the electricity in the eastern U.S.
SAFE is spot-on; for our government to deny us the opportunity to drill for oil and natural gas within 45 miles of our own coast is insanity. Anti-capitalist eco-activists contend that setting up rigs inside that range threaten the coast due to oil leaks, but they're wrong. In 2005, monster hurricanes Katrina and Rita whipped up the waters of the Gulf of Mexico with wind gusts over 125 miles per hour, accompanied by chaotic forty-foot waves. The storm battered oil production platforms, actually tore a few drilling rigs from their moorings, and displaced below-surface pipelines. The oil industry was put through a rigorous, real-time, once-in-a-generation test. Over 800 manned platforms and about 140 rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico, and even with the full wrath of nature unleashed during that hurricane season, they came through with an excellent grade. A mere 13,000 barrels of crude were leaked into the open water, with the environmental impact minor.
America should be drilling within 45 miles of shore -- that's a no-brainer. However, mandating that 20% of our energy come from renewable resources, and particularly wind? That's brainless.
The Department of Energy press release touted research claiming that generating 20% of the eastern U.S.'s energy from wind is as easy as printing $90 billion. According to Reuters,
Just what most American's oppose: more massive spending by the bank of Uncle Sam. But no worries -- this plan will never fly with devoted environmentalists either.
According to the study, wind farms constructed off the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina and on land from North Dakota to Kansas could whip up 225,000 megawatts of electricity. While the plan sounds ultra-green, it will certainly cause eco-freaks to see blood red.
In my forthcoming book Climategate, I compare the amount of land required by a nuclear power plant producing 2,300 megawatts to a wind farm capable of generating a similar amount of electricity. Granted, this is a mere fraction of what the Energy Department's study proposes, but the comparison will serve us well in illustrating why this plan is wholly unpractical.
The Comanche Peak nuclear power plant outside Dallas, Texas is a significant facility which produces about 2,300 megawatts of power -- more than enough to serve the electricity needs of 1.3 million average-sized homes. The plant fits neatly into 8,000 acres and includes a large reservoir used for cooling the facility. Compare that landmass to the one required for the highly publicized Pampa Wind Project, promoted by Dallas hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens. "Pickens Plan" envisioned supplying power to an equal number of homes, but according to the Associated Press, it would require 400,000 acres of Texas real estate. Besides erecting thousands of massive masts upon which the turbines are fixed, Pickens' plan necessitates the construction of transmission towers and lines and associated service roads -- infrastructure which is despised by environmentalists.
The amount of land dedicated to the Energy Department's wind wish is beyond comprehension. Hardcore greenies shudder at the thought of the development of thousands of square miles; plus the turbines will drive animal rights activists bonkers.
Those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area know a little something about this.
In the 1970s, just east of the San Francisco Bay, the world's largest concentration of wind turbines was constructed. Some 4,500 windmills are ensconced atop 50,000 acres of grassy hills, presently generating a modest 576 megawatts of power. Officially known as the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, one would suppose the wind farm is an icon of greenness. But instead, Altamont Pass is the poster girl of eco-infighting.
As soon as the multitude of three-bladed rotors were installed, animal rights advocates began counting the carcasses of thousands of dead birds. Since then, numerous lawsuits have been filed and millions of dollars spent procuring studies to track the bird body count in an effort to determine how to address the problem. The result has been a sorely undermaintained, underutilized, cost-ineffective alternative energy source that many activists would like to completely shutter.
For the environmentalists, the answer is not really blowing in the wind. I believe their real desire is to see America use less energy -- period.
If America's first and largest wind farm remains in the crosshairs of eco-activists, it's foolhardy to think that future plans to harness the wind will ever get off the ground. Besides, wind energy generation needs a full-time backup delivery system powered by fossil fuels for days when the winds not blowing. In the meantime, there are billions of undeveloped barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico just waiting to be tapped. Of course, along with the oil, there will also be jobs, an improved economy, additional tax revenue, and plentiful energy.
Blow off the turbine plan. Ninety-billion-dollar "bipartisan" compromises are absurd.
Instead, let's drill, baby, drill.
Brian Sussman is a radio talk show host on KSFO-AM, San Francisco. His book, Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes The Global Warming Scam, will be released March 31.