Development of Alternative Energy

by Bruce Freeman

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association September 2011 Newsletter)


Over the last two years JCAA has been involved at a number of meetings dealing with so-called alternative forms of electricity generation. These meetings include those hosted by the Secretary of Interior, the Minerals Management Service, wind generation start-up companies, and, most recently, by a company interested in the transmission of electricity produced by fields of wind generators located in near shore ocean waters, called Atlantic Wind Connection.

Why all this interest in wind generation, especially in ocean waters off the mid-Atlantic? The reasons for this are several. First, the greatest concentrated electricity demand in our country occurs in the area stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C. While there are many electric generation facilities located in this corridor, still much of our electricity demand is met from coal-fired plants to our west in states of the Ohio River valley. Second, the US Department of Energy has determined that among the most attractive offshore wind resources in the country are those occurring off the mid-Atlantic coast. Third, the use of electricity is most efficiently used as it is generated due to the fact that it is not practical to store large amounts of it. The highest demand of electric power occurs during daylight hours. And since wind at sea is strongest during the day and lowest at night, just the opposite of land generated wind, electricity generated by sea winds are more efficient and therefore more valuable. Fourth, the existing land-based electricity transmission grid in the mid-Atlantic region is about at its capacity. Some power experts believe that if it were not for the present recession causing many of our industries to be closed down, we would not have adequate power this summer to meet our usual demands and would experience rolling blackouts. If the transmission grid system could be tied in with offshore wind generation, it would provide for much needed relief. Fifth, some energy experts estimate that up to half of the electricity demands of the east coast could be supplied by wind energy, a proven technology in other parts of the world.

Most energy experts believe that the sighting of clusters of wind turbines, commonly called wind farms, will occur 12 or more miles off the coast and will be developed in phases over the next 10 to 15 years. The typical wind turbine as seen on land is a single tower some 120 feet high with rotating blades about 60 feet long. Each of these standard turbines can generate about 1.5 MW. However there are now larger ones being built capable of generating 7.0 MW and some on the drawing boards that can generate 10.0 MW.

But there are drawbacks to wind generation as well. The wind does not always blow continuously or it blows too strong. Wind turbines operate in winds between about 5 and 30 mph. A wind less than 5 mph does not provide enough force to propel the turbine blades and a wind greater than 30 mph requires the blades to be feathered to prevent them from self destructing due to the high rotational speed. Because of these limitations, there is a need for some back-up generation system, usually fossil fueled, to generate electricity under conditions where the wind is not reliable. An advantage of the Atlantic Wind Connection proposal is its large central transmission line, called a backbone line, running mostly parallel to the coast from New York to Virginia in order to connect the planned multiple wind farms. Over this large stretch of coast, the wind is almost always blowing somewhere as various weather systems move through the region and some amounts of electricity are always being produced. Because of this regional reliability it requires less conventional back-up power to be built on land.

There is also the issue of cost. At present it costs from 5 to 10 cents per KWH to produce electricity from coal-powered or nuclear plants. It now costs from 10 to 20 cents per KWH for land-based wind generation. It is estimated it will cost 20 to 22 cents per KWH for offshore wind generation. But these costs do not include environmental costs. Coal-fired is the most polluting. Natural gas is only 50% less polluting than coal, and we still do not have a suitable safe and secure disposal system for nuclear waste.

From an environmental standpoint there are concerns about wind farms and their transmission lines. Many species of shorebirds and waterfowl migrate seasonally along the coast and the turbine blades can be a significant cause of mortality. From a fishery standpoint the transmission lines can induce an electromagnetic field along the seafloor that could interrupt the inshore-offshore migration of marine life including lobsters and crabs, as well as demersal fishes.

JCAA has expressed concern over the restrictions that could be placed upon recreational fishermen being excluded from the area occupied by wind farms which can each measure several square miles. So far we have been told that no restrictions would be placed on recreational fishermen since the turbine blades would be 60 feet or so above the sea and pose no safety problems. However, there remains the concern that for possible security reasons, the government may exclude any use of the area covered by wind farms.

JCAA has asked potential developers of wind farms if they would be willing to place rip-rap around the base of the transmission towers. This would serve to increase the area of solid substrate and act as artificial reefs to enhance the productivity of fishes and other marine life. They said they would consider this request.

Although valid concerns remain over the building of wind farms and transmission lines situated off the New Jersey coast, the production of electricity by such means holds tremendous environmental improvements over the use of those through cooling water at both coal-fired and nuclear power plants, and even over cooling towers now required for new plant construction. In addition, unlike offshore oil rigs, a wind farm will not spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean the way BPs Deepwater Horizon did last year.


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