The concept of offshore wind farms may at first appear attractive from a “green” energy concept, however it is, in reality, a disaster of major proportions in the making. Under the guise of “green,” offshore wind farms in areas such as the Nantucket Sound, Georges Banks and the Nantucket Lightship areas would destroy much of our country’s most productive fishing grounds and threaten future seafood production essential to our food supply. Although held at bay by intelligent citizens and legislators until now, they are being besieged by bureaucrats who for reasons about which I care not to speculate, dangle leases aimed at speculators for acres in fishing grounds wherein wind farms have no business and should never be located.
It is time to examine the more economical solutions to providing reliable and non-polluting alternatives for generating sufficient electrical power to meet the current and future needs of our country, and it is apparent to anyone who carefully examines off shore wind farm ideas and technology that off shore wind farms are most definitely the wrong solution.
The heavy equipment used in installation process will destroy the local fish habitat for large areas around each of the tower locations and also along the channels for the hundreds of miles of high voltage cabling between the towers, and to the electrical service platform(s) and to the shore power pickup location(s).
The tower assembly poses an obstruction at sea and also has a negative effect on radar operations in and around the wind farm. All assemblies associated with the wind farm also pose a hazard to towed fishing net equipment. The seriousness of these deleterious effects appears to be shunted aside or downplayed with arcane or overly simplistic arguments. In reality, locating wind farms in fishing grounds such as Nantucket Sound, the Georges Banks and the Nantucket Lightship areas is trading off extremely expensive electricity for extremely valuable food supplies. The installation of offshore wind farms will most definitely do irreparable damage to our nations treasured fishing grounds and fish recovery regions along the Atlantic seaboard. To provide electric power at all times wind farms must be backed up with fossil fueled generating plants or small modular nuclear reactors. They must also be highly supported with at least 30 percent government subsidies. Rate payers will get hit with the double whammy of high electric costs and more taxes to pay the subsidies.
Land-based wind farm costs provide no comparison basis for offshore when even a simple repair takes place. To service a land base power nacelle in any weather – pleasant summer or winter storm – needs only two men in a pickup truck to drive to the tower, ride up the interior of the mast and service the nacelle equipment. Even in good weather with moderate seas, the sea farm repair is considerably more difficult by boat and in bad weather, it’s a whole new ball game fraught with danger, that may not be playable.
At present (December 2010-January 2011) in Southeastern Massachusetts, electric generation charges to customers are 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour without government subsidies; the comments that customers will pay more for clean energy is moot since they will be paying all of the costs through taxation. It may be hearsay, but over 21 cents per kilowatt hour for Cape wind and has been analyzed and is a totally unreasonable amount. Offshore projects may appear great for job generation, but with no reasonable financial incentive for electrical purchasers will result in wind farms being nothing but a great taxpayer rip off boondoggle. And the job losses in the fishing industry as a result of wind farms in fishing areas are simply glossed over as are the destruction of valuable fishing grounds. One myth that is quite misleading is the oft-used comment that wind farms will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. “U.S. Electric Utility Companies responded to the threat of the 1973 Arab oil embargo by replacing petroleum fuel oil with USA coal, nuclear energy and natural gas to power their generators. The USA no longer depends on petroleum to generate electricity for the power grid. The USA is not dependent on foreign sources of energy for electricity generation.” (AmericanEnergyIndependence.com.) And as discussed below, the small modular reactor concept, if adopted, would completely eliminate the need for the destruction of extremely valuable fishing grounds by wind farms.
Foreign problems with wind farms
The problems associated with wind turbines and wind farms are widespread internationally. Feb. 14, The Associated Press and other news media including Bloomberg Business Week published an article on court battles in the Netherlands and other European countries. I could not determine who first published the information, but key statements in most of the articles include:
“Of some 200 wind energy projects studied in 2007-8 in Europe, 40 percent were ensnared in lawsuits, and 30 percent more faced slowdowns because of local resistance or questioning from nonprofit environmental groups, the association said. It had no figures on how many projects were killed before they got started.”
Even many of the so called green organizations are against wind farms. In addition, they cannot produce electricity competitively and require massive government subsidies for both installation and subsequent operation. Rate payers are hit a double whammy, higher electric rates and higher taxes to pay the subsidies.
Potential oil problems
Wind turbines also require fairly large amounts of oil for lubrication and other needs. With some 70,000 gallons of oil needed for the Nantucket Shoal wind farm, under New England winter storm conditions, this much oil distributed through the wind farm field could under certain conditions lead to oil spill problems in rich fishing grounds, a potential hazard that has no business in the fishing grounds.
“Wind Farms interfere with radar” is the opening sentence of the Jason Report by the Mitre Corporation, “Wind Farms and Radar,” dated January 2008. The Jason Report deals primarily with air traffic control and its ramifications, and it has stalled development of some wind farms. But the implications are very clear with regard to interference with radar operations at sea.
The Coast Guard had radar analyses carried out, and results are presented as Appendix M of “Report of the Effect on Radar Performance of the Proposed Cape Wind Project and Advance Copy of USCG Findings and Mitigation” January 2009 and shows that radars are indeed disrupted by wind farms. Wind farms do interfere with shipboard radars, therefore if safe and economic fishing operations are to continue in Nantucket Sound, it is essential that either adequate mitigation solutions be found or the Cape Wind Project be modified to reduce its impact on radar technology or abandoned. Under limited visibility conditions, such as in fog or darkness, single-handed fishing of any type appears difficult or dangerous at best anywhere near the wind farm, and fishing multi-manned, including an experienced radar operator, requires constant attention to a radar screen.
There are no truly viable engineering-based mitigating techniques for reducing radar interference to an acceptable level at this time. One illogical statement of considerable concern that appears in several places in the Coast Guard documents is that “many of the mitigations and specific application of mitigations would be best determined during or after construction.” Since the Coast Guard also stated “Economic impacts are outside the purview of the Coast Guard’s review of the proposal,” the requirement for safe fishing using current techniques would apparently place extensive economic burdens on small fishing operations that could possibly greatly damage the New England fishing industry and should be considered as an important part of a determination for the development of the Cape Wind Project. The Coast Guard should never have been able to evaluate offshore wind farms without having taken this in account in any of their reviews.
Avoiding the towers as obstacles
Simply stating stay clear of the towers really means stay a long way from the towers, because ocean current effects on towed fishing net arrays and both wind and current effects on the towing vessel may require large clearances to prevent snagging on the tower assembly, which could result in severe accidents. Thus after the construction period each tower will effectively limit fishing in a larger region in the fishing area than is taken up by the tower footprint.
Emergency air rescue helicopter
Using a helicopter to offer help to a vessel in distress within or very close to the wind farm may pose a difficult problem. If the wind farm has a control room that can remotely control each turbine to brake the rotor (propeller) and control the orientation of adjacent units, a helicopter could approach and hover near or over the vessel provided the vessel was not too close to a mast and its location was perpendicular to the rotor. This simplistic solution may not be possible in a short enough time frame depending on the nature of the emergency. This aspect of the wind farm needs analysis by the Coast Guard or the FAA.
The wind farm bandwagon
It seems that there are many organizations jumping on the wind farm bandwagon, not caring what they do to the marine habitat, much to the detriment of the fishing industry. The desire to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the “green plans” are powering the race to exploit all sorts of schemes to generate profit at the expense of taxpayers and sea habitat that can effectively cripple our fishing industry. In a review of land-based installations, one key question has always been the consideration of the value of the land area to be used by a wind farm against its value for other uses. The enormous value of our fishing grounds seems to be outside of consideration here, whereas the value of the fishing grounds to be destroyed most likely exceeds the value of a wind farm by an order of magnitude. Placing offshore wind farms in any of the fishing grounds or areas of fishing preserve is a blunder of enormous proportions, and will severely impact the future of our food industry. Fortunately, the Cape Wind Project has been held at bay by intelligent citizens and legislators, but now all valuable fishing grounds are being besieged by bureaucrats who for some unknown reason, about which I care not to speculate, dangle leases aimed at speculators for acres in fishing grounds wherein wind farms have no business and should never be located.
Viable alternate to sea-based wind farms
Sea-based wind farms present numerous problems regarding safety at sea and destruction of fisheries habitat. In addition, cost analyses are questionable and may both increase the cost of electricity and require taxpayer support by taking advantage of various tax credits. At the present time, there are many proposed designs for ultra-safe and reliable small modular nuclear reactors that generate 25 or more megawatts of electrical output. For example, the proposed system by NuScale Power is a scalable self-contained 45 megawatt electric, Light Water Reactor nuclear power plant that is transportable by barge, truck or rail. Up to 24 of these can be combined at a single location to generate greater amounts of power, and individual units can be taken off line without affecting the others. Note that five to seven of the NuScale modular reactors on a few acres at Otis AFB would replace the Cape Wind project and produce cheaper clean power 24 hours a day year round.
The nuclear material in these small devices cannot be converted for nuclear weaponry. There are many other corporations world-wide designing such small nuclear batteries, and they will rapidly prove far superior to wind farms for generating safe, cheap, environmentally friendly electrical power and at much lower cost. For example, as stated above, locating the nuclear battery group on a few acres of Otis AFB would outperform the Cape Wind Project and provide cheaper electricity, and operate day and night and whether or not wind speeds are outside of windmill operating limits.
Gerry Ouellette is a retired aerospace engineer with extensive experience in electrical power generation, storage and distribution, and in defense, radar and navigation systems and technologies.
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