Industrial wind power generation probably never will come to Charles County, but turbines still could be useful investments for individuals, small businesses or farms looking to buy less electricity or be kinder to the earth, a state energy expert told the county commissioners last week.
Coastal areas near the mouth of the Potomac River are windy enough to make them attractive for small turbines, said Andrew Gohn, Clean Energy Program manager for the Maryland Energy Administration.
His office even offers loans to help make it happen for homeowners, provided the design is certified by engineers with either the New York or California state government or by a new nonprofit organization, the Small Wind Certification Council, Gohn said.
Maryland doesn’t have the expertise necessary to conduct certifications for the Maryland Home Energy Loan Program itself, he explained.
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), who installed a wind turbine to power his Swan Point house, wasn’t quite ready to give up on wider use of wind in Charles County.
“Obviously, I can speak firsthand. Those [wind] maps are wrong,” he said. He suggested that turbines be installed in the Potomac River south of the county, with the power they generate added to the grid at the Morgantown Generating Station, a GenOn-owned coal-fired plant nearby.
Gohn stuck to his guns, saying the Appalachian Mountains were Maryland’s best site for industrial wind development, followed by certain areas on the lower Eastern Shore.
“The wind resource is always going to be better the higher you go,” he said.
Robinson had an ally in Kathy Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center, where Robinson sits on the board.
“We believe, by looking at the numbers, offshore wind could have the biggest potential impact in the shortest time,” she told the commissioners.
Using the wind to create electricity is relatively new, but using it to power machines directly is long-attested, Magruder added.
“Wind energy was used way before … to bring water up to run farm machinery. This is not new news. When you go to the Netherlands you think of all the windmills in the Netherlands to grind grain and so forth,” Magruder said.
Denmark has staked its future on modern offshore wind turbines and now derives about a quarter of its energy from them, said Richard Swett, CEO of Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions, an alternative energy company. Swett served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark from 1998 to 2001.
But the traits that make windmills so useful to Denmark, and that make the mountains and the Chesapeake Bay the best wind power sites in Maryland, also mean that wind probably always will be a marginal source of power for the United States as a whole.
“Typically you’re looking at high elevations, which is what the Appalachian ridge location would warrant. You’re also looking for a shoreline where you have the coolness of the ocean meeting the warmth of the land, and that generates a lot of shore breezes that will produce wind sufficient to turn these turbines.”
He estimated that wind power could provide, at most, about 5 percent of America’s energy.
“That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. It’s a clean energy, a renewable energy, it doesn’t use any carbon whatsoever. It’s favorable in those respects, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” Swett said.
Industrial and small-scale wind projects run into their own problems here, too, including zoning laws that haven’t caught up to the concept and the opposition of neighbors who don’t want to see them. He recalled the controversy swirling around the Cape Wind offshore turbine project in Massachusetts, vehemently opposed by mainly wealthy residents in resort towns.
“You’ve heard about the Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket situation. It’s very wealthy people, including the Kennedy family, who one would think is very involved in the good things for the environment. They were part of the NIMBY crowd that didn’t want these things,” Swett said, using an acronym for Not in My Backyard. “That’s the problem, is you have a community of environmentalists who hammer for clean energy. Then you’ve got a solution and they become your toughest opponents.”
For his part, Swett said he doesn’t think the wind turbines look so bad.
“I think they’re actually quite beautiful and striking, but what do I know, I guess. I’m being facetious, but I think there’s a lack of consistency within the environmental community with respect to solving environmental issues with clean and renewable energy in the United States. There are trade-offs that have to be made,” he said.
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