As a long-time resident of LBI, and someone who has spent the last 62 summers on the Island, I would like to share some of the “progress” our Island has made. And as a mechanical engineer who has spent the last 40 years on mechanical and electrical infrastructure development, including energy efficient technologies and the use of renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal, I feel more than qualified to offer some commentary. So here goes.
To understand the desirability of an East Coast barrier island such as LBI, one only needs to walk to the beach on a warm summer day and look out over the vast expanse of water and feel the breeze of the prevailing south-southeast winds. What you are observing, the Atlantic Ocean, is quite simply the largest air conditioner in the world. Air is being pushed over a cool body of water. This works wonders and brings a delightful comfort to our beaches every July and August. In addition, these prevailing winds push into our shores the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which makes a dip in our ocean so appealing.
Now for a little history: When I was a kid growing up and spending my summers in Brant Beach in the ’60s and ’70s, we had no air-conditioning in our summer home. Hardly anyone did. You really did not need it. Except for the rare days with west winds, it was fine. The air was warm during the day, but not unbearable, and nights were comfortable, sometimes even cool. We never wore shoes back then. The streets were not too hot, so you could walk barefoot, and you even could walk your dog in the middle of the day without him burning his paws.
Every street end from the beach to the bay worked like a “wind tunnel.” The cool ocean breeze would come off the ocean, over the relatively flat beach, and swirl down the street and cool off the entire width of the Island. It was nice. It was why we came to the shore.
So what has changed? Why does everyone now need air-conditioning to survive a summer? Why does everyone now wear shoes when they go for a walk, and why can I walk my dog only in the early morning or evening? Why when we walk over the dune from the ocean does the temperature immediately climb five, 10 or even 15 degrees? Can we really blame all this on “climate change”? The answer is “no.” But the culprit is still man-made.
Over the last 50 years, we’ve let development run amuck. We’ve allowed taller homes and built up our dunes to protect us from storms, and in the process we’ve blocked the wind tunnels. We now pave our new roads using plain old blacktop asphalt that has no particulate to reflect the sun. These roads heat up to over 160 degrees Fahrenheit on hot summer days. And when most of the 9,000 homes on the Island began 24/7 central air-conditioning, which literally pumps up to five to 10 billion BTUs of heat into our environment every summer day, well, we just overwhelmed our little Island. It was too much to bear. In short, we’ve “paved paradise.”
So now another progressive idea has presented itself, a “green solution” for carbon-free energy: wind turbines. This is compelling. We’ve got that “free wind” out there just asking to be tapped as an energy source. Solar and wind power are our future, right? Not so fast.
The problem with renewable energy technologies like wind and solar has not gone away. Can they be part of the solution? Yes. But we have not solved the major issue, which is they are notoriously unreliable. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine. So, you must fill in the gaps (and the peaks and valleys) with other energy resources to meet the 24/7 demand. This has to be done with fossil fuels or nuclear power. So you can pave our planet with solar panels and build wind turbines all over the world, but you still need traditional power plants to run our lives the other 50% of the time. It is coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear. Pick your poison – fossil fuels or the atom?
The point here is that the promised energy solution of wind turbines off our shores is not a solution. In fact, it might exacerbate the very problem it hopes to solve and cause others. If you believe for a moment that a vast farm of huge wind turbines off the coast of New Jersey is going to have zero (or a negligible) effect on our environment, you are mistaken. You remember that giant air conditioner known as the Atlantic Ocean I mentioned? Well, the air that blows over that cool water is now going to be disturbed. Greatly. You are literally pulling gigawatts of energy out of the air when those turbines capture the wind energy. Those gigawatts of cooling energy will now no longer hit our beaches. How is that going to work out for our summer resorts? Not well. If you can’t escape the heat by going to the shore, then why go?
There are numerous other issues, passionately debated, about the other effects of wind turbines (their noise, their detrimental effects on migrating whale and bird populations, to name a few). But absent all of them, and the eyesore issue, is the energy problem remains. There is no scalable and reliable way to store energy for the times when the wind does not blow. So we are once again in the position of attempting to solve one problem, spending billions of dollars, failing, and then causing another and more serious problem in the process.
I will leave you with this: That giant air conditioner known as the Atlantic Ocean that has been cooling the Jersey Shore for free for the last 250 years or so is not broken. Why are we trying to fix it?
Hubert Streep lives in Brant Beach.
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