Benefits of Public Education on Offshore Wind Farms

Painting by Marie Wise 2006 http://www.mariewise.com/galleries/2006-2/nggallery/page/2

Painting by Marie Wise 2006 http://www.mariewise.com/galleries/2006-2/nggallery/page/2

Tyler Conaway-Environmental Science

Scott Curry-Geology

Samuel Evans-NRC

Edgar Hernandez-BCT

Sam Shepherd-BCT

Evan Stark-BCT

Don’t judge on outward appearance, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.  We’ve all heard this phrase countless times in life when applied to people, but why shouldn’t it apply to wind farms?  Wind farms and turbines are constantly referred to as eyesores and quickly dismissed by a portion of our population without thinking about the content of their “character.”  These turbines produce clean energy without producing harmful greenhouse gasses and without using a rapidly dwindling non-renewable resource (http://energy.gov/eere/wind/how-do-wind-turbines-work).  However, some people refuse them strictly because it would make their pristine beach view a little less pristine.  Many would agree that wind turbines are not the most aesthetically pleasing form of architecture, but they could be instrumental in reducing the world’s total carbon footprint.  A common view held by people pertaining to environmental issues is a way of thinking known as NIMBY or “Not In My Backyard”.  It means that a person may be supportive of overall positive environmental change as long as it doesn’t directly affect them negatively.

The first proposed wind farm project in the U.S. off the coast of Cape Cod has been in progress for over a decade, and is a perfect example of this NIMBY philosophy and how it can inhibit these projects from getting built.  The Cape Wind offshore farm has so many positives working for it, but for some people its appearance is the only thing that matters.  Locals supporting the offshore turbines could be a big part in getting away from the “NIMBY” way of thinking and hopefully encourage other personal sacrifices for the environment.  Gaining support is very realistic and there are many ways in which it can be done, and it is going to be necessary in order to implement renewable energy sources like offshore wind farms in an efficient and effective way.  Parents make personal sacrifices all the time to benefit their own kids, why not make one that can benefit everyone – especially one as minor as accepting the appearance of an otherwise positive and necessary machine?

One hundred and thirteen million gallons of oil (http://www.capewind.org).  That’s the amount the Cape Wind project has the potential to save a year.  If we consider that an average gas tank holds about 12 gallons, that’s enough oil to fill up the tanks of 9,416,666 cars.  Unlike the combustion of oil however, the Cape Wind project can produce this amount of energy in a way that doesn’t put carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

Why Offshore Wind?

Wind energy is a very clean and safe renewable energy source and wind farms have been attempted in many different areas across the country, in many cases unsuccessfully (Anderson, Morrison, Strickland, & Sinclair, 1999, para. 3). If wind energy is so great, why do projects keep getting shut down? The answer is actually due to the fact that wind farms are implemented in ways that annoy people in various ways, wind farms can have some negative effects on animal habitats, and the amount of money that the initial setup of a wind farm can cost scares investors and locals (Sullivan, Kirchler, Cothren, & Winters, 2013). Typically during the attempt to implement a wind farm a private company will clear land, build the wind farm over a few years, then face public outcry over various issues, then face shut down or halting of the project.  Recently, wind farms have moved from land to offshore. This solves a number of problems including minimizing aesthetic issues much of the public has with the turbines, as well as a reduction in avian mortality due to turbine blades. Moving offshore also increases the survival rate of wind turbines greatly, and the offshore conditions provide a stronger and more consistent wind supply (European offshore wind industry key trends and statistics 2014, 2014).

A popular location for wind farms in the United States happens to be the New England coast because of the strong consistent winds in the area (European offshore wind industry key trends and statistics 2014, 2014). One such project in particular, the Cape Wind offshore wind farm in between Cape Cod and Nantucket, was faced with massive red tape from locals and political activists. The main issues people had with the project were the changes to the marine ecosystem, the potential for avian fatalities, and the unwanted aesthetic factors which led to the project being put on hold many times as a result of protest (Janssen, 2012, para. 2). In the offshore setting, the habitat will definitely change, but the change could be a positive outcome for many species that seek shelter such as coral dwelling fish and mollusks (Janssen, 2012, para. 4). Even if the habitat changes weren’t immediately positive, the environmental benefits of clean renewable energy will eventually outweigh the negative effects as wildlife will depend on us switching to clean energy to reduce global warming effects on habitat degradation and species endangerment. People are too concerned with the immediate impacts of a project such as Cape Wind, and can easily misunderstand all the facts and benefits. By educating the public on the various long term impacts of an offshore wind farm as well as the alternative positive changes to habitats and long term boosts to the economy, offshore wind farms will be more widely accepted, fought less, and hopefully the future energy statistics will have wind energy as a leading source of power for the world.

Opposition

Another large point of concern for those with opposition to the Cape Wind Project is the concern for the financial planning of such a large project. This is a just concern considering the proposed costs are upwards of over two billion dollars alone for the turbines. This does not include the costs for the construction of any part of the proposal. Cape Wind Associates (2014) claim the construction is expected to cost an additional sum of over six hundred thousand dollars. With right, the opposition has its frights about the cost and questions to be answered about who will pay for it and how it will affect the consumer. Another question at large is why waste the time or effort if the Cape has no shortage of energy. Another valid point, why waste taxpayers money on building ANOTHER energy source? This all seems to be a waste of monetary resources and (no pun intended) energy.

Let us address this first problem pertaining to the big question of money and costs, so that we can address the following questions. With the initial estimated price of two billion dollars this seems to be an extraordinarily high price for an energy project.  First we need to break it down in order to understand where all of this money for funding is coming from and who it is being provided by.

Considering this project is to be funded and established by a private utility company, Energy Management Inc., little to no funding will come from the state (Cape Wind Assoc., 2014, para. Where & When?). This means that no additional taxes will be added on to the taxpayer’s bills. The large demand for funding is all managed by Energy Management Inc… Save Our Sound, an active movement against the production of the project makes very valid points against the project despite this point (Taylor, 2013, para. Top 10 Myths). Save Our Sound claims that despite the funding the consumer will still pay more for the electricity. Although this claim is true the numbers provided are skewed.

According to Save Our Sound, Cape Wind will increase the electricity price by 230%. They claim that this increase is proven by the contract signed by Cape Wind and the National Grid. However, according to Cape Wind the price will only increase by about 1-2%. This increase is not in vain though. The increase of price is due to the large expenses in the beginning of the project. As green energy products are developed they are still in the beginning phases of development with continual advancement. This unfortunately means larger initial costs, but the savings appear in the long run.  According to Energy Trends, a major energy information publisher, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates a reduction in cost for the consumer by 75% by 2030 for offshore wind energy (Energy Trends, 2015, fig. 1).  Offshore wind is still a relatively new energy resource, but as the technology innovates costs will be reduced in the near future.

Currently 45% of the Cape is using energy from the Canal Energy Plant near Sandwich, MA. This facility currently creates energy using bunker oil and natural gas. With the creation of the Cape Wind project the dependency of the Cape on this facility will be greatly reduced. Cape Wind claims the completed project will be able to produce enough energy equivalent to roughly 113 million gallons of oil, which translates to about 38% of Cape Cod’s energy use (Cape Wind Assoc., 2014, para. 3).  This is just one small area off the coast of the U.S. and there are many more potentially successful areas, including the Great Lakes, where offshore wind can be a reliable energy source.  The U.S. Department of Energy estimates offshore wind in the U.S. could generate more than 4,000,000 MW of clean energy (U.S. Department of Energy, 2015, para. 2).  This source has great potential to provide a substantial amount of energy in a clean renewable way, something that Europe has realized and taken advantage of for some time.  According to the European Wind Energy Association (2014), currently 8,045.3 MW are produced by offshore wind and connected to the European grid, and they continue to add more offshore farms every year.  There’s no reason the United States shouldn’t take advantage of this energy source while much of the rest of the world can.  The reason why we don’t is because the public doesn’t support this source, but if they knew the great potential it has in providing clean, local, renewable and reliable energy and recognized Europe benefitting from it, support would increase and lead to the utilization of offshore wind energy.

Another major economic component of a new energy source is jobs, and offshore wind can create a lot of new green jobs.  The major opposing group of Cape Wind, Save Our Sound, addresses the economics of the project claiming the creation of the wind turbines may affect the tourism in the Cape Cod area. This is true however, the movement claims it will negatively affect tourism. In order to counter that fret or scare of tourism decreasing Cape Wind has paired with Hy-Line Cruises for “Eco-Tours” in order to not only show off this new advancement towards a green energy movement but to also help maintain or increase the tourism rate in the surrounding areas (Cape Wind Assoc., 2014, para. 4).  Cape Wind (2014) claims this new tourism market will create more jobs, in addition to the 600-1,000 new jobs during the project assembly, followed by an estimated 150 permanent jobs during operation (Cape Wind Assoc., 2014, para. 4).  This is just an example of one offshore wind project creating many local jobs, showing a great opportunity for a new green job industry in the U.S.

Environmental Benefits

As previously mentioned, Cape Wind is one of the largest and most promising renewable energy projects in the nation. The project will provide clean and renewable energy to thousands of people in the Cape Cod area. The efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants and our fossil fuel consumption will finally be considerably increased by the project. Cape Wind will not only change pollution levels in the area but can also provide new habitats for many species of birds and fish. Unfortunately, a large part of the community does not support the project; many members have little to zero knowledge about the positive environmental effects of the project.

If people possessed the necessary and accurate information concerning all the benefits of the offshore wind farm, they would look at the project differently and show support.

A major problem people have with wind turbines concerns the potential for bird fatalities, but they might not understand how this has been addressed in recent years.  In the online article “Commercial-Scale Wind Power”, author Wilson (2013) argues that larger turbines are safer for birds. The author describes how the older smaller turbines spun too fast and were nearly invisible to birds, but the new larger turbines spin at a lower speed so that birds can see them and evade the blades, reducing fatalities. The fact is that new wind turbines pose a minor threat to birds; new turbines’ speeds and direction can be remotely controlled and adjusted, which prevents turbine blades from causing damage to migratory birds as the blade rotation can easily be changed to match the migration patterns of birds passing through the wind farm. New turbines are also more efficient that older turbines; efficiency is important because these turbines require less speed for operation, obtaining the same output of energy as faster wind turbines. In the research article “Studying Wind Energy/Bird Interactions: A guidance document”, authors Anderson, Morrison, Strickland and Sinclair (1999) state that simple changes to turbine designs can have a large impact on bird habitats in the surrounding areas. The authors say that basic design alterations, such as “turbine strings placed back from rim edges” (Anderson, Morrison, Strickland & Sinclair, 1999, p. 64), had a positive effect on the survival of most raptor species in the area of study.  Engineers recognize the concerns people have with these turbines, and are addressing them through innovation to minimize negative effects.

Air pollution reduction has also become a major factor leading to the creation of more wind farms as it will improve health conditions for both humans and animals. In the article “Ruling Allows Data Collection for Largest Renewable Plant in U.S” published in the Power Engineering journal (2002) the author claims that the Cape Wind project will reduce pollution in the area. The claim is supported by a study made by the Cape Wind project, in which the project will eliminate 4,600 tons of sulfur dioxide, 120 tons of carbon dioxide, and 1,566 tons of nitrous oxide, thus reducing greenhouse emissions by more than a million tons and improve air quality.  This would lead to lower mortality rates, and is a much safer alternative as opposed to continuing the exploitation of fossil fuels such as coal to power our homes. In the research article: “NEPA review of offshore wind farms” Bisbee (2004), the author shows us a study issued by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2000 which found that premature deaths increased on a per capita basis, with proximity to the Brayton Point coal plant near Fall River in Southeastern Massachusetts. He claims that the study proves that areas near coal plants exhibit a higher mortality rate, which can be decreased by replacing these coal plants for wind farms.

Aesthetics

Public opposition of offshore wind farms is heavily influenced by the visual impact on nearby coastal communities. In the research article Offshore Wind Turbine Visibility and Visual Impact Threshold Distances Sullivan et al. (2013) comment:

Because distance is so important to reducing or avoiding impacts, an accurate understanding of the relationship between distance and the visibility of utility-scale offshore wind facilities in real settings is critical to the optimal siting of new facilities. (p. 2).

Studies have shown that an offshore wind farms location relative to the coast is a major factor in regards to visual impact. Sullivan et al. (2013) did a study on The Cape Wind projects visual impacts on coastal habitants and concluded that:

The turbines would be visible from 99% of the Nantucket Sound shoreline at distances of 0–10 km (0–6 mi), from 71% of the shoreline at 10–19 km (6–12 mi), and from 66% of the shoreline at 19–29 km (12–18 mi). (p. 5).

This suggests that moving the location of the Cape Wind project so that it is located at least 12 miles from any shoreline would reduce the visibility 33% from the originally proposed location, which was 5 miles from the coast. This reduction in turbine visibility would certainly mitigate opposition directed towards protecting the historical landscape, as it would impact coastal views far less. A complete and accurate understanding of the benefits of offshore wind energy and the specific practices to limit visual impact, is critical in order to gain the public support of affected coastal communities.

Visual impact of offshore turbines can be limited in the planning phase of the wind farm project. Incorporating the public’s opinion into the early stages of planning an offshore windfarm will allow coastal residents and any other concerned citizens the ability to give their suggestions and change the layout of a windfarm to ensure minimal visual impact (Visual Resources Mitigation Measures). This directly targets the opposition of offshore windfarms and is a proven way to help the project succeed.

Proposal

The lack of public support of offshore windfarms impedes the development of a progressive, beneficial clean renewable energy source and must be addressed through education and environmentally friendly implementation.  It is imperative that support of these farms increases so they can be built, because without public approval of the surrounding communities that will never happen.  Many who object these farms simply don’t want them in their own backyard, because they are ugly and could kill birds and disrupt wildlife.  Those who make these assumptions haven’t been well informed of the benefits of the farms, and how little environmental damage they can actually inflict.  This is why education on this matter must be improved, so that the public is properly informed of all the aspects of these farms and can show their support for this energy source.  Specifically, education should be improved to address the science and benefits of offshore wind farms, as well as the environmental concerns people have.

The science of these farms must be understood by the public so that they can understand the true benefits.  This includes how much energy they can supply, how they impact the environment and wildlife, and how the clean energy affects global warming.  These might already be well understood by scientists and investors, but reaching locals on a personal level informing them of how they will be directly affected by this energy source can lead to a better understanding of the benefits of these wind farms, and subsequently increase support.  These benefits greatly outweigh any negative factors people might assume, and should also be understood by the public.  Benefits include zero pollution which leads to reduced greenhouse gases and climate change effects, energy security, sustainability, and economic development including a large new job industry.  A well-informed public on the science and benefits of offshore wind farms would lead to greater support, and thus expedite the process of implementing them into our energy system.

Improving education involves public, private, and federal participation so that all sectors are involved.  Typical methods for spreading a message would have an impact, such as petitions, public rallying, and lobbying.  These, as well as increasing research to collect more data regarding the issue, would get elected officials involved which is imperative for these farms to get all the legal credentials approved and implemented.  Another, more direct method of literally increasing education regarding renewable energy in general is to increase formal education in schools.  This would spark interest in this field and engage students to better understand renewable energy.  This has been supported by Cape Wind, as in 2003 they donated $100,000 to Cape Cod Community College to help launch a renewable energy curriculum (Cape Wind, 2014).  In addition to schools, programs in museums and libraries and other public resources can help spread education on renewable energy.  Acts like this are directly improving education regarding renewable energy in order to gain more support for renewable energy projects and boost the industry.

Another important way to gain public support of offshore wind farms is by implementing the farms in an environmentally friendly way to mitigate negative environmental effects, addressing environmental concerns people have with this technology.  This means minimizing habitat degradation during installation and maintenance, and managing the turbines being mindful of bird migrations.  This would address the popular concerns many people have regarding wind farms’ negative environmental impacts, and knowing they would be implemented in such a way would gain more public support and approval.  To ensure these farms would be built in an environmentally friendly way, more research about their impacts on the environment should be done to improve the building methods and technology, and carefully designing, siting, and planning the project would also minimize environmental impact on marine habitats.  Wind Power is still a relatively new energy source, but as it becomes more acceptable and is utilized more it should progress to become more efficient and less harmful to the environment.  For example, the impact of these farms on birds was a major concern in the past but should be much less now because the technology has evolved to mitigate this impact, as we noted Wilson (2013) pointed out in “Commercial-Scale Wind Power” the newly designed turbines have resulted in far fewer bird fatalities.  This is just one example of how the technology of offshore wind farms has improved over time to address the issues people have concern for, and with more acceptance and implementation of these farms the technology will continue to improve.

This also ties in with education on the matter, as raising awareness of how these farms can be implemented in an environmentally friendly way involves educating the public on how this can and should be done.  What some people fail to understand is that wildlife depends on us switching to clean renewable energy like offshore wind to save them from climate change effects on them and their habitats.  As the National Wildlife Federation points out in their support of Cape Wind, “Advocating for clean offshore wind energy in the Atlantic is critical to reducing the carbon pollution that drives the climate change harming wildlife” (Janssen, 2012, para. 1).  It is very important that people don’t misconceive the impacts of these farms on wildlife.  They can be implemented in an environmentally friendly way to minimize direct impact on wildlife and the environment, and in the long-run would save them from degradation due to climate change caused by fossil fuels and pollutants that wouldn’t come from an offshore wind farm.

Conclusion

Offshore wind farms have been operating in Europe for almost the past 25 years, but the United States still hasn’t been able to implement one because of the lack of public support.  Attempts are being made, as the Cape Wind project has shown through its 14 year process of being approved and finally now just getting the O.K.  This project is the perfect example of how inefficient the development process can be due to a lack of public support.  The main reasons for this lack of support is inadequate education and misunderstanding of the factors of these farms.  In Cape Cod, many residents opposed the project because of aesthetic values and too much concern for the immediate effects like financing and environmental issues.  What many fail to realize, because of poor education on the matter, are the long-term benefits these farms will provide.  Those people also need to be addressed by convincing them the benefits outweigh their concerns.  Not everybody is just uninformed on the matter, some just don’t care or feel like it is worth their time.  Those people need to be convinced through education that the energy source is worth their time and truly beneficial to them.  The costs will pay off in the long run when the clean energy becomes cheaper than importing oil and fossil fuels as they become more scarce; technological advances would lead to more efficiency, reduced costs, and reduced negative environmental effects; pollution in the area will decrease substantially resulting in fewer pollution-related mortalities, as well as mitigating climate change that negatively affects the environment and wildlife.  If more of the residents of Cape Cod were exposed to the benefits by being educated properly on the matter, the project would most likely have been operating by now.

To ensure another Cape Wind situation doesn’t happen again anywhere else, education must be improved and the people’s concerns must be addressed, which can happen in several different ways.  Public rallies and petitions, lobbying, research, and private industry advocacy and participation would all educate the public about offshore wind farms and their benefits.   Increasing formal education in schools on renewable energy and wind farms will engage and inspire students on the evolving industry to improve on the technology in the future.  This all happened with Cape Wind, but to an inadequate extent that delayed the project for far too long. This was the first attempt at an offshore wind farms in the United States so it’s no surprise it took a while for people to accept the new idea and get on board.  We learned a lot from this process and know what we can improve on in the future to expedite the implementation of future offshore wind farms.  We can also learn a lot from our friends across the pond in Europe who are veterans with the industry by now, and can teach us a lot about the technology and its benefits.  Any way education and understanding of offshore wind farms can be improved to increase public support will help expand this technology in our energy grid and help move us towards more clean, renewable energy that is becoming more and more necessary on our warming planet.

 

References:

 

Anderson, R., Morrison, M., Strickland, D., & Sinclair, K (1999). Studying wind energy/bird interactions: A guidance document. Avian Subcommittee and NWCC. Article found through google.com/scholar. Http://www.proj6.turbo.pl/upload/file/347.pdf

 

Bisbee, D. W. (2004). NEPA review of offshore wind farms. Boston College Environmental

Affairs Law Review, 31(2), 349-384. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.

 

Cape Wind Associates. (2014, January 1). FAQs: Cape Wind and Economics. Retrieved from http://www.capewind.org/faqs/cape-wind-and-economics

 

Energy Trends Insider (2015). What Interior’s Lease Auction says about offshore wind

innovation. Retrieved from http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2013/06/07/what-

interiors-lease-auction-says-about-offshore-wind-innovation/

 

European offshore wind industry key trends and statistics 2014. (2014). [Infographic on the 2014 offshore statistics]. Offshore Statistics, EWEA. Retrieved from http://www.ewea.org/statistics/offshore/

 

Janssen, J. (2012). Showing support for wildlife-friendly offshore wind.  Rertrieved from http://online.nwf.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=18034&security=4061&news_iv_ctrl=-1

 

Medimorec, D., Tosmic, Z. (2015). Portfolio theory application in wind potential assessment. Renweable Energy, 76(1), 494-502. doi: 10.1016/j.renene.2014.11.033

 

Ruling Allows Data Collection for Largest Renewable Plant in U.S. (2002). Power Engineering, 106(11), 50.

 

Sullivan, R. G. S., Kirchler, L. B. K., Cothren, J. C., & Winters, S. L. W. (2013). Offshore Wind

Turbine Visibility and Visual Impact Threshold Distances. Environmental Practice,

15(ANL/EVS/JA-73619).

 

Taylor, S., (2013). Top 10 myths about Cape wind. Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Retrieved from http://www.saveoursound.org/myths_vs_facts/top_ten/

Toonen, H. M., & Lindeboom, H. J. (2015). Dark green electricity comes from the sea:

Capitalizing on ecological merits of offshore wind power?. Renewable & Sustainable

Energy Reviews, 42, 1023-1033. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2014.10.043

 

United States Department of Energy (2015). How do wind turbines work? Retrieved from http://energy.gov/eere/wind/how-do-wind-turbines-work

 

United States Department of Energy (2015). Offshore wind research and development.  Retrieved from http://energy.gov/eere/wind/offshore-wind-research-and-development

 

Visual Resources Mitigation Measures. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://teeic.indianaffairs.gov/er/wind/mitigation/visual/index.htm

 

Wilson, A. (2013, February 12). Commercial-scale wind power. Building Green. Retrieved

 

Evan

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