Mackenzie Briggs – Building Construction Technology
Lora Miller – Environmental Science
Sagie Madnick – Natural Resource Conservation
Brittney Furtado – Animal Science
Offshore Wind in Maine:
Investing in a Cleaner future
The sun starts to rise and you’re woken up by its blinding light and the annoying “Ehh! Ehh!” of an alarm. It’s just another day and you need to get ready. Half-asleep, you go through your morning routine; eat, shower, whatever that may be. You reach for the door handle then quickly retract. You realize you forgot something, the most vital part of your outfit: your respirator. This may seem far fetched, but for millions of people this has already become a reality. In cities like Beijing, air pollution has become so thick from fossil fuel emissions that many people do not leave home without a protective mask. This reality may not be too far down the road for us here in the United States.
Americans are consuming energy at a rate faster than domestic production can keep up with. This energy is mainly sourced by fossil fuels: petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Renewable energy currently only accounts for 8% of the total energy production in the United States (US Dept. of Energy, 2010). The effects of pollution from fossil fuel use are becoming clearer all the time. The need for cleaner, renewable energy sources is evident. A recent report conducted by M.I.T. found correlations between the health problems of residents in Somerset, Massachusetts a local town and the nearby coal-fueled Brayton Power plant. In the report, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2000 is included. The study showed that the plant caused over 100 premature deaths, nearly 30,000 asthma attacks and just shy of 200,000 daily upper respiratory issues (Dizikes, 2013). With statistics like these, it is in New England’s best interest to look into our energy sources. National policy is moving towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels and using energy sources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence Security Act of 2007 and it is time we act on them.
In order to combat this ongoing problem, renewable resources need to be utilized to power the United States grid. Offshore wind farms need to be constructed off the East coast of America, specifically Maine. Offshore wind is a much cleaner source of energy due to the fact fossil fuels are not being burned while it’s in operation. This benefits the health of the environment and the health of people interacting with it.The wind off the East coast is also very constant with the power potential of 600-800 Watts per square meter (seen in the image below). Maine has a total coastline of over 220 miles running from its New Hampshire border all the way to Canada. It is a virtually untapped resources in terms of offshore wind. It is expected, like with any new idea, that there will be resistance.
It is clear that cleaner, renewable energy sources need to be implemented. Offshore wind is a potential alternative energy source, but there are roadblocks that a proposed wind farm in Maine would face. National surveys show that the public is largely in favor of renewable energy, but when it comes down to implementing renewable energy sources projects are often met with a surprising amount of resistance. The now notorious Cape Wind project in Massachusetts is a perfect example of this. Cape Wind is a proposed 130 turbine wind farm approximately five miles off the coast of Massachusetts (capewind.org). The energy produced by this single wind farm would be enough cover seventy-five percent of the electricity demands from Cape Cod and the two islands with little to no operation emissions (capewind.org). This is exactly the kind of energy implementation that the public claims they want to see. Locals in the state of Massachusetts, however, roadblocked this project for over a decade.
Not in My Backyard
A main contributor to this conflict between national and local support is the “Not in my backyard” phenomenon.. In the peer-reviewed article “Explaining NIMBY Opposition to Wind Power”authors Smith and Klick (2008) took a deeper look into why this occurs.While the large majority of Americans claim they are in favor of renewable energy, Cape Wind was met with strong resistance from certain members of local communities (Smith & Klick 2008). Since offshore wind farms are a very new concept for most of the public in the United States, people have not had time to develop informed opinions about them. As awareness about a topic grows, people’s opinion about the topic will correlate more closely to their values (Smith & Klick, 2008). If a person has had little or no exposure to a message, their attitude will not reflect their actual values on the topic. With more exposure to the benefits of wind energy many people will find that they are actually truly in favor of wind farms and the clean energy production they provide. By providing locals in Maine with clear information about wind farms and addressing their specific concerns, avoiding a similar situation to Cape Wind is possible. The coalition that formed to roadblock Cape Wind was opposed to the project for very specific reasons. The opposition was focused around concern of the visual impacts, the noise and the impact on wildlife, especially birds (Smith & Klick, 2008). These concerns are legitimate reasons to be wary of offshore wind farms. Research from existing European wind farms, however, has shown that these issues are actually very small in their scale of impact.
Avoiding Project Roadblocking
If locals in Maine were provided with clear information about wind energy, it is likely that the conflict between national support of renewable energy and local resistance could be resolved, leading to implementation of wind power in Maine. This information should be provided to the public through several different routes. It is important that locals in the immediate area of a proposed project have ample opportunity to have their questions and concerns addressed. Town meetings held early and often in the process would give people an opportunity to have their concerns addressed directly. This would also give developers an opportunity to directly address any misconceptions about their proposed project.
Changes in the rules and regulations surrounding the construction of offshore wind farms is also necessary to make the process more feasible. In order to begin development of an offshore wind farm in Maine, the project needs to acquire a deep water license for the construction site and the approval of a contract of agreement between an electric utility and the developer (Burgess, 2013). The approval for the deep water license is awarded by the federal government and the project’s contract with electrical utilities must be approved by Maine’s state government. The state and local government laws and authorizations are subject to change; locals can instigate changes that will prevent the development of offshore wind projects (American Wind Energy Association, 2013). It is important that the federal, state, local governments collaborate with one another to ensure that potential offshore wind projects are not shut down due to unreasonable concerns from locals. All levels of government should reach out to offshore wind advocacy groups, such as American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), to create campaigns educating locals who are misinformed about offshore wind farms. It is important to show the public how these wind energy will not only be cost-effective, but also improve the environment. Doing so could easily influence legislature, state and local especially, to support these projects reducing development delays and maintain cost efficiency.
Misconceptions Regarding Wind Power
Addressing misconceptions about the potential impacts of an offshore wind farm in Maine is crucial to ensure implementation of wind energy. Challenges to wind power are common among both land-based and offshore wind farms including sound/vibrations, “flickering” (light reflecting off the turbine from the sun), shadow flickering, aesthetics, loss of property value, and environmental impacts. Offshore wind farms also must address navigation concerns and the coastal environment. The Nuisance Law, which is the most common way for locals to challenge wind farms for environmental impact, states that conduct must, “cause significant harm to the plaintiff’s private use and enjoyment of land, and the conduct must be either intentional and unreasonable or unintentional and negligent, reckless, or abnormally dangerous”(Dukeminier et. al, 2014, 637-639). Some examples that could fall under this law include pollution, noise, odors, vibrations, and excessive light. Under the Nuisance Law, the sound/vibration claim is not applicable especially when considering the distance from shore for offshore wind farms. Additionally, newer wind turbines produce much less sound and vibration than those used 10 years ago. By observing the diagram below, you can see that the sound and vibrations is dependent upon distance.
For example, a distance of 400 meters from the wind turbine results in 40 dB(A) or the same as the hum of a refrigerator. Most offshore wind farms are a few miles off the coast which is at least 12 times the distance (there is about 1600 meters in a mile). Taking this into account, it would be extremely unlikely for one to hear any hum over the water, especially over the crashing waves. The natural sounds of the coast will still be present to be enjoyed by the locals and all who visit.
With flickering, locals are concerned that they would be blinded by light reflecting off the spinning turbines. It should no longer be a concern for companies are already responding to these concerns by painting the turbines in a dull color to avoid this. Shadow flickering is a bit different for it is the shadow that is flickering, typically through windows or small likewise spaces. This can only occur at sunset and sunrise and only a few “lucky” locals might be subjected this phenomenon if anyone at all. Basically, the sun projects the spinning turbine upon the local residence and the fairly rapid shadow to light cycle can cause headaches if stared at for a long period of time. Luckily this can quickly be remedied with blinds or a drawn up curtain and since it only occurs for a limited time every day, it should not hinder one for long.
Over the years, there has been several new improvements on wind turbines to make them more efficient and less of a detriment to its surrounding area meaning this will only become less of any issue for the locals to worry about.
Offshore Wind Benefits
Moving forward, it is also crucial that offshore wind developers provide the public with information regarding aesthetic and environmental impacts as well as describing the economic benefits. There are many benefits from harvesting wind energy. For one, the coast has a nearly limitless supply of wind that can supply energy for the turbines. The process of harvesting wind energy also releases no pollution emissions. The offshore wind farms produce more power than land based ones, while simultaneously leaving land mass for wildlife or human populations. The wind turbines would take advantage of the “sea breeze effect” or, in other words, steady wind and allow for larger turbines (Snyder & Kaiser 2008). At sea, the turbines have less turbulence which helps reduce the wear and tear on the turbines and in one study it states that offshore installations are up to 50% higher than for comparable turbines on land(Snyder & Kaiser 2008). Offshore wind energy benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide.
While the benefits of wind energy are evident, many people are actually concerned that they are bad for the environment. A main environmental concern is the conceived notion that wind turbines will kill a large amount of birds (Smith & Klick, 2008). However, wind turbines do not kill very many birds, especially when compared to other more common-place but less thought of bird killers. By looking at the chart below, it is clear that household cats have a significantly higher death toll on birds than wind turbines. Vehicles also cause more bird deaths than wind turbines and buildings by far have the highest kill rate (Erikson et al, 2005).
Migratory patterns of birds were also observed by the Thermal Animal Detection System (TADS). They found that birds will alter their migratory pattern to avoid turbines (A) and may even re-align flight patterns to fly between turbines or above (B) evident by the charts below.
Source: Desholm and Kahler 2005
Researchers in Denmark also performed a study on the effects of wind turbines on aquatic animals. Through the study, they found no significant effect on fish though they did find that some fish were attracted to the underwater cable and likewise some avoided. But they also found that seals did not change their behavior even when in the presence of a wind turbine. The only slight decrease found was observed at one Danish wind farm where there was a slight decrease in porpoise avoidance even once the construction was finished (Kjaer et. al. 2006). Misconceptions about offshore wind also include worries regarding the emissions they produce.
Offshore wind farms are a more environmentally friendly energy producers than fossil fuel plants. Wind farms release less emissions into the atmosphere than current energy production methods. In a peer-reviewed article, Punt, van Ierland and Stel (2009) claim that the majority of emissions from wind farms are created during the construction phase.The total C02 emissions over the lifetime of a wind farms are 3 to 6 times less than the emissions from the newest fossil fuel energy plants (Punt et al 2009). While construction of wind farms does have an initial negative impact on the habitat, the disruption is short-term and the marine life in the area recovers after a reasonable amount of time (Punt et al 2009). The wind turbines themselves also have direct positive impacts. They create artificial reef habitat which many fish and marine mammals utilize. A two year study conducted at the Offshore Wind Farm Egmondaan Zee (OWEZ) in the Netherlands shows that their wind turbines actually created a new habitat that improved the biodiversity of the area with increased use by benthos, fish, marine mammals, and some bird species (Perveen, R., Kishor, N., & Mohanty, S. R. 2014).
In addition to the environmental benefits of Offshore wind farms, there are also economic benefits. The construction and maintenance of wind farms creates jobs. Using Cape Wind as an example, the economic benefits of wind farms are clear. Hannah Wood (2013), who is the project coordinator of Cape Wind in Boston, claims that “170,000 workers [will be added] by 2020” (Wood, 2013). The energy that will be created by the Cape Wind project will cover two-thirds of the energy demand for residents of the Cape. Also, as technology improves and as installation of wind turbines become more frequent, cost of the material and construction will go down. With more turbines being installed it can be assumed an assembly line in production would emerge making operations smoother and faster.One other thing to note is the raising cost of electricity generate by fossil fuels.. National Grid is expecting this winter’s electricity prices to skyrocket (Mohl, 2014). The expected cost per kwH will increase from 17.65 cents to 24.25 cents for natural gas, this means an average bill of $80 now become $120 (Mohl, 2014). If the public were more aware of information like this their feeling may be different.
There is a need for offshore wind farms as a cleaner, renewable energy source in New England. Through informing the public of the environmental and economic benefits future projects can avoid the road blocking that occurred with Cape Wind.
Call for action
The implementation of cleaner, renewable energy sources is necessary in order to meet energy demands while taking the environment and our health into consideration. The positive impact on the environment through decreased use of fossil fuels outweighs the minimal negative impacts to the local habitat surrounding the wind farms that occur mainly during construction. Educating the public about these benefits is necessary in order to avoid serious road blocking by local resistance. There are many direct and indirect benefits that offshore wind farms would provide residents in Maine. If exposed to better information about these benefits residents would be less likely to boycott the implementation of this progressive energy source.
If the public were exposed to information explaining the facts surrounding offshore wind, delays on construction, similar to that of what Cape Wind faced for over a decade, could be avoided. Better information would allow people to see the immediate and long term benefits of offshore wind farms therefore having a more positive attitude towards these projects. Following Europe’s footsteps, New England can become the model for the rest of the United States and North America to follow. Early and frequent consultations between the builders and the local communities, where the project will impact them either directly or indirectly, will keep an open dialogue throughout all phases and allow for any issues or concerns to be addressed. Overall, we need to develop a streamlined process for federal, state, and local regulation and zoning in order to avoid another Cape Wind debacle. The amount of regulatory hoops that needed to be jumped through was excessive and unnecessary spanning over a decade before being able to implement the Cape Wind project. By giving information directly to the locals along the coast for offshore wind farms, they can understand the incredible benefits that will come while understanding how it will impact the environment. A system must be implemented to address their concerns throughout the process in order to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Hopefully by keeping the public informed, they will understand the significant social, economic, and environmental benefits that are available through offshore wind energy, which will keep the regulatory hurdles to a minimum.
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