Every time the coalition, America’s Power, runs a TV spot proclaiming the economic benefits of clean coal technologies, it becomes easier for the average American to forget that there is an infinite source of energy flying above our heads and literally whipping us in the face: wind. Unlike coal, wind power doesn’t need special technologies to make it seem clean or safe. It is clean and abundant; according to the American Wind Energy Association, the potential for wind power in the United States is an amazing 37 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power the country 10 times over.
Unfortunately, our government’s dated regulatory policies have yet to reflect the growth potential of wind energy. While traditional fossil-fuel energy companies continue to receive generous tax breaks, a host of bureaucratic hurtles confront industry leaders erecting offshore wind turbines. In the Great Lakes region, the bottom lands on which the turbines would be built are owned by the state governments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be commissioned to erect the structures. Before developers can move forward with the project, they must received approval from 10 different federal agencies. This regulatory model hinders innovation and growth.
As a part of recent initiatives on the environment and renewables, the Obama administration along with five states on the Great Lakes, including New York, announced an agreement last Friday to develop a system for speeding up the regulatory review of proposed wind farms without sacrificing environmental or safety standards. This is clearly a step which must be applauded, as it will not only ensure the accuracy, consistency, and efficiency of the review process, but it will encourage the development of a vast and critical resource. Administration officials estimate that the region could produce more than 700 gigawatts.
There are currently no offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes. The New York Power Authority recently abandoned plans to have private companies place up to 200 wind turbines in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, yielding to critics’ concerns, but these concerns about wind farms ruining vistas, lowering property values, and harming wildlife are more properly applied to hydraulic fracturing operations, which are close to entering New York State. Hydraulic fracturing harms human health while offshore wind mildly impacts vacation properties, and the environmental risk of pumping chemicals underground clearly outweighs that of a wind turbine in Lake Erie. Proponents of hyrdo-fracking argue that it will create jobs, but this is not the only way to stimulate New York’s economy. The many steps necessary to construct and operate offshore wind farms can add thousands of jobs to the economy, and these will be jobs in a growing field that will make New Yorkers experts in an emerging industry. It is a shame that the administration’s regulatory focus is on mitigating the harm caused by allowing invasive drilling when it could be focused on developing an inherently clean and innovative energy source. New York State should embrace its significant wind energy resources to continue being a state that leads the nation into the future.