This for that
Islanders were recently treated to a debate over the Cape Wind plan for Nantucket Sound. The arguments were familiar, but perhaps not enlightening. How will Islanders make up their minds about Cape Wind? Stepping back from the details of the Cape Wind project and looking at the bigger picture may suggest a basis on which to decide the future of the wind farm plan.
Attention to wind energy as a desirable, pollution-free resource for electrical power generation is rising worldwide. In some countries, and in some parts of this country, wind-generated power has already made an impact. Still, wind energy production is a modest component in the mix of electrical power generation and will be well into the foreseeable future.
"Wind and solar energy already play an important part in a few countries," according to a May 2007 article in The Economist. "Around 20 percent of Denmark's electricity comes from wind and about 80 percent of China's hot water from solar energy. But worldwide, those two energy sources barely register." Wind contributes .064 percent of the total energy mix worldwide, according to The Economist. About 87 percent of the world supply of electrical energy comes from non-renewables such as coal, oil, gas, and nuclear. The rest is from renewables, of which wind figures least.
Industrial producers of electricity in the developed countries are investing huge sums to clean the emissions from their power plants. In the aggregate, their total investment in new technologies to improve their old technology plants, without including government incentives such as production tax credits and innovation grants directed at these non-renewable technologies, dwarfs worldwide expenditures to develop efficient and substantial wind energy generation.
In Spain, one of several European countries with substantial expressed determination to increase the share of electrical power generated from renewables, the current share of green power in the energy mix is 17.2 percent, greatest among the industrialized nations. This includes wind, but not exclusively, or even substantially. Spain's near term goal for all renewables is 29 percent, but best estimates are that the goal will be missed by a large margin.
Increasing demand worldwide for electrical power has helped to fuel the boom in investment in old and new technology, but the key to the increasing development of wind energy supplies is the price of carbon-based fuels and the willingness of industrialized countries to underwrite with subsidies the development of wind energy installations. There is also the question of how quickly the national grid in this country will be expanded and made more efficient.
What all this adds up to is the need for residents of the Cape and the Islands to do their own private cost-benefit analysis, recognizing the uncertainties facing wind energy producers and the competition from other renewable energy sources, as well as the potential for technological advances in the use of non-renewables for electric generation. All of this must be set against the undoubted, but incalculable value of clean, wild, and empty Horseshoe Shoal, where developer Cape Wind proposes to erect 130 wind turbines and a service platform about a half acre in size.
In light of this macro picture, to give Horseshoe Shoal and get in return a clean energy generating plant of modest size and uncertain future, in a national energy landscape that is highly variable and intensely competitive, seems a bad trade.