Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: The Buffalo News

Oil leak underscores need for offshore wind projects


Posted: June 1, 2010
Originally Published: June 1, 2010

A nightmare. That’s the only way to describe the havoc confronting the people and environment around the Gulf Coast oil disaster. The lessons learned from this disaster are not new, but rather a stiff reminder that our energy choices have a profound impact on our environment, economy, livelihoods and quality of life.

Just like Louisianans and Mississippians, Western New Yorkers depend on our rich water resources for our way of life. Our Great Lakes provide drinking water to 40 million people; support a $50 billion fishing, recreation and tourism industry; support hundreds of thousands of jobs; and are home to abundant fish and wildlife.

Like the Gulf, the Great Lakes region produces a significant amount of energy, although largely from fossil fuel combustion. The list of consequences to our lakes from our addiction to fossil fuels are severe and lengthy, including acid rain, fish contaminated with mercury, billions of fish killed by power plant impingement and climate change.

Protecting the Great Lakes is our responsibility, and one critical way to do it is to change our energy policy. There is no magic bullet solution to deal with our current energy crisis. A combination of energy efficiency and conservation, more renewables and cleaning up traditional power plants all should be part of a comprehensive plan.

One part of the solution is wind power: emission free, renewable, domestic and abundant offshore in the Great Lakes. Europe has been harnessing offshore wind for nearly 20 years, with 43 projects constructed. To date, not one offshore wind farm has been constructed in the United States.

Unfortunately, there has been an ill-advised push to halt the pursuit of offshore wind in the lakes, even before a specific project has been proposed. Some local and county governments have rushed to pass resolutions in opposition to offshore wind based on fear, ignorance and misinformation. Such action is premature and imprudent, as individual projects should be judged based on their own merits. Saying no to wind is the same as saying yes to more fossil fuels, which cheats future generations of a chance for a renewable energy future and energy independence.

There is no doubt that we need to protect the health of our lakes from unintended consequences of wind power. Rigorous environmental review and meaningful public participation is necessary to ensure that habitat, fish and wildlife, water quality, recreation and other community assets are protected during construction and for the life of the wind farm.

The fact is that all large-scale energy infrastructure impacts our environment, and it’s our responsibility to choose the options with the least impact and greatest benefits. If we are serious about getting off of fossil fuels, and serious about a renewable energy future, we must fully examine offshore wind in our Great Lakes.

Brian Smith is Western New York program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.