A Brave New World For Energy

By Guest Contributor

Wendy Williams has been an investigative journalist and science writer for nearly 30 years. Her work has appeared on the front pages of the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun and the Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. Her science writing has been published in Scientific American, Science, Audubon, National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Africa Magazine, and many other publications. Her opinion columns have appeared in at least 50 newspapers nationwide, as well as in European and African publications. She has been a journalist-in-residence at Duke University, a fellow at the Hastings Center for Medical Ethics, at the Marine Biological Institute and at the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado.


Wendy Williams

Journalist Wendy Williams Co-author with Robert Whitcomb, of Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound at a Cape Cod bookstore reading.

The port of Nysted in Denmark, dating from the Middle Ages, still sees a lot of boat traffic but now primarily draws tourists. A meandering shoreline bike path provides idyllic views of white ocean foam and blue skies, cows grazing green pastures, hillsides covered in flowers.

This historical and natural beauty is uninterrupted except for one ultramodern counterpoint. About six miles out to sea stands a checkerboard array of 363-foot wind turbines, eight rows of nine machines each.

Just north of Cape Cod, the residents of Hull installed several commercial wind turbines that provide much of the town’s power. Residents say the 21st century technology has fit in well with the region’s historic landscape.

Local people point to this seascape with pride. Danes love their historical sites and natural landscapes, but they also love energy independence and freedom from fossil fuels.

They see offshore wind as an important tool in achieving these goals, because winds at sea are stronger and steadier than winds on land.

Combining land-based and offshore wind technology has brought tiny Denmark tremendous results. During one storm last winter, the country produced all the power it needed from its wind turbines – plus enough to export. With 11 turbines on land and 10 offshore, the 1,400 residents of the Danish island Samso, who once imported fossil-fuel power from the mainland, now regularly export wind power.

The Danes plan to generate at least 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind power — 40 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption — by 2030.

While Denmark moves ahead with offshore technology, the United States has yet to take the first tiny step.

In the midst of the battle, a 100,000-gallon oil spill ruined beaches in nearby Buzzards Bay, putting fishermen out of work for months. The oil was headed for the Cape Cod Canal power plant, which provides electricity for the Cape. If Cape Wind is built, experts say the oil plant will be used less often.

This is not for want of resource. Studies sponsored by the Department of Energy, Rutgers University, the University of Delaware, Stanford University and many other institutions have found that wind off the mid and north Atlantic Coast could easily provide enough power to meet the needs of all the coastal Northeast.

“From Massachusetts through North Carolina, we calculate there’s 330,000 megawatts of power in offshore winds, while the entire amount of electricity needed by that whole set of states is 73,000 megawatts,” says University of Delaware scientist Willett Kempton.

Figures like these provide a perspective on the amount of fossil fuel consumption that could be avoided. Nevertheless, the United States has not one offshore turbine.

A proposed 130-turbine offshore wind project in Massachusetts called Cape Wind has sat in regulatory limbo for more than six years, in large part because people like Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, Senator Warner of Virginia and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney do not want turbines built near the homes of some nationally powerful families.

For more than six years, I have followed this project through its various twists and turns, watching the strange goings-on and writing about them on the editorial pages of the Providence Journal, one of New England’s most important papers.

Earlier this year, I published a book about my adventure, with co-author Robert Whitcomb, editorial page editor of the Journal. We have both been surprised – and very pleased – by the response to the book. It was named an “editor’s choice” by the highly respected New York Times Sunday Book Review, was said to have “enough political intrigue to keep a John Grisham fan happy,” by the St. Petersburg Times, was called a “page-turner” by Boston Magazine and, as if in response, the Boston Globe wrote, “yes, this book is lots of fun.”

Although I’ve been threatened several times with lawsuits over the past six years and once even with a curled fist directed at my nose, publishing the book has been highly gratifying.

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