GLOBAL WARMING is a sticky wicket

ProjoCape Wind, Global Warming and Poisoned Air 

By Solon Economou

First of two parts

SOUTH DENNIS, Mass. -- Global Warming is a sticky wicket. There are two “sides” to this issue, each of which adamantly claims it is the correct one.

One side asserts that the current global-arming phenomenon is anthropogenic — caused by humans, particularly by the release of enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The other claims that the warming trend is merely another natural fluctuation within a natural cycle and the kind of thing that the Earth has undergone for eons. Both sides have a valid argument, but those billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants we’re releasing each year sure aren’t helping matters.

Both sides should get together, admit that they’re both at least partially correct, and move on to dealing with the problem. There’s not much we can do about natural cycles, but we can do something about the anthropogenic component. If the Cape Wind farm were built, in Nantucket Sound, it might well be the first significant step toward a major turnaround in the global-warming trend.

The Cape Wind turbines, providing 74 percent of the electricity demand of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to the regional electrical grid, would also reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 734,000 tons, or about 1.5 billion pounds, annually. This amount is close to one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emitted annually from the Mirant Power Plant, in Sandwich, Mass., on the Cape Cod Canal.

In a recent Jim Braude NECN television show, Audra Parker, director of strategic planning for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, claimed that Cape Wind would not make a difference in global warming.

Ms Parker is only partially correct. It was the kind of well-practiced sound bite for which the Alliance is notorious. It was just like saying that one hybrid automobile won’t make a difference. Any school kid knows that, and any school kid understands that it will take a national shift from conventional automobiles toward hybrids to make a difference.

The parallel to Cape Wind is obvious. Though Cape Wind by itself may not make an immediate difference in global warming, it stands to become the model — the prototype — for offshore wind farms in New England and all over America.

How significant is this? At a recent conference on wind power at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay campus, it was shown that if all onshore sites with good wind potential were developed, wind power could supply all of the electrical demand for the East Coast. Since 90 percent of the population of the United States lives within 100 miles of either coast, that is indeed a powerful statement.

And Ian Bowles, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, stated that Cape Wind’s power generation alone would be the equivalent of taking 175,000 automobiles off the road in reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions.

In public health, Cape Wind’s offset of pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides produced at fossil-fuel-burning power plants would — plain and simple — save lives.

An extrapolation of data published by the Harvard School of Public Health on power-plant emissions shows that the reduction of pollutants offset by wind power in New England would eliminate 12 to 15 premature deaths every year, about 20 cases of bronchitis, 200 emergency-room visits, 5,000 asthma attacks, and 35,000 cases of daily upper-respiratory symptoms and related afflictions. Foes of Cape Wind obviously never cite these figures.

People are dying, the Earth is ailing. Six years of money-driven and politically driven road blocks for Cape Wind is long enough. The United States, of all the advanced nations, is the most backward as far as wind energy goes, generating only about 1 to 2 percent of its electricity by wind.

Denmark has already shown the way. When I visited in 2005, that nation generated 19 percent of its electricity from wind power. The next year it was close to 30 percent, and now it is close to 40 percent. The island of Lolland, where the Nysted wind farm is situated, on the Baltic Sea, generates 200 percent of its electricity from wind. It uses 100 percent and sells 100 percent.

If the Cape Wind farm were built, others would follow — in Narragansett Bay and all up and down the East Coast.

Cape Wind, as an example for New England and the rest of the nation, will ultimately affect global warming.

 

Solon Economou, a frequent contributor to the Providence Journal, is an engineer and Cape Cod-based writer.  This Op Ed appeared here last weekend. 

 

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