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Why hasn’t the US embraced offshore wind energy?

May 4, 2011

I was invited to a dinner last night in Houston sponsored by the UK Consulate General.  The theme was Oil and Gas Technologies: Synergy and Application to Offshore Wind.  The speaker was Patrick Phelan, a Brit and the General Manager of JDR Cable Systems, who supplies undersea power cables to the offshore wind industry.  Anyway, Patrick spoke about the rush to offshore wind energy in the UK.  Indeed, the UK is planning to place nearly 8,000 large-scale wind turbines in the waters around the island nation.

The UK is leading the world right now in deployment of offshore wind.  Denmark, Germany, and The Netherlands have also been installing offshore wind turbines along with a handful of other countries.  We see many mega-companies now investing in offshore wind — it is as if they have found the next great gold rush.  Yet, for years all we have heard in the US is that offshore wind is too expensive.

So, what is it that all the other countries see that we here in the US don’t?  We are still debating whether offshore wind energy is financially viable while other countries have moved on with it.  We argue that we don’t want to see giant turbines spinning in our view of the ocean, so we require they be pushed many miles over the horizon at a tremendous additional cost.  Cape Wind, scheduled to become the first offshore wind farm in the US, has met obstacle after obstacle for more than 10 years and has yet to begin construction.  In the mean time, other countries around the world are seriously embracing offshore wind power.  Why haven’t we done so?

The simple reason is that our federal government is severely broken.  Bowing to the interests of those who manage to bring financial support to very powerful politicians, our federal government has managed to create no less than 36 oversight committees for energy, each one responsible for ensuring that the special interests of powerful lobbyists are adequately covered.

Our nation can not afford to continue pushing the cost of renewable energy projects to the extreme the way the regulatory process has done with Cape Wind.  We have to get serious.  We need new leadership who can really bring enough political clout to make vital sweeping changes to streamline the regulatory system.  Then, and only then, will we begin to see large investments in renewable energy in the US.

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