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The Cold, Windy Voyage To Unreliable Green Energy

offshore wind us

This column has been making the case that replacing efficient forms of reliable energy with politically favored intermittent power sources is not as easy as it looks.

Some jurisdictions seeking to replace fossil fuels and/or nuclear plants with wind power may not have adequately considered the costs and benefits. [emphasis, links added]

Perhaps no political class outside of California has been as hostile to cost/benefit analysis as the elected officials of Massachusetts.

Now Jon Chesto reports for the Boston Globe [bold added]:

“The state’s nascent offshore wind industry suffered a big setback on Friday when Avangrid told state regulators it wants to end its contracts with three major utilities to build a massive wind farm south of Martha’s Vineyard…

In September, chief executive Pedro Azagra said Avangrid would postpone construction of Commonwealth Wind, which could eventually provide enough power for up to 750,000 homes, by pushing its completion date out to 2028, and would need to rewrite the contracts because of a sharp increase in commodity costs. With Friday’s move, Avangrid has given up on those renegotiation efforts.”

Some readers may feel like they’ve been hearing about how close wind power is to commercial viability for virtually their entire lives.

Regardless, this seems to be another reminder that the desires of politicians cannot change the underlying physics and economics.

The Boston Globe report continues [bold added]:

“This move just adds to the pressure on policymakers. Offshore wind power is considered crucial for Massachusetts to meet its ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 from 1990 levels. Representatives for the Baker administration and Governor-elect Maura Healey expressed disappointment with Avangrid’s decision.”

This broad spectrum of disappointment brings us to another lesson: the fact that an idea is bipartisan does not mean it will work.

Another lesson that must constantly be taught to policymakers is that every method of producing energy brings with it some kind of environmental footprint, some costs along with the alleged benefits. There is no free lunch.

Even before the team behind Commonwealth Wind acknowledged their problem with economics, some of the locals were focusing on the footprint.

Heather McCarron reported last month for the Cape Cod Times [bold added]:

“To the residents of Osterville, Dowses Beach is perfect: A place of refuge for people, a sanctuary to a variety of wildlife, and a delicate landscape that needs to be handled with extra special care. The beach, with its sweeping view of Nantucket Sound, is also perfect for offshore wind developer Avangrid Renewables…

“Avangrid is eyeing the beach to land three power cables – that will transmit a total of 1,200 kilowatts of electricity – from its Commonwealth Wind project, one of several commercial-scale, offshore wind projects with a lease to harness the winds south of Martha’s Vineyard…

“Meanwhile, a number of the residents are circling their wagons, worried about the impacts the project could have on Dowses Beach – an estuarine environment they think is too fragile to carry such a large project… The group pointed out that the Dowses Beach estuarine system shelters at least two species of vulnerable birds – plovers and the least tern.

As for economics, Commonwealth is not the only wind project under scrutiny. Alex Kuffner reported last month for the Providence Journal:

“Rhode Island utility regulators are considering suspending Mayflower Wind’s application for transmission cables that would run up the Sakonnet River to the former site of the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset after the developer raised questions about the financial viability of the first phases of the $5 billion offshore wind project it has proposed off Massachusetts.

“The state Energy Facility Siting Board has ordered the company to demonstrate why the proceedings shouldn’t be stayed until the questions surrounding the financing of the first 1,200 megawatts of the project are resolved.”

It’s beginning to seem like replacing cheap and reliable energy production is complicated and costly. But politicians have made promises and of course not just in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The Garden State’s liberal electorate has been choosing politicians promoting allegedly green policies for years. Therefore purveyors of alternative energy might have expected nothing but warm greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Read more at WSJ

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