The statement must have landed with a resonant thud in coal company boardrooms across the U.S. today. Ken Salazar, the new U.S. Secretary of the Interior, made a bold, almost radical statement that wind turbines located off the eastern seaboard could soon provide 1,000 gigawatts of power -- or about 5 times the entire power generating capacity of all the coal plants in the U.S.
On the heels of the recent $535 million loan to solar company Solyndra last week, it is clear the Obama administration is thinking BIG when it comes to renewables. Quoted in the New York Times, Salazar says:
The idea that wind energy has the potential to replace most of our coal-burning power today is a very real possibility. It is not technology that is pie-in-the sky; it is here and now.
Up until now, the political rhetoric around our clean energy future has included the pursuit of "clean coal." But such a statement begs an even bigger question -- why would we invest money in far-flung clean coal technologies (even coal experts say clean coal is 10 years away) when the same money could be allocated to capturing an endlessly renewable source of clean energy like offshore wind?
The video above was shot by CapeWind, one of the first U.S. offshore wind companies in Nysted off the coast of Denmark. After years of aggressively promoting renewables, Denmark now supplies close to 20% of its power from wind.
Of course the scaling of wind, especially offshore wind, will face much opposition -- not just from coal companies, but offshore oil companies (who would be ostensibly competing for the same federal stimulus dollars), environmentalists and blue-dog democrats who have been battling the nation's first offshore project in the Nantucket sound.
In additional to political challenges there are some significant technological ones as well, in particular the challenge of integrating all that intermittent energy into a grid that likes a steady stream of electrons.
But according to Jim Gordon of CapeWind, he is proving that these problems can be overcome. His 130-turbine project in the Nantucket Sound "...will supply 75 percent of the electricity needed on the Cape and islands, with zero emissions, zero water consumption, zero waste discharge, and zero foreign energy."
A pretty compelling sell, especially when you consider that no matter how clean we manage to get our coal, eventually it will run it out. Whether we like it or not coal is a limited resource.
So it appears that the U.S. faces a fork in the road - investing in the "cleaning" of limited, dirty power or investing in clean, renewable power. We only have so many dollars and we can't buy everything... and it appears that the Obama administration is moving towards the latter choice.
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