The answer to high energy bills may be in the wind

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Could the answer to high energy bills be blowin’ in the wind? According to some, a strong breeze across the ocean can also mean inexpensive, clean and renewable energy for hundreds of thousands of homes with few drawbacks.

Humans all over the world have been using wind power for thousands of years through windmills and wind farms. But harnessing the power of wind across the ocean could be the wave of the future. Why? Advocates say that in the densely populated coastal regions, where demand for energy is high and land availability is low, offshore projects are necessary. The fact that offshore wind is typically steadier with higher speeds also adds to its appeal.

Globally, offshore wind power generation increased more than fivefold between 2000 and 2007. In fact, five countries — Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland — have already installed offshore wind parks to provide electricity. Germany is close behind with more than 20 projects about to begin.

The benefits of offshore wind seem obvious. It is a renewable resource that can be widely distributed. It’s also an inexpensive and clean form of energy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions when it displaces fossil-fuel-derived electricity. Despite this, as of today, no offshore wind projects have been built in the United States.

Opponents cite the high initial construction costs while others complain that wind farms are noisy eyesores. Advocates agree that the initial price tag can be high, but say the long-term savings more than make up for the start-up costs. They add that wind farms are built so far offshore that noise and visual concerns are minimal.

Still, planned offshore wind farms along the East Coast have incited much opposition. A project in Nantucket Sound has been delayed for years by those who worry about the possible influence on marine life, tourism and property values.

But some projects are moving forward. Early last month the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced approval to construct 96 wind turbines located 16-20 miles off the shore of Atlantic City. A proposed offshore wind park in Delaware will provide Delmarva Power’s residential and small business customers with approximately 29 percent of the energy they use.

But a proposal to build an offshore wind park 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City hasn’t gotten past the discussion stage, and although Maryland officials have shown some interest, there are no plans to move forward on the issue.

With the Worcester County Comprehensive plan calling for the use of green energy sources and with high fuel and electricity costs and an environment in peril, offshore wind may hold the answers to a better energy plan. More progress must be made to bring it to the forefront, however. Toward that end, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Citizen’s Advisory Committee has invited a wind energy expert to discuss the issue on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Worcester County Library in Berlin. We not only encourage but also urge the public to attend.

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