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Climate, Not Cracked Blades, Is the Danger

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 18:08


People set in their negative views of wind-powered electricity will no doubt seize upon this week’s report that four of the five Block Island turbines operated by a Danish firm were offline after cracks were discovered in some of the blades. Orsted, which will also operate the larger South Fork Wind farm with the New England-based Eversource, called the shutdown a precaution. Block Island’s old diesel generators were not expected to be called on in the interim; before a supply cable from the mainland electric grid was laid, they burned about a million gallons of fuel a year. By tying into the larger supply, the island’s power utility was able to stabilize prices that had bounced around with the cost of oil — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The polluting diesel generators will be called back into service this winter for scheduled cable maintenance. The implication, wind power critics will say, is that the turbines are inherently faulty and that the tradeoff between making electricity and interfering with commercial fishing is not worth it.

Questioning the value of offshore wind based on maintenance issues with the first United States project is a stretch, in our opinion. Traditional power plants need to be shut for repairs, too. And the idea behind an electric grid is to diversify the supply beyond a single, local, and in many cases, highly polluting and geopolitically dicey source. Also, more than 160 offshore wind farms are in operation around the world already. Another talking point among fossil fuel lobbyists, and one dutifully echoed locally from time to time, is that the cost of wind power is too high and that its environmental benefits should be balanced against affordability. This gets to what should be the key measure of wind’s importance as part of the world’s energy future.

A dire United Nations report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released last week concluded that a crucial mark of 2 degrees Celsius of warming will be reached this century without drastic cuts to emissions. This was no casual analysis; more than 200 scientists reviewed about 14,000 studies to reach the conclusion that the world is at a tipping point. Delegates from 195 countries approved an accompanying summary of their findings. The costs of the warming are already being felt in sea level rise, changes in agricultural production, more devastating wildfires, and severe flooding.

Our own region, according to the data, is warming faster than many others. One of the ways the boiling planet can be felt locally is in increases in water temperature, which shifts some species away from traditional harvest grounds and have dangerous impacts on shellfish — it has been a long time since we have seen a healthy blue mussel bed here, where once they were abundant and an easy source of a quick dinner. Looking to the future, taxpayers, especially in the Northeast, will have to bear the massive costs of replacement infrastructure, for example, for a bridge in downtown Montauk once the ocean breaks through to Fort Pond and undermines Route 27. In the minds of wind-power opponents, cracks in wind-turbine blades outweigh all of this.

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