Windmills on the water. Get ready for them. They’re on their way, thanks to a recently signed bill. The new law requires the state’s Energy Commission “to evaluate and quantify the maximum feasible capacity of” offshore wind energy in federal waters, which “if developed and deployed at scale … can provide economic and environmental benefits to the state and the nation.
According to American Clean Power-California Director Danielle Osborn Mills, Assembly Bill 525 “ensures offshore wind will be an important part of the state’s efforts to decarbonize the economy, create renewable energy jobs, and provide reliable, low-cost, carbon-free power for every community.” Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat who co-introduced the legislation, wants the public to buy into his claim that “with offshore wind, we can counter the threat of climate change, meet our clean energy goals and create thousands of new good-paying jobs in the process.”
Before we get lost in the assertions of the bill’s text, and the rhetoric of politicians and activists, let’s compare a few facts in the table below.
|Offshore Oil||Wind Power|
|Byproducts||None||Thousands, including materials used to manufacture wind turbine parts|
|Impact on wildlife||Birds are sometimes covered in crude||An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 birds are killed by wind turbines annually|
|Other environmental impacts||Crude spills, marine ecosystems can be disturbed||Offshore wind farms endanger and terrorize whales
The disposition of retired “fiberglass wind turbine blades is a significant challenge facing the industry.”
The blades also “resist biodegrading over time,” are difficult to recycle, and “the two main waste management options for decommissioned fiberglass,” incineration and landfill dumping, both “present undesirable environmental impacts.”
Wind turbines also leak lubricating fluids.
|Hidden environmental benefits||Platforms quickly become “habitat to marine life and communities begin to grow.”
Inactive platforms “are tipped over and left on the sea floor,” where they become artificial reef that “attract fish and other marine life,” and increase fish populations.
|Greenhouse gas emissions||Direct from sources that use fossil fuels||Indirect and front-loaded from manufacturing, transportation, and assembly of components
|Government subsidies||Fossil fuels received $489 million in subsidies in 2016||In 2016, took in 46 times more in federal subsidies than fossil fuels per unit of energy generated.|
It’s not all clear that offshore wind farms are superior to offshore drilling. Both create jobs and both can have negative environmental impacts. But only one is reliable. The other is dependent upon ocean breezes and tends to be more costly than fossil fuel energy.
The sources of our energy should be left up to market forces, not the heavy hand of government, which always favors, as the recently departed Angelo Codevilla explained more than a decade ago, the “ruling class,” no matter if the benefits are purported to accrue to the least among us and/or the environment.
Or think of it this way: If wind power off the California coast produced cheaper and more efficient energy than fossil fuels, it wouldn’t need to be legislated. The market, the collective thinking of millions of smart minds, would have already figured it out.
Author’s note: A special thanks to energy analyst-authors Ronald Stein and Todd Royal for their assistance as sources for this post.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.