Article

State of The Coast

ATLANTIC CITY — With coastal communities from Cape Cod to Virginia buzzing over the possibility of wind turbines rising in coastal waters, the wind power industry's biggest advertisement is right here alongside U.S. Route 30.

"There's hundreds of these in the country, and thousands in the world. But most of them are in the middle of nowhere," said Richard S. Dovey, president of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, where five turbines at the wastewater treatment plant stand 380 feet tall — higher than most of the city's casino hotels.

These are slightly smaller, land-based versions of wind-generator arrays that have been proposed for offshore areas of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Since the Atlantic City installation started cranking power Dec. 12 for the utility's wastewater treatment plant here, the plant has had no shortage of electricity — or visitors.

One delegation came from Suffolk County, N.Y., to get some idea of what's being proposed in Long Island waters. A consultant for the Coast Guard has called, to see how turbines might work at its stations at Cape May and Sandy Hook.

When the utilities authority signed the contract with its wind-power vendors, projections were that wind would provide 50 percent of the plant's power over the course of the year. In windy February, the turbines churned out 70 percent.

Reliability is... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
"There's hundreds of these in the country, and thousands in the world. But most of them are in the middle of nowhere," said Richard S. Dovey, president of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, where five turbines at the wastewater treatment plant stand 380 feet tall — higher than most of the city's casino hotels.

These are slightly smaller, land-based versions of wind-generator arrays that have been proposed for offshore areas of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Since the Atlantic City installation started cranking power Dec. 12 for the utility's wastewater treatment plant here, the plant has had no shortage of electricity — or visitors.

One delegation came from Suffolk County, N.Y., to get some idea of what's being proposed in Long Island waters. A consultant for the Coast Guard has called, to see how turbines might work at its stations at Cape May and Sandy Hook.

When the utilities authority signed the contract with its wind-power vendors, projections were that wind would provide 50 percent of the plant's power over the course of the year. In windy February, the turbines churned out 70 percent.

Reliability is over 90 percent, and the on-site engineer has less maintenance than expected, Dovey said: "They thought he would have to go up once a week. But they've been running so well he's only had to go up four times."

Wind power is here, and in a new coastal assessment report, the state Department of Environmental Protection is increasingly concerned about the possibility of offshore windmills — along with potential oil and gas drilling after a 2012 federal moratorium expires.

Energy industry to grow

The draft report calls industrialization of the ocean "a major emergent issue." Changes to federal tax incentives, improved wind generation technology, escalating energy prices and tightening supplies have all combined to make offshore energy development more likely, the report says.

Public comments on the draft report are due by March 31, after which officials will revise the report as needed and develop a five-year strategy, from 2006 to 2010, to guide efforts to enhance coastal management.

Federal law requires New Jersey and other coastal states to reassess their management programs every five years and outline strategies in nine areas: aquaculture, coastal hazards, coastal wetlands, cumulative and secondary impacts, energy and government facility siting, marine debris, ocean resources, public access to the water, and special area management planning. Energy development is clearly the foremost issue all along the East Coast.

This mild winter notwithstanding, the chilly Northeast is a prime market for liquefied natural gas, refrigerated and compressed and sent across the oceans. One proposed offloading LNG terminal on the Delaware River already has New Jersey and Delaware state officials tussling in the courts.

Last year Congress moved to offer coastal states a bigger share in mineral royalties from offshore oil and gas development. Virginia's move to seize that opportunity has set off an internal debate between the state's shipbuilding and tourism industries, which respectively see offshore energy wells as opportunity and threat.

Age of "ocean sprawl"

The demand for offshore wind turbines, LNG facilities and other industrial uses represents "sort of . . . the beginning of the age of ocean sprawl to match the suburban sprawl we've seen along the coast," said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a Sandy Hook-based coastal conservation group. "It clearly is one of the biggest issues facing the ocean."

The DEP report is "right on the money in recognizing what the problems are," he said. The state has gone from placing a very low priority on industrialization five years ago, to a focus on the need to "develop some answers that protect the ocean quickly," Dillingham said.

Identifying potential conflicts in using the ocean is probably the foremost issue, said Kurt Kalb, a supervising environmental specialist in the DEP's coastal management office.

Potential conflicts include "borrowing sand for beach nourishment," infrastructure beneath the ocean surface, such as existing telecommunications cables, and commercial fishing, he said. "The commercial fishermen have some real concerns on how obstacles placed in the ocean affect their livelihood and we share their concern," Kalb said.

Kalb said a "critical piece of information" is some kind of detailed mapping of areas considered of commercial value to commercial fishermen. The DEP doesn't have such mapping, he said. At the very least, new charts would help in understanding and identifying potential conflicts between, for example, a wind energy structure and commercial fishing groups, he said.

Community acceptance

At Atlantic City, the rotors are nearly silent even on windy days. "Sometimes you hear a little whoosh," said wastewater manager Thomas Lauletta as he approaches the base of one tower. The buzz of electronics — the inverters and controls inside the 14-foot-wide base — make more noise than the vanes spinning overhead. Lauletta admitted it takes a little time to get used to the shadows sweeping across the grounds, as the rotors spin at up to 18 revolutions per minute.

The utilities authority was first approached about wind power five years ago, and eventually went with Jersey-Atlantic Wind LLC, a partnership of Babcock & Brown, a San Francisco-based investment banking firm, Central Hudson Energy Group Inc., a New York utility, and Community Energy Inc., a marketer and developer of wind energy generation based in Wayne, Pa.

Utilities executives made an early approach to city officials and the Venice Park Civic Association, briefing them on the project and taking people to visit Community Energy's other projects in Pennsylvania, Dovey said.

That helped win local community acceptance, and the utility stresses how much clean energy equivalency comes off the wind. Together the five turbines represent 7.5 megawatts of generating capacity, or enough to power 2,500 homes in a year.

Reducing consumption

Still, making those kinds of comparisons along the Atlantic City skyline are not lost on Cynthia A. Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based coalition, who says "sensible reductions in use" should be as much a part of energy strategy as the push for new sources offshore.

"Go down there at night and look at the waste of electricity," Zipf said. "You'd think God lives there."

But Zipf said she's glad the state is facing the new future. "Now, there's a high priority and there's a tremendous amount of interest," she said, "and they do a good job of outlining the reality of offshore energy as a significant issue to be addressed."

Bird conservation groups worry about placing turbines in coastal flyways traveled by migratory birds, and the New Jersey Audubon Society challenged the state permit for the Atlantic City installation. That appeal was settled, with an agreement from the developers to finance "an on-the-ground science project" that will use radar to track passing bird flocks, said Eric Stiles, the group's vice president for conservation.

"We didn't say it was a bad location, they just didn't do their homework," Stiles said of the Atlantic City site. In that way, "the settlement is very positive, because it will collect information that will improve the site-selection process everywhere."

Tracking birds

Researchers will use radar sets designed for boats, but modified with software that takes vertical and horizontal radar sweeps to create "snapshots' of bird flocks, said Ted Korth, an expert working as Audubon's special counsel on the study.

"We'll be tracking and counting during the two (spring and fall) migration periods, and looking at how the species behave when they encounter the turbines," Korth said.

It's thought that the turbines' location won't be a serious problem for birds, Korth said. But there will be observers with binoculars at the site this spring to watch birds, and document any that are killed by the machines, he said.

"The next step will be to get this all into (computer) models" to help learn how turbine placement can affect birds, he said.

Dillingham of the littoral society says New Jersey's own offshore wind panel is scheduled to meet March 13 to go over a draft of the final report. Dillingham, a panel member, said he thought the interim report was "fairly balanced."

"It affirmed the issues we had raised about the relatively small contribution of energy that wind was capable of producing" and about the potential for "significant impacts to the ocean environment and uses by siting these facilities offshore," he said.


Source: http://www.app.com/apps/pbc...

MAR 12 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1665-state-of-the-coast
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