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No we haven’t discovered an endless oil well off the coast of California, but there may just be plenty of energy waiting off America’s coasts—energy that requires no drill to harvest. The secret to renewable offshore energy lies in the wind and the waves. Wind power, terrestrial anyway, has worked its way into the American conscious fairly successfully by this point, but wave power still rests on the fringe of the renewable energy discussion.
That won’t last long if federal officials succeed in northern California. Officials held a hearing last week in San Francisco to discuss the pros and cons of offshore energy production, including oil. Offshore wind farms show some powerful potential according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One NREL estimate claims that windmills in shallow coastal waters (less than 98 feet deep) could supply 20 percent of all electricity consumed by coastal states.
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Wave energy, too, has been studied for some time and implemented in several locations around the world, but struggles still to gain the same attention or respect as other major renewable resources, such as wind and solar. Wave energy is harnessed by way of buoys floating offshore that produce electricity as the waves crest and fall. Another method is to use devices that let rising water in a wave compress columns of air to spin a turbine and create electricity.
Offshore energy has clashed with often strong public and environmental concern, all oil rigs aside. A big question for wave energy is how it might harm the marine environment. This is especially important for one of the proposed northern California projects which would sit within the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Add to environmental concerns some citizens reluctant to allow acres of large wind turbines to rest just offshore.
In the Pacific region, that creates problems because the sea bed drops off rather dramatically, so more distant wind farms would have to be built on platforms, adding to an already expensive price tag. The aforementioned project set to use the marine sanctuary is an attempt to combine the two by building windmills on platforms that also convert wave energy.
According to Leila Monroe, an analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, so far offshore wind has had little effect on the marine environment. If anything, the effect has been positive because fish can essentially hide from commercial fishing among the turbines.
Nonetheless, a hesitant public, high cost, and environmental concern continue to hold up offshore energy projects. That isn’t stopping the federal government and the industry from encouraging these projects. Similar projects have been proposed (some failed) or are coming to the table soon in the Northeast, New Jersey, Texas, and the Great Lakes of Michigan.
Source: The San Francisco Chronicle