Opposition to wind farm is short-sighted

March 31, 2011

As a long-of-tooth energy engineer and consultant, I believe Jay Hancock's offshore wind column is nearsighted ("Stop O'Malley's offshore wind folly now, not later," March 27). Yes, natural gas currently is abundant and cheap, particularly compared to oil-based fuels, but it won't stay so. Natural gas is too flexible and easy to use, which translates into fuel switching for major users and new uses for compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) and so forth. And don't be surprised if, through the magic of chemical conversion, natural gas winds up as a gasoline constituent; the value differential will be the driver. Over time, then, natural gas may still be relatively plentiful, but cheap it won't be; it will equilibrate.

Mr. Hancock's alternative to wind power is to build natural gas-fired generation. At one time, I tracked a fleet of natural gas-fired engine plants. While they worked well for a while, after several years of constant use, the mechanical systems had problems, and the maintenance cost for spare parts, labor, downtimes, parts availability, etc. outweighed the benefits. Much larger scale combustion turbine systems are designed to lessen such problems, but I sense no swell of interest on the part of utilities, which, I believe, reflects their assessment that by the time such units can be put in place, the current low natural gas price will have disappeared.

With respect to offshore wind technology, rapid progress has been made and will continue to be made. The Cape Wind project was a political fiasco; don't draw any technical or financial inference from it. Germany has just announced it is phasing down its nuclear plants in favor of renewable options. Wind will be a prominent option, and the North Sea has many such installations.

Perhaps the biggest short-sightedness of the article is to avoid what I call "the slow tsunami of global warming." While natural gas use emits less carbon dioxide than coal use, such emissions are far higher than wind. Should our society wake up to the threat of global warming and cap or tax carbon dioxide, the economics of wind will flip in favor of wind.

And the wind will keep blowing … free.

Joseph A. Mulloney Jr., Cockeysville

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