As I pulled up to the pump last weekend and emptied my wallet for $4.35-a-gallon gas, I thought what a shame it is that we aren’t doing more to lessen our dependence on imported oil. For almost 40 years we have been talking — but not doing — anything significant to solve the problem. Alternate energy is clearly one answer. What about projects like Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound? Shouldn’t we allow it to be built to help us become energy independent? On reflection, the answer is a resounding no.
Expensive offshore wind plants will result in little or no oil self-sufficiency. That’s because wind energy produces electricity primarily as a substitute for natural gas, the main power source for electricity in New England and other regions of the country. Oil-fueled power plants play a minor role in generating current for our homes and businesses, usually as supplements and back-ups.
This is a key point of the T. Boone Pickens plan; demand for oil is driven by our transportation needs, not electric power generation. In fact, oil is responsible for but two to three per cent of our national power generation. At the same time, transportation demands roughly 75 to 80 per cent of oil consumption. Reduction in demand for foreign oil will happen when we abandon fuel-thirsty vehicles in favor of fuel-efficient ones, powered by natural gas, bio-fuels, hybrid sources and electricity, a trend already underway.
Even if you accept Cape Wind’s claim that it would reduce use of up to 113 million gallons if the project were to totally displace oil-fired generation (which it would not), that figure represents less than 4/100th of one per cent of the nation’s annual oil consumption. Cape Wind will not have a significant effect on reducing demand for oil plants because those plants generally are turned on during times of greatest power demand when air conditioners are running full tilt. Thus the project would reduce oil demand in a miniscule way but at an extremely high cost to the environment, the local economy, and to public safety.
As we saw during recent heat spells, there was little wind, but the New England grid managers were able to satisfy high demand using existing generators. During the June heat wave, Cape Wind’s own Web site showed it would have produced at less than 15 per cent of its capacity, had it been operating on Horseshoe Shoal.
As for meeting our future electricity needs, New England is making great progress on the renewable energy front. The Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources is forecasting this year’s Renewable Portfolio Standard — which calls for an annually-increasing percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources — will be met. In other words, we will have a sufficient supply of green energy to meet demand.
For more than 30 years, we have known the risks of being too dependent on foreign oil. It is a problem that neither Democrats nor Republicans solved when they were in charge of the national agenda. Any bipartisan, responsible national energy policy has to include widespread conservation, a hike in vehicle fuel economy standards with alternative fuel supply, and development of renewable energy and other alternative power sources in proper locations.
The new Massachusetts energy law has appropriate incentives to encourage conservation and small-scale renewable generation. It is a good model for other states to follow. But let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that by sacrificing Nantucket Sound, gas prices will come down. That’s folly, just like the Cape Wind project itself.
Glenn G. Wattley is president and chief executive officer of The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an advocacy group that opposes the Cape Wind project.