May 10, 2012

Virginia wind turbine hopes blown away

I always thought that the famous slogan was about a canary in the coal mine--the little bird that would croak if the oxygen level in the mine dropped too much.

But the recent decison by Spain's global wind company Gamesa to drop plans to build a proptotype wind turbine in the Chesapeake Bay and instead build it in the Canary Islands got me thinking that it's now a canary in the coal "mind" and that little bird is thriving.

The Canary Islands will benefit from some clean renewable energy in the future. But Virginia's hopes for clean energy in my lifetime just got dashed. Plus the 80 engineers who had been working in this partnership between Gamesa and Newport News Shipbuilding will be looking for new jobs soon.

The only American industry that benefits immediately is the coal industry. The American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group, plans a $40 million campaign in defense of coal. And it looks like they are already reaping the benefits. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said that the slow regulatory process had been speeded up. But I guess it wasn't enough incentive for Gamesa's decision makers.

Coal used to supply more than half of America's power. But electricity from coal-burning plants has dropped to about 42 percent at the moment. Natural gas is so cheap right now too, so its use in power plants has increased. It even replaced coal as more plants were switched over to this cleaner burning fossil fuel.

Some well-meaning folks talk about "clean coal" but that technology is not yet available on the grand scale that would be necessary to reduce the emissions from coal-burning power plants. I saw humongous piles of coal in Norfolk as I drove down I-64 yesterday. The coal trains have been busy.

Now all eyes will be on the proposed Cape Wind project off Cape Cod. Those plans have been blowin' in the wind for a long time.