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Choiniere column in support of offshore wind project was a lot of hot air

The editorial page editor claimed “offshore wind energy plans brighten State Pier’s future” in his April 11 column. Paul Choiniere is entitled to his dead-wrong opinion.

A couple of weeks ago, President Biden announced a massive effort to develop offshore wind energy projects as the key to a clean energy revolution.

Over many years and many discussions, I have attempted to educate Choiniere about the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is the future of the world’s energy resources and their significance in shaping that future. My efforts in attempting to educate him on those fundamentals have been largely wasted. He fails to comprehend that there is no such entity as clean energy; it may be operationally cleaner but it is not clean of embodied energy.

Fundamentally, accumulated (aka embodied) energy is the total quantity of energy required to manufacture, and supply to the point of use, a product, material or service and its disposal. It includes the energy expended from cradle to grave for: extracting raw materials; transporting, manufacturing, assembling and installing a specific material to produce a service or product and, finally, its disassembly, deconstruction and/or decomposition.

The net energy produced from renewable energy development, including offshore wind-power, over its life is quite low. Considerable energy must be invested — for example producing wind-turbine stanchions — before a single kilowatt of electricity is delivered.

Choiniere’s support for the State Pier project is governed by the mythological numbers of anticipated jobs promised by the Biden administration – more than 44,000 workers in offshore wind by 2030 and nearly 33,000 additional jobs in communities supported by offshore wind activity. He’s excited that hundreds of those jobs stand to be created here in southeastern Connecticut.” He wrongfully assumes that domestic and worldwide job growth has no effect on depletion of energy resources.

The world’s population lives in the Fossil Fuel Age.

“Man's muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push his automobile along the road, and his family is supplied with 33 faithful household helpers. Each locomotive engineer controls energy equivalent to that of 100,000 men; each jet pilot of 700,000 men. Truly, the humblest American enjoys the services of more slaves than were once owned by the richest nobles and lives better than most ancient kings. In retrospect, and despite wars, revolutions, and disasters, the hundred years just gone by may well seem like a Golden Age…Whether this Golden Age will continue depends entirely upon our ability to keep energy supplies in balance with the needs of our growing population.”

So said Admiral Hyman Rickover on May 14, 1957, with those remarks on "Energy resources and our future" published Dec. 2, 2006 by Energy Bulletin.

Not water dependent

Choiniere also dismissed my contention that the operation to assemble massive offshore wind turbine parts, and place them on large ships for transportation to ocean wind-power fields, is not a “water-dependent use” and, therefore, prohibited under the state’s Coastal Management Act.

Yes, my filing with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection hearing officer did raise the legal issue whether the reason for the proposed project — creating a broad, flat space to assemble wind turbines destined for offshore farms — is a water-dependent use allowed in a coastal zone.

The goals and policies of the Act mandate the highest priority and preference for water-dependent uses and facilities and prohibits replacing a water-dependent use with a nonwater-dependent use on a site suitable for such use.

The applicant, Connecticut Port Authority, and DEEP analysts contend the turbine assembly is indeed water-dependent. I cited testimony from the General Assembly at the time the coastal management law was passed, when lawmakers specifically rejected language that would have allowed water-enhanced uses and insisted on the term water-dependent.

Indeed, as the lawmakers asserted, what isn't enhanced by being on the water, including hotels and restaurants? The aim was to confine coastal development to things that can only be done on the waterfront, like fishing docks, marinas and ferry terminals, since you can't put those anywhere else.

There is much legal interpretation of this issue, since it has arisen in states around the country trying to comply with federal laws regarding coastal management. Much of the legal analysis takes a strict interpretation, with the suggestion, for instance, that even fish processing plants are not water-dependent since they can be built and used anywhere.

Even if DEEP finally concludes the assembly of wind turbines at State Pier is a water-dependent use, that finding could be the most obvious grounds for litigation.

Robert Fromer is an environmental activist and conservationist. He is a former resident of New London and now lives in Windsor.

 

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