Wind Power Can Replace 3,000 Coal Plants, Interior Secretary Says

April 6, 2009 - 11:43 AM
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Atlantic City, N.J. (AP) - Windmills off the East Coast could generate the same amount of electricity as 3,000 coal-fired power plants, but oil and natural gas drilling will continue to be part of the nation's energy equation, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.
 
The secretary spoke at a public hearing in Atlantic City on how the nation's offshore areas can be tapped to meet America's energy needs now that a moratorium on offshore oil drilling has expired. A decision on whether to allow drilling for oil and gas off the East Coast still has to be made.
 
"We know there are some people who want us to close the door on that," he said. "We need to look at all forms of energy as we move forward into a new energy frontier."
 
In 2007, the Outer Continental Shelf, a zone extending roughly three to 200 miles from shore, accounted for 14 percent of the nation's natural gas production, and 27 percent of its oil production.
 
Salazar said it is essential that the nation fully exploit renewable energy resources to reduce its reliance on imported oil.
 
By buying oil from countries hostile to the United States, "we have, in my opinion, been funding both sides in the war on terrorism," he said.
 
Wind power offers a great opportunity along the East Coast, the secretary said.
 
"There is tremendous potential with wind off the Atlantic," he said.
 
Salazar said ocean winds can generate 1 million megawatts of power, roughly the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants.
 
Environmentalists are urging the Obama administration to bar oil and gas drilling off the East Coast, and invest heavily in wind, solar and other energy technology.
 
"This is a defining moment, whether we're going to have a clean energy future or continue to rely on oil drilling," said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey director of the Sierra Club. "Right now the government is fossil-foolish, and we need to change that."
 
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said offshore drilling should not be allowed, citing the economic cost of a spill.
 
"The risks are great, the rewards are less," he said. "It perpetuates our reliance on oil, Frankly, we simply just don't want it."
 
Skip Hobbs, a petroleum geologist from New Canaan, Conn., said oil and gas drilling has been shown to be safe.
 
"We should recognize that as a practical matter, fossil fuel will rule for another generation," he said.
 
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the nation needs to drill more, saying "it can be done intelligently."
 
"We need to start looking at the self-inflicted energy dependence we have because we refuse to develop our domestic energy industry," he said.
 
The hearing, hosted by Salazar, is the first of four to be held around the country to discuss how energy resources including oil, gas, wind and waves should be utilized as the new administration formulates its energy policy. It was held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, whose roof-mounted solar energy panels are the largest in the nation.
 
New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts. That would be 13 percent of New Jersey's total energy, enough to power between 800,000 to just under 1 million homes.
 
In October, Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint venture of PSE&G Renewable Generation and Deepwater Wind, was chosen to build a $1 billion, 345 megawatt wind farm in the ocean about 16 miles southeast of Atlantic City. That plant would be able to power about 125,000 homes.
 
In Atlantic City, the local utilities authority has a wind farm consisting of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes.
 
Rhode Island Gov. Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, said renewable energy's appeal crosses partisan lines.
 
"There is a sense of urgency that we get this moving and get it right," he said. "There is a national emergency right now; the dependence on oil and natural gas has gone on for too long."