Election year is the season to channel more money into renewable energy resources because it tends to carry some significant sway with the liberal base. With that in mind, the green light has been given (yet again) to plans for a truly massive “wind farm” in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island. But the usual liberal caveat of NIMBY (“Not in my back yard”) is always in play when such plans come close to fruition and this one is no exception. Some of the chief opponents to this forest of turbine towers are the fishermen who make their living in the targeted waters. (AT&T News)

A long-stalled plan to build a forest of power-producing windmills off the coast of New York may finally be gathering momentum, and that is sparking concern among commercial fishermen who fear the giant turbines will ruin an area rich with scallops and other sea life.

Federal officials announced earlier this month that they would auction off the rights to build the wind power farm on a 127-square-mile wedge of the Atlantic Ocean.

The tip of the wedge begins about 11 miles south of Long Island’s popular Jones Beach and spreads out across an area, sandwiched between major shipping lanes, where trawlers harvest at least $3.3 million worth of sea scallops each year, as well as smaller amounts of mackerel, squid and other species, according to a study commissioned by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Here in New York this plan has been well known for years and it’s always a subject of heated debate. Putting any sizable construction in the waters near one of the busiest shipping ports on the planet is problematic to begin with, but the site being auctioned off is ostensibly out of the normal shipping lanes. Unfortunately it’s also sitting on top of some of the prime fishing real estate for scallops and shallow water fish. Commercial fisherman are worried that the installation of these towers will disturb the sea bed and ruin the marine habitat. Further, having this field of steel towers will pose potential navigation problems and collision hazards for fishing boats during rough weather or when experiencing engine or navigation failures.

For their part, the fisherman are mostly saying they’re in favor of wind energy development off the coast. Just not where they make their living.

I remain an “all of the above” advocate for domestic energy production. While wind power remains plagued with serious technical problems nearly everywhere it’s implemented and the wind is notoriously unreliable in many areas, if we can find places where it works both productively and economically (as in without requiring massive taxpayer subsidies to keep it afloat) then I say go for it. The same goes for solar, geothermal and all the rest. And just to play devil’s advocate here, coastal installations might be some of the best options for wind power. Anyone who spends any time near the beach can tell you that there’s rarely much calm air along the coast for extended periods.

Of course, you still have to make sure that your designs are suitable to the unique challenges of each environment. You may recall that Minnesota invested millions of dollars in a wind farm a few years back, only to later learn that the turbines they installed froze up and were effectively destroyed in very cold temperatures. (Who could have guessed that it would get really cold in Minnesota during the winter? Go figure.) If you’re going to put turbine towers out in the middle of the Atlantic they had better be able to stand up to a constant barrage of corrosive salt water spray, not to mention the destructive effects of hurricane force winds and storm surge during the summer and fall. If they build this project and the guts of these machines begin to rot out from the salt corrosion within a year or they wash away in the next nor’easter, it’s going to be yet another massive embarrassment to the renewable energy movement.

As to what happens to the fishing fleet… your guess is as good as mine.

CapeWindFarm