By Frances Beinecke
Two summers ago, I took a tour of a large-scale wind farm off the coast of Denmark. After the boat docked in the charming, tourist town of Nysted, I asked the mayor Lennart Damsbo-Andersen, what impact the nearby turbines had on the beach community. The mayor explained that when the wind farm was first announced, residents were very concerned about what the wind farm would do the town's charm and livelihood. But now, "We look back and wonder what we were so worried about."
I imagine homeowners and vacationers in Nantucket Sound will be saying the same thing in a few years. Last week, the Cape Wind project cleared its last environmental review. There is one more step before Cape Wind can start construction and begin repowering thousands of homes on Cape Cod with clean energy.
Our new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has to issue the final "record of decision." I hope he does it very soon. Cape Wind has been under thorough review for seven years. NRDC participated in that process, and we concluded that the project's benefits will clearly outweigh its costs. At this point, we have to move forward. The scientific data on global warming gets more alarming each week. America has to get serious about large-scale renewable power.
For many Americans, there is still a question mark about whether renewable power really works. We don't have many examples to point to, and as a result, things like offshore wind farms remains hypothetical proposals destined for some time off in the future. But in Europe, people understand that renewable power is viable, available, and actually producing a great deal of their energy.
European nations have embraced renewables and made them seem obvious, everyday solution. Denmark gets 20 percent of its power from renewables--the highest proportion in the world. Germany and Spain are close behind. It was very inspiring for me to see these solutions for myself when I took a boat into the Baltic Sea. As we left the marina in Nysted, a light haze made it hard to see the 72 turbines from shore.
But when we drew closer, the white towers appeared in an arc of clean, gleaming lines. They were definitely big-bigger than I expected. But their soaring shape was graceful, not industrial. Rocking on the waves, I was struck by the simple ingenuity of the project. From the quiet hum of those turbines, Denmark taps into a free and inexhaustible resource and generates enough electricity to supply 145,000 households.
All while releasing zero global-warming pollutants. Driving along the North Sea coast, I asked a taxi driver what he thought about the wind farm that sits offshore. He answered, "It's better than pollution isn't it?"
Yes, it is. And isn't that the point? Any clean energy solution-here or in Denmark-must follow rigorous environmental standards. Wind farms have to be carefully sited. Yet we can not set the bar so high that it becomes harder to create renewable energy sources than it is to build traditional power plants.
Instead, we should promote one of the best solutions we have for combating global warming. Cape Wind is a good start. But we need many, many more similar projects. Hopefully, President Obama's commitment to clean energy will help us realize this potential.
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