Yesterday in an Earth Day pitch, the Obama administration and the Department of the Interior announced new rules that will help boost the development of offshore wind farms along our coastlines. But not everyone is thrilled about this supply of green energy because these offshore turbines are visible from the coastline and sometimes can be heard, too. Even Senator Ted Kennedy, one of President Obama's biggest supporters, is complaining about the disruption to the shoreline off of Cape Cod. Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice University Energy Program and a fellow at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy, joins The Takeaway to talk about how much of an impact these offshore wind-turbines will could have on how we produce and consume energy.
"Think about the fact that when you flip the switch there's a fuel going through the power station. Electricity seems invisible. That makes us think it's clean. It makes us think the fuel is invisible, but everything has something." —Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the energy forum at Rice University's Baker Institute, on energy sources
Katherine Lanpher, The Takeaway: You know what this sound is. [sound of wind] But how about this one? [sounds] That my friend is the sound of energy, of wind turbine.
John Hockenberry, The Takeaway: Wind turbines? Well, well. They say they could power this station if they just put a wind turbine in front of my mouth here.
Katherine Lanpher: I'm not going to disagree with that. So the next time you go to the seashore that is the sound that you might be hearing. Yesterday, the Obama administration at the Department of Interior announced new rules to boost the development of offshore wind farms along our coastlines. Now how does the wind blow? This is your cue to make a little sound.
John Hockenberry: [wind sounds]
Katherine Lanpher: Thank you. We're going to turn now to Amy Myers Jaffe. She's the associate director of the Rice University Energy Program and a fellow at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy. Hey, Amy, how much energy are we talking about when it comes to wind? I mean, how much is this really going to ramp up the influence of wind when it comes to our energy production?
Amy Myers Jaffe, Rice University: Well you know when you hear people give estimates you can hear every estimate to the fact that we could manufacture all the electricity we need to wind, to people saying 10 or 20 percent. But I think the thing we need to remember when we think about wind is, wind is what we call intermittent. In other words, even in a place that has a tremendous wind farm, with its huge wind resources that we can see it on a map at the U.S. Department of Energy Web site, you can still have a couple of days that aren't windy even in those places. We have that here in Texas. We're one of the biggest, or perhaps the biggest, wind state in the country. And so you always have to have some sort of a backup system and that's a problem. That's something we need to resolve before wind becomes a mainstay in our electricity system.
Katherine Lanpher: That, in fact, leads to my next question, and this is going to sound dopey but, Where is the wind? Why are we focusing on coasts when, in fact, I know there are wind farms in the prairies, for instance?
Amy Myers Jaffe: Well there's a lot of wind in the prairies and billionaire T. Boone Pickens has spoken about that a lot. The problem with his concept is that most of us live in the coast. So 50 percent of Americans live in a coastal territory. If you look forward — because remember it's going to take us a long time to move to renewable energy and away from the systems we use today — in 2025, 75 percent of Americans are going to live in a coastal district. So, it would make more sense to develop the resource closer to where we use the electricity because, of course, that's less expensive and more efficient.
Katherine Lanpher: President Obama, as we said, announced these rules yesterday. I want you to listen to exactly what he said:
President Obama [on tape]: It's estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy, on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030. And create a quarter-million jobs in the process — 250,000 jobs in the process — jobs that pay well and provide good benefits. It's a win-win. It's good for the environment, it's great for the economy.
Katherine Lanpher: Wow, those numbers sound great. What do you make of those estimates?
Amy Myers Jaffe: Well, again, he's right, we could get there, people are always talking about how Denmark is totally wind dependent. In other words, wind is their major source for electricity. But there are certain technologies that we really should pursue if we're serious about wind, and one of those is a technology to store electricity. That is because if it's not windy in a particular wind farm that's going to be a major supplier to all Americans, we don't want to have a brown out. So, actually it's a little-known secret about Denmark is they have too much wind sometimes at night and they have to sell it at a great discount to Germany, and sometimes during the day they don't have enough wind so they wind up buying coal-fired electricity back from a neighboring country. So, I'm not saying it's not a great thing, because a lot of the time they're using the wind as it's carbon-free, and we need to move in that direction, but we need to understand that a program that would put in extra wind installations is not ultimately the so-called silver bullet solution. There are energy problems unless we're coming up with these new technologies to store electricity which we would also benefit solar energy.
Katherine Lanpher: I want to quickly talk about the visuals here. Most of us, I think, when we think of wind turbines, think of the Cape Cod controversy: Walter Cronkite and Ted Kennedy saying they didn't want to look at them. They're not alone in that. So, how will this be addressed?
Amy Myers Jaffe: There's no way to address that. There's no free lunch. I always like to tell Americans to sit down for a minute of silence right this second and think about the fact that when you flick the switch, there's a fuel going through a power station. Electricity seems invisible, that makes us think it's clean, it makes us think the fuel is invisible, but everything has something. We have a lot of hydroelectric power in the United States, which is a wonderful thing because it's, again, environmentally friendly. But there's a group of people in the United States who do kayaking, who want to turn off all the hydroelectric we have and they lobby Congress. And what I say to people is we have to generate the electricity from something, and so it's about choices.
John Hockenberry: Make a lot of plexiglass. Plexiglass wind turbines. They're invisible.
Katherine Lanpher: Amy, we're going to say goodbye and John's going to blow you out. Ready?
John Hockenberry: [wind noises]
Katherine Lanpher: It's Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Rice University Energy program. Thank you so much for joining us. Hey, you're not done?
John Hockenberry: I think it might be rude to actually blow a guest away like that.
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