Wind energy preferable to nuclear, coal

No energy source is without some adverse environmental impact. Even wind power poses some concerns.

But given the alternatives in New Jersey, especially coal and nuclear, wind power should be an important part of the energy mix.

So it was welcome news last week when the U.S. Department of Interior announced that 344,000 acres of sea floor off Long Beach Island and the southern Jersey Shore will be opened to wind power development. Leases will be offered to companies that want to build wind turbines along the ocean floor, starting about seven miles off Long Beach Island, Atlantic City and Cape May County.

A forecast analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy says that if that area is developed to maximum potential, turbine fields would generate up to 3,400 megawatts, enough to power 1.2 million homes.

Clean, renewable wind energy. What could be the problem? Skeptics and critics have identified a few potential concerns, none of which should halt the pursuit of wind power.

• Birds die when they fly into the turbines. A story last year on estimated that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds in the U.S. die each year from collisions with wind turbines.

• Some recreational and commercial fishing could be disrupted if care were not taken in the placement of the turbines and the depth of cable burial associated with the turbines.

• Some people, among them Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, are concerned about “eye pollution,” fearful that the sight of the wind turbines from land could have a negative impact on tourism. A study by the Argonne National Laboratory of wind turbines in United Kingdom waters reported that under favorable viewing conditions, turbines are visible to the unaided eye at distances greater than 26 miles.

None of those concerns should be dismissed. But given the negative impacts of other traditional sources of energy — coal, gas and nuclear — the adverse effects of wind turbines pale in comparison.

Wind power is hardly a new or untested technology. Turbines supply energy off the California coast and abroad in Europe.

Renewable energy — wind, solar and other alternative technologies — is essential if the U.S. is to wean itself off nuclear and coal during the next 20 to 25 years. Nuclear should not be in the mix. It’s costly, it poses safety, health and environmental risks, and it is becoming prohibitively expensive to build new plants.

So far, the government’s wind-energy initiative for the Atlantic coast has led to five commercial wind-energy leases being awarded in Massachusetts, Delaware and Virginia.

In New Jersey, after formal publication of the proposal in the Federal Register today, there will be a 60-day public comment period ending Sept. 19, after which a date for the bidding will be announced.

None of the issues raised by critics should derail the future of wind power in New Jersey.