Tilting At The Windmills

Professor L
7 August 2014
Tilting At The Windmills
Recently, the national conversation over renewable energy sources has left the contemplating stage and began its path to action, a step which involves going through the convoluted process of turning policies into comprehensive laws that are capable of making change.
In the second term of his administration, President Barak Obama has urged congress to pass The American Renewable and Efficiency Energy Act. The bill, first introduced to a congressional committee in late October 2013, aims to “establish a Federal renewable electricity standard for retail electricity suppliers and a Federal energy efficiency resource standard for electricity and natural gas suppliers” by amending the 1978 Public Utilities Regulation Policies Act (S. 1627 govtrack). The proposed 2013 federal bill requires retail electric suppliers to gradually increase a percentage of the energy they produce and sell to come from renewable resources. The percentage is set to start at 6% in 2015 and increase to 25% by 2025 and remain so through 2040 (S.1627 beta.congress).
Unfortunately the 2013 federal bill is currently facing fierce opposition and there is next to no chance that it can move past the congressional committee. Perhaps foreseeing this quandary at the federal level, the Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley enacted the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act –here forth HR0226— in April of 2013(mgaleg.maryland). As a moderate and progressive Marylander I, just like many others like me, want my state to be part of the movement that seeks to find, build, and maintain an infrastructure that relies on renewable energy sources –may it be solar, wind, or other— even if it means having to break ranks within party lines or personal patriotic sentiments.
Earlier this august, over a year and a half after HR0226 was enacted, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski added language to a defense appropriations bill that would kill a project to construct a windmill farm off the Chesapeake Bay shore. Sen. Mikulski, along with some of her U.S. congressional peers, argues that building the wind farm at the proposed site would disrupt sensitive radar testing operations at the nearby Pax River Naval base (Johnson). This latest setback comes after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report in late 2013 suggesting that the wind mill farm would pose a threat to the native avian wild life, specifically: The Bald Eagle. The report estimates that we could see up to 20 bald eagle deaths each year after the wind mills are built and become operational. The agency argues that bald eagles run the risk of colliding with turbine blades, and over time, at a rate of 20 deaths per year, could place the country’s revered bird back in the endangered species list (AssociatedPress).
At first glance the above stances make sense. Our navy should have a designated area to safely test its stealth radar systems without any disruptions, which in turn makes the U.S. Navy a more capable force. Also, bald eagles have been a symbol of this great nation for decades, and disrupting their habitat whilst putting them in danger is not the way they should be treated. And while I do somewhat agree with the aforementioned premisses; I find it baffling whenever law makers and federal agencies continuously demonstrate their inability to not step on each other’s shoes. On this wind mill matter, Senator Mikulski was either unaware or decided to ignore the facts that “current federal law requires the military to cooperate with alternative energy developers” and that the project’s developers offered to turn the wind mills off whenever a test takes place, an offer that officials at the naval base were comfortable with all along (Johnson). Additionally, the federal agency’s report on estimated bald eagle deaths was based on data originally collected in the western part of the U.S. and focused mainly on golden eagles colliding with turbine blades. But congressional setbacks on wind power is nothing new; one needs to only look back as far as 2011, when congress defunded another wind mill farm project in Delaware (Galdfelter). What’s more, it seems that when it comes to the general goal of moving the country towards renewable energy sources, many congressional democrats don’t share the same values and views on the matter (Riley).
Renewable energy must not be