The Winds of Change


    Last week, I wrote about how the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should remind us of the ultimately unsustainable cost of our addiction to fossil fuels. This week, I’d like to share my thoughts on a recent development with one of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels: wind power.

    The barriers to harnessing the power of wind energy are not technological – they are primarily political. We have had wind power generation capabilities for years, but our leaders haven’t been active enough about setting standards for the adoption of renewable energy, investing in a transmission grid to deliver power from generation sites to consumers, or creating a consistent and reliable regulatory framework.  

    An outdated transmission system is one of the primary reasons why alternative energies only meet a small portion of our national energy demand. A recent study released by The American Wind Energy Association estimated that wind projects capable of generating a total of 200,000 megawatts of power are ready, but cannot connect to the grid because we lack the capacity to transmit the energy they would generate to consumers. 200,000 MW of wind power – that’s enough to meet more than 20% of our national energy needs, and we haven’t built the lines to access it. Supporting infrastructure development is among the most important of the government’s responsibilities. We have the opportunity to secure our future. Will we take it?

    I was pleased to hear earlier this week that Governor McDonnell has joined Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the governors of 10 other eastern states to form the Atlantic Offshore Energy Consortium. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch,

    the Consortium would “review investment and infrastructure, data and science, and the regulatory and permitting process” in an attempt to coordinate efforts to use the tremendous wind power waiting off the Atlantic Coast.

    Governor McDonnell is starting to show some meaningful support for wind power. That’s great.

    Although he appears to be interested in the energy of the future, Governor McDonnell still places distressing focus on the energy of the past. Expressing support for an expensive drilling project last month, the Governor said,

    “It is my hope that the President’s action does not signal the end of offshore energy exploration and production off Virginia in the years ahead.”

    Drilling off Virginia’s coast would be expensive. It is unlikely to provide any revenue for Virginia. Most estimates agree that oil reserves off Virginia’s coast are only sufficient to supply enough oil to supply the United States’ needs for three days.  In short, it is a distraction from the pursuit of long-term energy solutions.

    The formation of a green energy commission doesn’t do much good if it’s not followed by concrete action. I hope that we can count on the Governor to take leadership of this important initiative. For the time being, all of us can hope that his commitment to green energy will be more than just words.

    I wish we could count on Rep. Frank Wolf’s backing for this important and bipartisan initiative. After all, Rep. Wolf claims support for renewable energy initiatives:

    “I continue to support alternative and renewable energy initiatives as part of a comprehensive energy policy.”

    Sadly, his legislative record suggests otherwise. Rep. Wolf voted for the final version of the Energy Independence Security Act of 2007, but only after he voted against provisions that raised renewable energy standards and supported investments in green energy. In 2008, he voted against a budget that invested $7.7 billion in funding for alternative energies.

    That’s a disappointing record.  

    Frank Wolf’s support for green energy has been primarily rhetorical. When I get to Congress, my support will be real. I will be a force for the full funding of alternative energies in Congress, and I will be a powerful advocate for the 10th District. As one of the hotbeds of innovation in the region, our District must play an important role in providing the ideas and the technology that will drive the next generation of energy.

    The next time Rep. Wolf thinks about voting against funding for clean energy, the next time he thinks the status quo is acceptable, I hope he takes a look at what’s happening on the floor of the Gulf right now.

    Wind power is available. It’s clean. It’s renewable. It’s safe. We can’t afford to wait any longer to harness its potential.

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