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Egypt and Wind Turbines

February 7, 2011

What is the connection between the current civil unrest in Egypt and wind turbines? The first and most obvious is that Egypt has a good wind resource along the Gulf of Suez and instability threatens the efforts of Egyptian business to develop that resource.

The less obvious connection, which is very much on my mind today, is that renewable energy in the United States could free us to support the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. We could stop walking a foreign policy tight rope between our democratic principles and our fear of losing access to Saudi Arabian oil.

The United States has vast energy resources that do not have to be imported. Our offshore wind resource  alone is four times the capacity of our whole grid and it is located near the greatest demand on the east and west coats and in the Great Lake states.  We also have significant resources of shale gas in the United States. Even though the method for producing that gas – “fracking” – poses environmental problems, those problems have to be compared to the environmental and military costs of producing and transporting Middle Eastern oil to meet the same demand.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold hearings on “The Impact of Middle East Events on U. S. Energy Markets.” I want to hear what the witnesses and committee members have to say, but, based on the title, I have a bad feeling that I will not hear any thoughtful or creative responses the current civil unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan.

I fear I will hear committee members who do not know or recognize the differences among Middle Eastern countries. I fear I will hear the Middle East described as a monolithic region with only one important dimension: it is a source of oil for the United States. I assume there will be committee members who jump to the conclusion that unrest in the Middle East is a threat United States’ interests and that the democratic aspirations of Egyptians, Yemenis, Jordanians and Tunisians will have to take a back seat to America’s need for oil from Saudi Arabia.

I crave a creative response to events in Egypt. I want someone to point out that our military expenditures in the Middle East are in fact an oil subsidy. A small fraction of that amount could help off-shore wind scale up and become a large fraction of our energy supply as well as pay for significant humanitarian aid in the Middle East. Maybe we could help the Egyptians scale up their wind resource as well. I would love to hear a frank recognition of the powerful connections among peace, social justice, energy and the environment. We cannot be true to our best democratic values, we cannot promote peace until we have a sane energy system based on renewable energy.

For decades we have been talking about the need to “end our dependence on foreign oil.” And for decades we have not been doing anything serious about it. Maybe an oil price shock is just what we need to finally push us into a low carbon economy.

17 Comments
  1. Mark Grantham permalink
    February 7, 2011 4:09 pm

    The time is now to look for viable sources of Energy, and the Wind is a great source of Energy. The St. Pete Monthly Meeting has a great film series going on, it discusses the topic of Energy.
    I also feat hearing the Middle East described as one big area, all of the people, cultures, languages and types of Governments all being the same. I had the great opportunity to live in the Middle East, just like here, depending where one is, determines what one sees or hears. Arabic is spoken by millions of people in the Middle East, but the accent gives away the country of origin, as does the accent here in the States.
    Wind is a wonderful place to start, America needs to lose the addiction to oil, and this has to start now!

  2. Marian Fricano permalink
    February 8, 2011 2:09 pm

    Unfortunately, it seems that there is very little interest in making wind turbines safe. Therefore, at present these are killing machines. Thousands of birds and bats are being killed by these machines and now they are located all over the world. We may yet reap the harvest of a real Silent Spring.
    Where are our environmental groups in pushing for redesigned, safe wind turbines? There are some in existence that have large, open covers like most fans that are sold to the public.
    I despair.

    Marian

  3. Emmett J. Murphy permalink
    February 8, 2011 6:32 pm

    Marcia Cleveland’s commentary on wind energy and Egypt offers good encouragement for our development of wind energy. But its relevance to Egypt seems tenuous. Israel’s security is, I believe, more reason for our support of Mubarak than for it is for oil shipment through the Suez canal. There are alternative routes. But we have spent billions per year for many years to buy Egypt’s cooperation in avoiding war with Israel. Wind energy wouldn’t seem to figure in substantially one way or the other.

  4. Thomas Gogan permalink
    February 9, 2011 9:34 am

    I am disturbed by the suggestion in this article that the U.S. is somehow forced to support dictators in order to access oil. Is our democracy so weak that we must sell our souls to the devil to satisfy our “need” to access resources at prices well below those that other nations pay?

  5. February 9, 2011 10:09 am

    I agree completely that the U.S. needs to exploit it’s solar, wind and geothermal resources to the max along with dramatically increasing the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings. The World Wildlife fund makes that point very well in its just released: “The Energy Report: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050. The cost of keeping soldiers, sailors, ships and planes deployed overseas to ensure access to global oil supplies should definitely be factored into the real cost of a gallon of gasoline. One more thing: The American Bird Conservancy reports that domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year. Sibley Guides to North American Birds estimates that almost a billion birds may die every year from hitting plate glass windows. High tension lines and communications towers kill another 200 million birds. Cars may kill up to 60 million birds. Wind turbines on the other hand are estimated to kill around 33,000 birds per year in the U.S. That comes out to less than five birds per turbine per year, a number that continues to drop since new wind turbines farms are sited away from migratory bird flight paths and the newer hundred meter solid tower turbines kill far fewer than the older 50 meter wind turbines such as those in the Altamont pass with their lattice towers where birds could roost and even build nests.

  6. Jeanine Peterson permalink
    February 9, 2011 1:35 pm

    I saw a report at least a year ago on PBS about what India was doing with wind energy. Instead of giant windmills which kill birds and take up so much space, and cause problems with those placed off shore, for sealife in the ocean, they had a new technology. This is a small self contained cylenders – some sort of “centrifuge”. It was no larger than a bread box. They were placing them on top of many buildings like apartment houses and the collected wind was transformed into electricity in the buildings! Can someone please research this? The giant killing machines are not the right alternative. India is ahead of the curve in many areas.

  7. Cavender Salvadori permalink
    February 9, 2011 10:28 pm

    After reading this article I agree with almost everything you have to say. Your biggest point is how our needs prevent us from supporting the people of Egypt. I agree with this statement because in the media one of the biggest things is how America isn’t supporting or not supporting either party in Egypt. The main reason we won’t support Egypt is because of the threats of closing the Suez Canal. The Canal is a main transportation of middle eastern oil, which America depends on. So until we have energy independence then we can’t support democracy.

  8. Jack Hollingsworth permalink
    February 9, 2011 10:41 pm

    “Maybe an oil price shock is just what we need to finally push us into a low carbon economy.”

    Are shocks in the price of oil really the only way forward? Is there not a way for us to harness the capabilities of the US economy to create meaningful change? The free market, if given the right environment, will create newer, faster, better, more efficient ways towards wind power production. It’s like a campfire- you have to stack the kindling and the logs just so in order to get the hottest, largest fire which will last for the longest time.

  9. February 10, 2011 6:53 pm

    “Fight terrorism, ride a bike”
    I want to put that bumper sticker on my bicycle.

  10. February 10, 2011 11:52 pm

    @Marcia – I nodded my head in agreement as I read your post. Regarding your last statement, I do think that Americans of means need the see $5/gallon gas at the pump so they are prompted to reconsider wasteful habits . The only problem is that people of limited means, or no means, will be terribly affected and I’m not sure how that can be mitigated. Thank you for writing, and I look forward to hearing more from you.

    @Pat – I agree that “dramatically increasing the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings” is an absolute necessity in the US. So much energy is being wasted heating and cooling our buildings. I’m glad our government is funding weatherization for low-income families because they are the folks whose budgets are unduly burdened by energy costs. It would be a great thing if the government implemented a sliding-scale fee weatherization for all residences.

  11. Marcia Cleveland permalink
    February 11, 2011 10:45 am

    Karen and Pat –

    Thank you both for your comments. I totally agree that our irresponsible energy policies hurt low income people the most. As Robert Kennedy Jr. pointed out at a hearing recently, once a solar or wind facility is built the fuel is free and therefore not subject to price spikes. My comment about a price shock was a small outburst of frustration. I also agree that building efficiency is one of those enormously important but not very sexy issues. Right now being out of the limelight is an advantage.

    At the moment my assistant and I are defending EPA all the time but this crisis will pass. Building efficiency is an issue dear to FCNL’s heart. After all I work in a Civil War Era Building that was renovated and is now a LEED certified building. I hope you saw the public television program about the renovation of the Empire State Building. If investors see that it is economically viable to renovate this iconic depression era building, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings is very doable.

    Marcia

    Marcia J. Cleveland Legislative Representative, Sustainable Environment Program Friends Committee on National Legislation 245 Second Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-5761

    tel: (202) 547-6000, ext. 2520 email: marcia@fcnl.org

  12. Marcia Cleveland permalink
    February 11, 2011 10:55 am

    Kerry –

    I like that a lot. I almost borrowed another bumper sticker slogan for the title of the blog “Spin, Baby, Spin”

    Marcia

    Marcia J. Cleveland Legislative Representative, Sustainable Environment Program Friends Committee on National Legislation 245 Second Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-5761

    tel: (202) 547-6000, ext. 2520 email: marcia@fcnl.org

  13. Marcia Cleveland permalink
    February 11, 2011 1:16 pm

    Jack –

    I am not advocating a price shock as the only way forward, although price volatility and shocks are inevitable when we have and inelastic demand for a scarce world commodity. We have 2%-3% of world oil reserves, even if you include all offshore oil. We use 25% of the world’s oil. The only way we can ever protect ourselves from price shocks is to move to a low carbon economy.

    Marcia

    Marcia J. Cleveland Legislative Representative, Sustainable Environment Program Friends Committee on National Legislation 245 Second Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-5761

    tel: (202) 547-6000, ext. 2520 email: marcia@fcnl.org

  14. Mindy Baha El Din permalink
    March 6, 2011 3:17 am

    Egypt does have a lot of potential for alternative energy production: solar, gas and wind. However, you should note there is a conflict between wind energy and migratory birds. The Gulf of Suez is situated on some of the world’s most important bird migration routes in the spring and autumn. There are a number of globally important bottlenecks, including at locations with high wind speeds. One such area designated by the Egyptian government for wind farm establishment is at Gabel El Zeit which studies have shown is a risk area for wind turbine – bird conflicts. It is not recommended to situate wind farms along bird migration corridors and bottlenecks. To avoid other Altama Pass, proper studies should be undertaken before the construction of any wind farm in Egypt to evaluate potential environmental impacts. Egypt desperately needs capacity building in wind farm assessment and monitoring, which the donor’s such as the US could support. We are hoping the revolution will encourage more sound and sustainable development and address environment concerns, which were neglected under Mubarak’s regime.

  15. Marcia Cleveland permalink
    March 7, 2011 10:52 am

    Thank you so much for that detailed information about the bird migratory routes along the Gulf of Suez. It is my understanding that some of the problems with bird mortality that were encountered in the early years of wind turbines have been solved by turbine design. Putting the blades higher, which is better for wind generation and eliminating open work towers has reduced bird mortality.

    I have a house on an island off the coast of Maine which now meets all of its electricity needs with three wind turbines. We are on an important flyway as well so there was a lot of discussion of the bird issue. The wind farm has been operational for a little over a year, with no bird mortality so that gives me hope these problems are solveable.

    Marcia

    Marcia J. Cleveland Legislative Representative, Sustainable Environment Program Friends Committee on National Legislation 245 Second Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-5761

    tel: (202) 547-6000, ext. 2520 email: marcia@fcnl.org

  16. Mindy Baha El Din permalink
    May 23, 2011 7:58 pm

    Gabel Zeit area and other bottlenecks on Egypt’s Red Sea are like no other in the world, the numbers of birds passing through this coastal desert region is astounding…This is major cooridor and bottlecks for migratory soaring birds. I once saw a flock of 35,000 White Storks coming in off the sea. The birds cross the sea and come into shore low. The also land to rest or roost overnight. Given the strong winds and the potential for sand storms…this also causes birds to fly low or land or even poor visablity. Any attractions such as water, vegetation, garbage or a dead camel will bring down birds. The fact the birds are in the strike zone of the turbines increases risk…unfortunately, while there can be some design elements to reduce risk…basically it is better not to situate the wind farms in such sensitive locations or possibly it is being discussed taken preventative measures like radar and seasonal monitoring.

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