COMMENTARY | According to a story in Ars Technica, Stanford researcher Mark Jacobson suggests that offshore wind farms could have the happy side effect of cutting down on the destructive force of hurricanes.
“And that will unsurprisingly have an effect on how winds propagate. Jacobson modeled three different hurricanes-Isaac, Katrina, and Sandy-plowing into a massive field of wind turbines. The wind speeds dropped by up to 90 miles an hour, which is enough to drop all but the most powerful storms out of the hurricane category. In fact, the huge fields of turbines were so disruptive that the wind speed started to drop before it even reached the turbines, meaning that in many cases, they could safely continue generating energy throughout the storm.”
Offshore wind farms have been touted as part of a mix of renewable energy technologies that could augment America’s power generation capacity. Part of the problem is that thanks to the natural gas fracking boom, the economic rationale for wind farms has been undermined. Nevertheless, according to the Dallas Morning News, the first big offshore wind farm in the United States is being started, ironically enough, off South Padre Island in Texas. Texas is better known as a producer or oil and gas, but is also prone to hurricanes.
Building the tens of thousands of wind turbines that Jacobson suggests would serve as a shield against hurricanes would be monumentally expensive. The GoWind project in Texas is dependent on government subsidies to begin construction.
Would the idea of wind farms as hurricane mitigation shields help make their economic case? Katrina, the costliest and deadliest hurricane in recent memory, cost $135 billion and took almost 2,000 lives. If a wind farm had existed along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, that cost in blood and treasure could have been greatly diminished, if Jacobson is right.
Of course the research is based on a computer model and not real world experimentation. We will therefore not know for sure unless and until a hurricane plows through a wind farm and can be measured as having been diminished or not.