Opportunity Costs

One aspect of wind energy that is not much discussed is opportunity costs.  Certainly the financial and environmental costs are substantial enough in their own right.  Much harder to pin down are the things that don’t get done because the powers-that-be are so focused on renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular.  In other words, does all the time, money and effort put into wind energy significantly detract from other better options or more important issues?  While hard conclusions are impossible in all but the rarest of cases, there’s certainly some indications that our focus on wind energy may have already cost us dearly.

Big in the news presently is, of course, the Gulf oil spill.  Many are saying this spill is evidence that we should be doing more wind energy.  As I briefly explained in my earlier Gulf Oil Spill posting, that notion is a combination of  (a) nonsensical, and (b) wrong.

The San Fransisco Examiner investigated the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency responsible for regulating oil drilling platforms in the Gulf.  The MMS, under the Bush administration, was like a poster child for what happens when regulatory capture occurs.  That in itself would tend to make the regulation of the platforms less rigorous than it otherwise might have been.  To compound that, Obama and Salazar directed the MMS to concentrate its efforts on wind, particularly the Cape Wind project, which again would tend to let the platforms do their own thing.

And do their own thing they did.  As the AP reports, and Congress has learned, BP made a number of decisions immediately before the blowout and fire that were more cost-conscious than safety-conscious.  The majority of the time they’d have gotten away with it.  Sadly, this time was not part of the majority.

Could improved regulation have prevented the blowout?  Could a more attentive MMS have prevented the blowout?  Most disasters like this one have a number of causes that all come together to create the disaster, and I suspect this one is no different.  So we’ll never know one way or the other unless some smoking gun comes out.  Still, the lesson here is that corporations will generally get away with whatever they can, and if the government won’t do its job of protecting the environment there will continue to be disasters like this again and again.  I posit that many wind projects could be classified as disasters, albeit on a smaller scale than the Gulf spill, but disasters all the same.  And like the Gulf spill they are made possible, even certain, by an uncaring industry and a complacent and even complicit government.

San Fran Examiner article, Obama Ignored Drilling Risks, original link now dead.

San Fran Examiner, backup link.

AP Nightmare Rig article, original link.

AP Nightmare Rig, backup link.

UPDATE

July 9, 2010. In the July 12, 2010 issue of Newsweek the My Turn column was written by Michael Bromwich, the new director of the now-renamed MMS. The column mentions many of the same issues regarding the lack of government oversight of the drilling rigs.

Newsweek Bromwich Column, original link.

Newsweek Bromwich Column, backup link.

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