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Photo of Frances Beinecke

Letter From Denmark
Our Energy Future -- today

This summer I saw up close what a global warming solution looks like, and the view was remarkable. Along with several NRDC colleagues, I visited one of the largest offshore wind farms in Denmark, a nation that generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind power -- the highest proportion in the world.

One morning, we boarded a boat from the tourist town of Nysted. At first, summer haze made it hard to see the 72 turbines from shore. But when we drew closer, the white towers appeared in an arc of clean, gleaming lines. With the quiet hum of these turbines, Denmark taps into a free and inexhaustible resource and generates enough electricity to supply 145,000 households, all while releasing zero global-warming pollutants.

When we returned to shore, we spoke with Nysted's mayor, Lennart Damsbo-Andersen. Initially, residents of this popular beach town were deeply concerned about the wind farm. They didn't want it to intrude on their views or jeopardize tourism. Now, the mayor said, they look back and wonder what they were so worried about. Life goes on much as it did before the wind farm, with summer visitors and an active harbor for recreational boating. Embracing wind power has helped Denmark ensure that almost all of its energy is homegrown -- even as it outlawed nuclear power.

Here in the United States, we have not been so forward-looking. Wind power is an essential tool for stopping global warming, yet when offshore projects are proposed, residents often oppose them. People protest having their ocean views altered, but it's unlikely they would prefer the alternatives -- such as building new coal-fired power plants (150 are now on the drawing board in the United States). Selecting a site for an energy project is always a challenge. Wind farms should be subject to rigorous environmental review to ease impacts on bird mi-grations, ocean ecosystems, and nearby communities. Yet we must not set the bar so high that it becomes harder to site renewable energy sources than traditional power plants. We have to consider the cost of not building wind farms: more smog, more pollution-related illness, and more greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead of business as usual, we should follow Denmark's example. Already, 20 states have passed renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from clean energy resources like wind. Now is the time to move from talk to action -- to actually build the wind farms that will meet these goals.

Imagine what we'll find when we do. As we sit on one of our favorite beaches, we might see the turbines of a wind farm dotting the dis-tant horizon. But we'll know that we're looking at something truly wonderful: energy that's clean, endlessly renewable, and a critical part of the solution to global warming.

Frances Beinecke

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Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

OnEarth. Fall 2006
Copyright 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council