Can Louisiana transition from oil to energy independence? Instead of working the oil fields as many here in our state do, what if those people were building wind farms in the Gulf of Mexico instead? Bob Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize–winning Louisiana environmental journalist, recently shared his thoughts on this in Nola.com.
— Bob Marshall (@BMarshallEnviro) May 3, 2020
Louisiana is often known for New Orleans, Mardi Gras, great food, and the eradication of our wetlands. We have also survived devastating hurricanes, such as Katrina and Rita, along with the disastrous BP oil spill that coated our wetlands and wildlife in oil. Marshall leads into his piece with a question that highlights a striking truth: we have a long political acceptance of the destruction of our wetlands, pollution, and a “seesaw economy controlled by a global commodity.” He asks if this is really about jobs and making America energy independent or about letting oil companies cash in on those oil and gas profits at our expense.
All of my life, I’ve known people who worked in the oil field. I had friends or neighbors whose husbands would go for months to work these risky jobs. The plus side is the money was always good. It has often been touted, as Marshall put it, as “economic suicide” for Louisiana to give up its role in big oil and make the switch to cleaner renewable energy. However, two new studies released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management may shed light on that little illusion that many have clung to. Marshall’s article provides hope for Louisiana — not just hope for the tens of thousands of unemployed offshore energy workers, but also hope that if Louisiana can take on this challenge, we can become a leader in clean energy.
The truth is that much of our revenue comes from either the oil industry or the tourism industry. Breaking any type of addiction, you are going to feel pain. You will experience withdrawal and agony, yet slowly you will come into a place of healing. This is true for states dependent on oil money as well. When it comes to the idea of switching to cleaner energy, the fear is always about job loss. Well, with tens of thousands of Louisiana offshore workers now unemployed, what have we got to lose by trying something newer and better?
Marshall shared some highlights from those studies. One offshore wind turbine project could support 4,470 jobs during the construction phase and an ongoing 150 jobs in operations. That would mean $445 million in GDP growth, or $14 million annually.
What if we could convince oil companies that wind is the new oil? What if they realized they could profit off of wind, a substance that there is no shortage of, and convert their plants into factories that produce wind turbines and other sustainable tools? It may seem impossible, but here in Baton Rouge, two ExxonMobil plants have switched from making oil to making hand sanitizer for first responders in several states.
Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) announced last month that it made an agreement with the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, and Walmart regarding a $1.01 billion proposal to add 810 megawatts of wind energy. SWEPCO wants to purchase three wind facilities in Oklahoma. Imagine if ExxonMobil decided to set up an offshore wind farm.
Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, told Marshall that, “Yes, it might be more expensive in the beginning, but prices have already been falling for solar and wind all over the world. So we have a choice.” And Marshall ended his piece by elaborating on Burke’s statement, “And a chance to find out if Louisiana wants to stay in the energy business — or just the oil and gas business.”
Not only do we have that choice before us, and not only do we have a chance to take part in the energy business, but I think we have an opportunity to take the lead in the energy business. We can finally become a leader of something good –if we truly want to do the hard work.
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