Energy and Mobility

The energy revolution in the waterways is only beginning. East River Power strikes me as a great overview. The Obama Administration’s postponement of drilling in the East Coast continental shelf is also meant to give a little more time for wind-power to get off the ground. While “Cape Wind” has been getting all the play off of Cape Cod, the State of NJ has approved 3 different installations far off the shores of Cape May.

Locally, the currents along this stretch of the East River make it a logical place to start tidal power efforts. During the peak of the tidal energy the water is moving nearly 6 miles per hour through here — about twice as fast as it moves through the much wider Hudson. The East River is unique in that it doesn’t really have much natural flow. It’s really a tidal strait connection the Harbor down by the Battery with Long Island Sound, and therefore it’s constantly pushed and pulled between these two bodies of water, themselves being pushed and pulled by the Atlantic Ocean.

What I find most interesting is that we are still very much in the research and development phase on all these projects. We hear about engineering and tech companies involved, but I wonder where are the naval architects? And as long as it’s taken for the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project to really get moving it’s clear they haven’t overcome all the fundamental design challenges that the environment presents: massive physical force and flow of the water; the highly corrosive effect of the salt in the water, and of course the occasional obstruction or collision with other things IN the water.

Looking ahead, I think we need to be careful about a few things:

1) over-industrializing our waterways — are we starting off on a slippery slope?

2) Protecting the needs of the maritime users like tugboats, ferries and barges — the waterways are STILL basic transportation resources and given our ever increasing needs for mobility we should keep them that way.

3) Ensuring we’ve got enough waterfront industrial land so that by the time we’ve got a workable tidal turbine, we’ve got available waterfront land where those turbines can be built and splashed into the water, and pulled out as needed so they can be repaired.

Energy and mobility — it’s really what this great country is all about! So let’s not have one at the expense of the other.

Carter Craft is a waterfront planner and licensed Captain working in the private sector. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Planning and the Environmentat Pratt Institute where he teaches the summer Waterfront Seminar. For more than a decade, he has been involved with a wide range of civic and community groups working to revitalize the waterfront including the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the Manhattan Island Foundation, the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse, and the New York Harbor School.