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Blowing in the Wind 

It seems almost too good to be true. Louisiana's economy is still reeling from the loss of oil industry jobs, but now the state has the opportunity to become a global leader in the burgeoning field of wind power production ("Air Apparent," Jan. 18). A 2003 study by Stanford University scientists revealed coastal Louisiana to hold the highest potential for wind energy in the United States. Our state also benefits from decades of leadership in the energy industry, with a well-established offshore and inland infrastructure.

Environmentalists around the world clamor for further use of energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass energies. By now, we all should know the reasons to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels: greenhouse gases that choke the atmosphere and cause global warming, and over-dependency on OPEC nations. Many experts believe the best approach would incorporate energy from multiple renewable sources, including wind.

New Orleans-based GT Energy, an environmental market services firm, has partnered with Wind Energy Systems Technology (WEST), a New Iberia-based company led by oil and gas veteran Herman Schellstede that this year plans to construct wind turbines atop oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. These developments are encouraging, but much work remains to be done. Environmentalists are concerned that wind turbines -- with blades up to 310 feet in diameter -- will kill birds. One area of recommended placement is in the "Mississippi Flyway," the annual migratory path of many species, including waterfowl. Another problem is intermittency -- when there's no wind, there's no power, and the technology needed to store wind power is not yet fully developed. Other concerns involve transporting wind energy. Can wind power be transported through existing pipelines created for oil? Or will an expensive cabling system need to be constructed?

We urge state and federal agencies to tap the best minds in the energy industry to tackle these problems. This means making renewable energy a priority. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote once again this session on the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which, among other provisions, would require the use of renewable energy. Sen. Mary Landrieu voted against the act last year but has promised to consider a new version if it promotes a diversified approach to energy -- and won't hurt Louisiana's oil and gas industry. We supported the original Climate Stewardship Act and strongly encourage Sens. Landrieu and David Vitter to champion it in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC), led by Commissioner Foster Campbell, will be the key to developing a Renewable Portfolio Standard in Louisiana. That's a tool used by other states; it requires utilities to buy a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources. We encourage the PSC and the state Legislature to adopt policies that call for increased renewable energy use and provide incentives for companies such as WEST and GT Energy to thrive here. Wind energy might enable Louisiana to capitalize once again on its abundant natural resources -- as well as promote a better environment and a safer world.

McKenna for State Rep

It's a safe bet that more New Orleanians know about the Iraq election on Jan. 30 than a special local legislative election the day before. On Saturday, Jan. 29, six candidates square off to fill the House District 96 seat vacated by Edwin Murray's recent election to the Louisiana Senate. (A runoff, if needed, will be Feb. 26.) Veteran observers predict a low voter turnout -- no more than 20 percent of the 28,000 registered voters -- partly because five parades are scheduled to roll in Orleans Parish on Election Day. That's unfortunate. District 96 includes parts of the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Gentilly -- all historic neighborhoods. It's an important race for an important seat, and we encourage our readers in the district to vote.

We are impressed by a number of the candidates, but one stands out: attorney Michael A. McKenna. As state representative, he will work to improve teacher pay by modifying state tax exemptions so more money will go to our under-funded public schools. McKenna also will team with Murray (who has endorsed him) to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance to their employees.

McKenna recently worked as a law clerk for state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Ed Lombard, and previously for Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter and Civil Court Judge Herbert Cade. A native of the Gentilly area who hails from a Seventh Ward family of educators, McKenna graduated from Jesuit High School, Xavier University and the Loyola School of Law. He is now making his first run for public office.

"I'm running because the city is not what I remember it was growing up as a kid -- that is safe streets, good schools and the opportunity to make a decent wage," he says. We urge our readers in District 96 to elect Michael McKenna state representative.

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