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Baker Talks About Offshore Wind Energy Program on NEPR

In December, Erin Baker of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department appeared on New England Public Radio (NEPR) to discuss her Offshore Wind Energy Program, an interdisciplinary graduate program in offshore wind energy engineering, environmental science, and policy that is now up and running with 25 faculty members from nine departments working with 13 full-time graduate students. The goal of this Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship is to train researchers who understand the technological challenges, environmental implications, and socioeconomic and regulatory hurdles faced by offshore wind farms. The program was started with a $3.2-million grant from the National Science Foundation in August of 2011 and will eventually train 24 doctoral students over five years. Listen to the program here: UMassOFFSHOREwind.wav.

A transcript of the spot follows:

UMass Amherst is offering a new graduate program combining engineering, environmental science and policy, leading to a doctorate in "offshore wind energy."

Erin Baker is professor of industrial and mechanical engineering who has been helping to launch the program. She says wind power holds enormous potential to help New England meet its energy needs. But she says turbines on land generate far less energy than their larger offshore counterparts.

"What limits the size of land-based ones is freeway overpasses and that kind of thing. Whereas you don't have that limitation on the ocean."

Baker says one complexity in the siting of wind farms is community opposition. She says she thinks there's opposition because developers approach siting projects without being sensitive to community concerns. So one major focus of the graduate program is to start conversations early in the development process.

"Some people feel like they're not getting a say. And so I think it's because they're so frustrated by not being listened to from the beginning that they grasp on to these things like the health effects. So our idea is to try to really listen to what their concerns are and see if we can find communities that are actually excited about wind rather than fighting wind."

The program is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. (January 2013)