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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blowing in the Wind

What do you think of wind power?:

Move Over, Oil, There’s Money in Texas Wind, by Clifford Krauss, NY Times: ...Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3 percent of its electricity ... comes from wind turbines.

Texans are even turning tapped-out oil fields into wind farms, and no less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy.

“I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself.

Wind turbines were once a marginal form of electrical generation. But amid rising concern about greenhouse gases from coal-burning power plants, wind power is booming. Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45 percent last year... It already supplies about 1 percent of American electricity, powering the equivalent of 4.5 million homes. Environmental advocates contend it could eventually hit 20 percent, as has already happened in Denmark. Energy consultants say that 5 to 7 percent is a more realistic goal in this country. ...

Despite the attraction of wind as a nearly pollution-free power source, it does have limitations. Though the gap is closing, electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels. Moreover, wind power is intermittent and unpredictable, and the hottest days, when electricity is needed most, are usually not windy.

The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands.

But the opposition has been limited, and has done little to slow the rapid growth of wind power in Texas. ...

The quaint windmills of old have been replaced by turbines that stand as high as 20-story buildings, with blades longer than a football field and each capable of generating electricity for small communities. Powerful turbines are able to capture power even when the wind is relatively weak, and they help to lower the cost per kilowatt hour. ...

A short-term threat to the growth of wind power is the looming expiration of federal clean-energy tax credits, which Congress has allowed to lapse several times over the years. Advocates have called for extending those credits...

A longer-term problem is potential bottlenecks in getting wind power from the places best equipped to produce it to the populous areas that need electricity. The part of the United States with the highest wind potential is a corridor stretching north from Texas through the middle of the country, including sparsely populated states like Montana and the Dakotas. Power is needed most in the dense cities of the coasts, but building new transmission lines over such long distances is certain to be expensive and controversial.

“We need a national vision for transmission like we have with the national highway system,” said Robert Gramlich, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association. “We have to get over the hump of having a patchwork of electric utility fiefdoms.” ...

    Posted by on Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 02:51 AM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (35)

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