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July 30, 2008

Feeling Winded
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A new survey set to be released next month from the American Wind Energy Association will proclaim that America is now the world's leading producer of wind energy. Of course this news comes before construction has even begun on T. Boone Picken's planned 200,000 acre wind farm on the Texas Panhandle, set to be the largest in the world, and amidst reports that China is attempting to out-pace American wind energy growth with a "Three Gorges of the Sky" initiative. While Picken's plan represents a great step forward for wind energy in America, bureaucratic hurdles and slow planning still inhibit true and rapid wind energy growth (and indeed other alternative energy sources) in the U.S. as compared to other countries, especially China:

"China's wind energy market is unrecognisable from two years ago, It is huge, huge huge. But it is not realised yet in the outside world," said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council. "A few years ago wind energy was boutique, something to show off to foreigners to prove how green they are but now it is a very serious part of their energy policy. They can make things happen so quickly in China compared to the west. When they make up their minds, it is incredible how fast things happen."

Statements like that make it that much more depressing that President Bush and John McCain still think domestic, coastal drilling is the best energy policy America has moving forward, even though the environmental costs are certainly high and potential energy benefits are plausibly low as compared to coastal wind farms, which can reap much quicker energy returns and lower costs both in terms of environment and capital.  In fact, if we blanketed our East Coast with wind farms, a far more aesthetically pleasing and practical alternative to oil platforms, the benefits could be enormous:

Wind power could supply all the energy needs of much of the East Coast and then some, if a phalanx of wind turbines running from Massachusetts to North Carolina were installed offshore, a new study concludes.

...the energy needs of most of the East Coast could be met, or even surpassed, with the installation of over 160,000 turbines, according to Kempton’s findings.

The reduced use of fossil fuels would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the area by 57 percent, even in New England, one of the world’s most highly polluting areas, according to the study.

And a new study from the Department of Energy concurs:

The U.S.DOE estimates that there are more than 900,000 MW of potential wind energy off the coasts of the United States, in many cases, relatively near major population centers. This amount approaches the total current installed U.S. electrical capacity.

So, according to our own government, wind power has the potential to equal the entire electrical capacity of the U.S. Why aren't we tapping this resource?

The growth of wind energy in the United States has been impeded by several expiration/renewal cycles of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), inhibiting sustainable momentum. State incentive programs (e.g., Renewables Portfolio Standards, Systems Benefit Charge programs) have provided some market opportunities and led to regional growth spurts. The European experience, in contrast, has been policy driven with long-term development goals and time horizons. This has succeeded in making Europe the home to the majority of the world’s wind energy development. It has also spurred the development of offshore wind, which is seen as a solution to dwindling siting opportunities on land.

It's pretty absurd that wind has the potential to equal our entire current energy capacity yet all we hear from Bush, McCain and the Republican party is DRILL DRILL DRILL! A federal/state partnership to establish an East Coast wind farm seems like a far more sensible approach in attempting to solve our energy crisis than more drilling, but election year political posturing is occluding our (Conservative) policymakers from taking such sensible positions.


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"Drill, drill, drill" is a response to rising gas prices, not electrical bills. Wind power is great but unless you tie it into an automotive fleet that draws its power solely from the electrical grid, you're not actually rebutting the "drill" chorus.

If all of your posts are this tendentious I'm surprised you have any readers at all. The Repubs are nowhere near as monomaniacal as the Dems - they would be more than willing to accept drilling as a small fraction of a total energy plan. The fact is for the next 3-5 years we need more drilling to transition to renewables, but the Dems are the ones that consider it blasphemy against Gaia. Oil from the California coast could be reaching refineries within a year if through existing pipelines if we were willing to make bipartisan compromises.

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