Friday, October 24, 2008

Wind Power Flagging?

The United States added more wind capacity in 2007 than any other country in the world--over 5,000MW. This year, the new additions will break records again--more than 7,500MW. Can it continue? The Wall Street Journal, quoting the American Wind Energy Association, is doubtful:
Next year won’t be so sweet, the AWEA says, for two big reasons. First, the financial crisis is making it tough for lots of developers to get the cash to build new wind farms. And even though the industry’s prayers were answered with a last-minute, one-year extension of tax credits for wind energy, the tax breaks came late, in the last-gasp Congressional bailout package. That means construction on new wind farms will get a slow start next year.

There are other reasons for concern not cited by the Journal. One is growing opposition to wind projects from the local NIMBY factions and also from those who oppose wind farms on principal (for whom some have coined the terms BANANA--Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone--and NOPE--Not On Planet Earth.) More on this in a later post.

Another reason is our increasingly creaky and ad hoc transmission and distribution electrical grid. With generation typically far from the load, the power must be moved. Here in Washington most wind generation is in the eastern half of the state and must use one of two corridors over the mountain passes. Both of these routes are at or very close to capacity today, so new wind farms cannot send power to a hungry Puget Sound area unless more wires are strung, a very expensive option.

These last two problems might be overcome by offshore wind. The larger problems of tight credit and, shall we say, gusty support for renewable wind energy will require stronger and better focused political leadership than we've seen the last few years. Dithering on making the smart and necessary energy choices would be an enormous missed opportunity for both our environment and our economy. The renewable energy industry in the United States demands bold leadership. Let's boldly demand it.
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