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Not Too Little Wind Energy, But Too Much

Despite claims by critics, wind energy proves that only poor infrastructure, lack of political will inhibits industry's growth

Jon Queally

The windswept prairies of the central United States are said to be capable of generating enough energy to supply the nation's energy needs several times over.

According to the Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown, just "three wind-rich states—North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas—have enough harnessable wind energy to easily satisfy national electricity needs."

In fact, the development of wind energy in the great plains is coming under threat not because the resource can't produce enough energy (as naysayers often exclaim), but because it's producing too much.

From McClatchy on Monday:

The windswept prairies of the Midwest are undergoing an energy transformation the electric grid can’t handle.

Wind turbines tower over rural vistas in the heartland, where the clean energy source is becoming increasingly popular with utility companies that face state-mandated renewable energy standards. Unfortunately, the nation’s aging power grid is hampering those efforts.

Quoting industry representatives and energy experts, McClatchy found that though energy creation has risen sharply in recent years, the necessary infrastructure to actually bring that energy to market is still being delayed by an energy system built for the burning of fossil fuels.

As McClatchy reports:

At the end of last year, installed wind-generation capacity totaled 60 gigawatts nationwide – 5 percent of the nation’s production capacity – according to data from the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Another 135 gigawatts of potential wind production awaits development and connection to the grid, according to industry data.

“There hasn’t been a lot of investment in the grid for the last two decades,” said Michael Goggin, a senior analyst at the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s main trade group. “We just don’t have a strong grid that’s built out in the parts of the country where there are a lot of wind resources.”

The transmission grid was built a generation ago for coal, nuclear and hydropower plants without renewable energy in mind. It makes transmission from wind farms in rural areas difficult and costly.

Estimates for the amount of US government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry range from $12 billion to upwards of $50 annually. Experts say that a similar investment in clean energy would both catapult the fight against climate change and be a boon to the economy.

The reality, however, remains. Without sufficient political will, the abundant resource will remain under-utilized.

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