This week the Department of Energy released a study showing how wind energy can supply 20 percent of our nation's electricity by 2030, defying the oft-heard defeatist argument that "renewable energy only provides a percent of our country's energy supply, therefore it can't solve our energy problems as demand grows."
Such anti-renewable condescension picks winners and losers in brave defiance of facts, such as the fact that wind supplies 20 percent of Denmark's electricity and about 6 percent for Spain, Germany and Ireland, and that last year, installed U.S. wind power surged 45 percent.
The success of big wind power is a well-kept secret outside of Europe and Texas. The well-researched promise of 20 percent by 2030 drew scoffs of disbelief from a nuclear expert assisting China's Vice Minister of Science and Technology, when told about it by National Renewable Energy Laboratory's chief engineer for wind technology. With such widespread misinformation in mind, DOE joined with industry to set the record straight.
The performance of wind power to produce affordable energy is more than proven and the manufacturing sector is growing here. Our nation currently demands about 800 gigawatts of electricity; we possess ten times that much in the wind blowing over our land. To reach 20 percent wind generation, we can design sites from an embarrassment of riches. However, installing wind plants at a clip of 16 gigawatts per year until 2030, with transmission lines, would require the tenacity of a thousand Hillary Clintons (with better planning skills) to engage the myriad levels of permitting and financing.
Renewable portfolio standards would help, and so would tax credits or carbon costs; in the meantime fuel savings brought by wind power are already helping the deployment of big wind.
When considering 243 gigawatts of wind power for land-based installation, a vocal objection arises. Letters in the Camera have protested the land use of such installations; one has gone so far as to extol coal mining. These advocates for land -- where were they when mountaintop removal mining got going in Appalachia?
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Some perspective, please. The strip mining of coal permanently alters hundreds of square miles of land each year. In Appalachia, home to our nation's most biodiverse forests with countless animals and birds, 300 square miles have been denuded and flattened for its coal, leading to catastrophic flooding and breakouts of toxic coal slurry. In ten years, another 600 square miles of this virgin land shall go.
Today's coal mining is not land use -- it's land consumption. By contrast, wind energy adds economic utility to land without consuming it. The 20 percent scheme would encompass about 20,000 square miles of land but use only 5 percent for installation. The land would remain habitable for farming, ranching and open space, enriching landholders but not emitting mercury to taint our food, or particulates which cause asthma or heart disease, or carbon to heat the globe. The turbines would need no water or fuel, and contribute not even 1 percent of bird deaths caused by all human impacts. It would cost more than conventional fossil fuel installation by only 2 percent.
Wind power with transmission is a durable investment, and this scheme could reduce our need of natural gas by 11 percent and coal by 18 percent. It's like the choice between buying a good painting or splurging on floral bouquets each week for years -- which is the better value to hand on to your kids?
Like sunflowers, prairie grouse and sun-cracked skin, the western United States is made for wind energy. Oilman T. Boone Pickens fell in love with the scheme of big wind while quail hunting on his windy prairie and is now putting up his ante of 4 gigawatts on his own little corner of Texas.
The pdf report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, can be downloaded here.
--Anne B. Butterfield
© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.