In 1993, government researchers concluded that a group of 12 states in the midsection of the country have enough wind energy resources to generate nearly four times the amount of electricity consumed nationwide in 1990. Subsequent technology improvements over the past decade opened more than 1 million square kilometers or 14 percent of the land area in the contiguous United States for potential wind generation. To provide 20 percent of the nation's electricity, only about 0.6 percent of the land in the lower 48 states would have to be developed with wind turbines. Furthermore, the researchers estimated less than 5 percent of this mostly rural land would be occupied by wind turbines, electrical equipment and access roads, leaving most of the land available for agriculture.

The current costs of generating electricity with wind power are competitive with the costs of electricity derived from fossil fuels, and risk is mitigated because buyers can lock in prices for 10 to 25 years. New design developments funded by the National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo., promises to lower costs further by up to one-third. Because of its competitiveness, and the increasing costs and air pollution from fossil fuels, it now is essential to include wind power in the nation's energy mix. So, why isn't the landscape brimming with wind generators? To research this topic, I downloaded more than 60 news items over several months. Here is the scoop.

Power in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. Therefore, locations with higher average wind speeds have much higher energy resources and lower overall cost. For example, North Dakota alone has enough energy from good wind areas to supply 36 percent of the 1990 electricity consumption in the lower 48 states, according to the Department of Energy. Some states are more pro-wind than others, and cost-effective access to transmission lines also affects development costs. Minnesota added the most new wind power (226 megawatts) of any state in 2003, moving into third place in total capacity behind California and Texas. Three states exceeded 200 MW of new installations in 2003: California, with 212 MW; New Mexico, with 205 MW; and Texas, with 204 MW. Leading states in cumulative capacity at year's end were California (2,043 MW), Texas (1,293 MW), Minnesota (563 MW), Iowa (472 MW), and Wyoming (285 MW). A total of 29 states enjoy some level of incumbent wind generation, which is most often developed by unregulated merchant generators for sale to utility companies.

FPL Energy LLC, a unit of Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL Group Inc., has invested more than $2.7 billion over the last three years to buy and develop wind-energy projects, making it the country's biggest wind generator. With 42 wind farms across the nation and about 6,500 turbines, FPL Energy has 2,719 megawatts of wind capacity or 25 percent of its overall generating capacity. It controls 43 percent of the country's total 6,300 MW capacity. FPL Energy has wind farms in 15 states, including California, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota.

Cielo Wind Power currently is the largest wind developer in the Southwest, with developments equaling more than 600 MW of wind generated (www.cielowind.com). Minnesota's Mortenson Construction (www.mortenson.com) was the design/build contractor for more than 625 megawatts of the total added in the United States in 2003. As the use of wind generation expands, these companies may provide growth in profitable projects for electrical contractors.

Public Policy Issues

The wind industry needs to maintain an annual growth rate of about 18 percent to achieve a realistic goal of providing 6 percent of the nation's electricity by the year 2020, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The past year has shown that rate to be achievable, but it requires more consistent policy support from federal and state governments and increased public education. Here is what you need to know to help make it happen.

Critics oppose wind generation for its effects on fowl mortality (three birds per turbine annually), sound pollution, site infrastructure and appearance, but communities where wind farms are welcome enjoy the additional income and jobs. Increased county revenues can go to schools, hospitals and other services. Farmers and ranchers can continue to work the land up to the base of the turbines while earning $2,000 to $4,000 per year per turbine installed on their property. Many wind farms contain more than 50 turbines. Large-scale development of wind power in the United States would stimulate prosperity among many impoverished rural communities in the heartland.

Although wind turbine electricity cannot be “dispatched” on demand because output varies with wind speed, modern wind turbines are very reliable. Wind farms are likely to generate power more than 98 percent of the time. Seasonal and daily wind patterns at site locations can be forecasted accurately, making it possible for system operators to factor in wind generation with the overall base load mix. In California, for example, wind-farm operators participate in a program that provides wind power forecasts to the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), the organization that manages power flows on the state's grid. It then schedules the power from wind farms into the grid about an hour before dispatch.

Unfortunately, AWEA is forecasting little to no growth in installed wind-generating capacity in 2004, compared with a near-record 1,687 megawatts-enough to serve nearly 500,000 homes-of new capacity installed in 2003. The reason for the drastic slow-down? The federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) authorized in 1992 expired Dec. 31, 2003, and Congress has not passed an extension. On May 11, 2004, the Senate passed legislation containing a three-year extension of the credit. However, that legislation must still be approved by the House of Representatives and a Senate-House conference committee before it becomes law. That delay, and other issues, prompted AWEA to publish the following calls to action.

AWEA Calls to Action

Here are several government initiatives and policies needed now to stimulate further growth of wind power.

National renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS)-

The RPS, which requires that a minimum 20 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources, is a market-friendly tool that has successfully stimulated least-cost renewable energy development in Texas, California, New York and several other states. A national standard adopted by the states would provide a much-needed long-term market signal and stimulate large-scale deployment of renewable wind energy at competitive costs over time.

Nondiscriminatory interconnection and transmission policies-

Federal nondiscriminatory policies are needed to remove costly transmission barriers to wind-power development. Currently, more than 200 different “tariffs” throughout the country govern the costs and conditions for access to and use of the common electricity grid. Many transmission line owners charge heavy discriminatory penalties against new technologies like wind. For example, on the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) system, an area encompassing some of the United States' windiest lands but also an area that operates under outdated rules, the cost of bringing wind power to market is a prohibitive $20 per megawatt-hour (MWh), 10 times more than in California where rules are more fair.

A large-scale “wind pipeline” to bring wind power to market-

AWEA proposes a three-phase plan to maximize wind power transmission in the windy, lightly populated heartland and deliver it to urban centers:

o Transmission control reforms to use existing power line capacity more efficiently

o Upgrades and additions to some local transmission lines to remove regional bottlenecks

o Construction of two major high-voltage lines from the Great Plains to growing demand centers in the East (toward Chicago) and West.

Clean Air credits for wind power and other renewable energy sources-

The Clean Air Act sets caps on emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, but wind and other renewable energy sources are not compensated for not contributing to emissions of these pollutants. Moreover, the Clean Air Act does not currently set any cap on emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas. Nor does it charge coal-generated power producers for the add-on costs deriving from medical compensation to victims of occupational diseases. These costs amount to billions of unrecoverable tax dollars. The Clean Air Act should be expanded to cap emissions of carbon dioxide and should allow renewables to participate in credit-trading schemes by setting aside specific allowances for these technologies or assigning allowances to all generators, including wind, on an output basis.

Technical Updates

Wind turbines typically begin generating power at wind speeds of nine mph and output increases up to 28 mph. Utility-scale wind farms need average wind speeds of at least 14 mph to economically convert wind into electricity. Tower-mounted horizontal-axis configurations have replaced the earlier vertical models, with generators mounted at the top rather than the base. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator to produce electricity. In dangerously high winds above 65 mph, turbines shut off automatically. For details of operation, visit www.nrel.gov/wind/animation.html.

GE Energy is one of the world's leading wind-turbine suppliers. With more than 6,600 worldwide wind turbine installations developing more than 4,800 MW of capacity, its production history spans more than two decades. It produces wind turbines ranging from 1.5 to 3.6 megawatts (www.gepower.com).

Since the 1980s, Mitsubishi has pioneered the development of high-efficiency wind turbines that make environmentally benign wind generation more productive and profitable. More than 1,380 Mitsubishi wind turbines are in operation worldwide. Mitsubishi wind turbines are sold in America in an impressive range of available ratings-200 kW, 300 kW, 500 kW, 600 kW and 1000 kW-with 2000 kW designs currently in development (http://www.mpshq.com).

For more wind details, visit the American Wind Energy Association site at www.awea.org. For government research in wind energy technology, visit www.nrel.gov/wind. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or lewtag@aol.com.