Answer to energy woes may be blowin' in the wind

Published March 28th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Wind energy, long considered a pipe dream, is generating new interest in the United States and elsewhere as rising fuel prices push up electric power costs. 


Industry officials expect several dozen new "wind farms" to come online in the United States in 2001, producing 2,000 megawatts of electricity. 


Wind energy represents less than one percent of electric power production, but it is the fastest growing source of new power production in the United States, says Christine Real de Azua of the American Wind Energy Association. "The US potential is very high and hasn't been tapped yet," Real de Azua said. 


Wind generation costs have come down to as low as three cents per kilowatt-hour, according to AWEA, while conventional generating costs rose to as high as 15 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour during the California power crisis. 


AWEA sees a potential for wind to generate as much as 10 percent of US electric power needs. Around the world, Denmark gets some 13 percent of its electricity from wind, and is aiming for 50 percent from wind and other renewable sources by 2030.  


Germany has the largest amount of wind generation, some 6,000 megawatts, which represents about 2.5 percent of total demand, according to AWEA.Some major players in the energy industry are putting their money into wind. 


Enron, the giant Texas-based energy firm, has established an Enron Wind unit that has projects built or under construction in California and Texas and is supplying turbines and technology for projects in Germany, Spain and Scandinavia. 


"We see a tremendous interest in wind," says Carol Clawson of FPL Energy, a unit of Florida Power and Light, the largest wind generation firm in the United States.  


FPL projects include the biggest wind generation facility in the world, being built on the Oregon-Washington state border. 


A wind farm can be built in several months, far quicker than a conventional power plant, notes Clawson. As for the cost, Clawson says "we think it should be competitive, especially in California." 


The Bonneville Power Administration, a federally chartered power distribution agency in Oregon, recently called for bids for wind power to complement hydropower and other generation sources. 


"It is extremely competitive right now," says Bonneville spokesman George Darr. 


Even wind backers acknowledge that because of its irregular nature, wind cannot replace conventional power plants. Also, some regions have more wind than others, and considerable amounts of land are needed for wind farms, making them unsuitable for densely populated areas. 


But wind can help complement other energy sources and avoid the impact from big price swings, say backers.  


"The costs have been coming down steadily for wind, and the crisis today (in fuel costs) is making wind one of the sources you should look at when you're trying to diversify an energy portfolio," says Real de Azua. But some analysts say this talk is just hot air. 


Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, says wind is competitive only because of tax subsidies and an unusual spike in natural gas prices.  


"It is certainly true that natural gas prices have increased fourfold, which makes wind competitive," said Taylor. 


"But most energy investors think natural gas is seeing a price bubble that will burst of its own accord and come down to pre-crisis levels." 


Taylor opposes a bill before Congress to extend a tax credit for wind producers that amount to a subsidy of about 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. 


"If a technology is competitive, it doesn't need a tax incentive, and if it's not economical, no subsidy will change that," he said.  


Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis says the Bush administration is studying a range of solutions for a its energy strategy, but indicated no decision has been made on wind power or tax credits. 


"We're looking at a comprehensive and balanced approach that would include all traditional energy supplies, as well as renewables and alternatives," Davis said.—AFP. 

©--Agence France Presse 2001. 


© 2001 Mena Report (

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