July 1, 2012

The answer is blowing in the wind


We can get a better feeling for what this means when we look at the enormous number of megawatt hours of electricity generated over an eight-month period.

Excluding nuclear, when we add up the amount of electricity produced by non-carbon dioxide generating means (hydro, wind, geothermal and solar), we get about 9 percent of the total.

But surprise, even without a national energy policy, many states and businesses are getting involved in the “green energy” revolution, and these efforts are beginning to have an impact.

Today, we will focus on just the wind-energy component.

In 2000, the United States had a total installed capacity of 2,540 megawatts. This amount assumes that all of the wind turbines are operating under ideal wind conditions and are producing at their maximum rating.

Now fast forward to the end of 2011. The United States then had 46,900 megawatts (equivalent to about 47 nuclear plants) of installed turbine capacity, or about 19 times that of 2000. Recent information for 2012 suggests that we can expect another 10 to 20 percent increase in capacity again this year. The investment-tax credits expire this year, and it will be interesting to see what action Congress takes.

The “2011 …” map shows the locations of these wind installations by state. Texas is by far the leader, with 10,377 megawatts installed. The 10 Southeast states have negligible capacity. This data comes from the American Wind Energy Association and the U.S. Department of Energy.

So what do all of these numbers, pie charts, graphs and amounts of electricity mean?

What the data suggest is that a power revolution is beginning to take place without and regardless of recent Congressional actions.

Terry Branstad, the Republican governor of Iowa, stated in a May 15 Wall Street Journal article that wind energy is working well for Iowa. The state is now getting 20 percent of its power from 2,900 wind turbines and has attracted billions of dollars in private investment. There are more than 215 wind-related businesses operating across the state, providing jobs for more than 5,000 workers.

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