Future signs: growth of wind power explodes

opinions

January 29, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Looking for an expanding industry? Try wind power.
It was only a few years ago that energy experts dismissed the impact of wind- or solar-generated electricity. Would never amount to anything significant, they said. Now look.
Last year the American wind power industry grew by 39 percent. The American Wind Energy Association announced this week that wind turbines producing 9,900 megawatts went into operation in 2009. That was 18 percent more capacity than was added in 2008, also a banner year.
About as much new power-generating capacity came from wind as from new natural gas plants. Since 2002, the installed base of wind turbines in the U.S. has increased seven-fold, the association reported.
The United States is coming into the wind power scene late. Despite the dramatic growth since 2002, the total produced by wind turbines is still below 2 percent of the nation’s total. Europe already is producing 5 percent of its power from wind and the European Commission has set a goal of 20 percent from wind and other renewable sources by 2020, a mere decade away.
Denmark is already there and sometimes produces more wind power than it can use domestically, so exports the surplus.
With U.S. unemployment still in the 10-percent range, it is encouraging to report that our wind industry is now employing 85,000 workers to manufacture turbines and other elements needed in wind farm installations — and not so encouraging that China expects to double its already significant wind power capacity this year with a whopping $14.6 billion investment that creates a turbine industry competitive worldwide.

MUCH OF the growth of both wind and solar generation in the U.S. has been funded by federal stimulus grants and created by state mandates that a percentage of power generation come from renewable sources. Neither of these renewable energy sources can compete with coal or natural gas. Both, however, are becoming more economical as the industries grow and increased production brings costs down.
Wind and solar are growing in Europe in part because Denmark and other European nations are taxing the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If the U.S. also makes electricity produced by fossil fuels more expensive, as President Obama and a majority in the House of Representatives believe should be done, manufacturing wind turbine, solar panels and solar towers will become a major U.S. industry.
As the president said in his State of the Union address, “… the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
Leading the clean energy economy requires a little forward thinking. It will be necessary to accept the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, a transition that will cost more until increased production of renewable energy brings those costs down.
The long-term payoffs would include (1) ending U.S. dependence on im-ported oil, a dependence which sends billions of dollars every year to many nations that oppose our policies and despise our way of life; (2) a reduction in the production of greenhouse gases, which produce climate change; and (3) the opportunity to create a huge new family of in-dustries that could be-come the backbone of our manufacturing economy.
We can pay now and gain much later; or stick with the status quo and let coming generations pay a dreadful price.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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