US wind energy boom

Good news about alternative energy development is always welcome, and I was happy to read that 2005 was a banner year for wind power. The US installed more new wind energy generating capacity than any other country (2400 megawatts, or enough for up to 3.5 million homes annually), and, while we still trail in our total capacity, we’re quickly catching up.

windfarm in SoCal

Wind energy is one of the main types of projects supported by your TerraPass. Wind is a clean, renewable resource with the potential to reduce carbon emissions from power generation and the dependence of electrical plants on imported natural gas. A study from Stanford has even suggested that, were 20% of potential global wind resources developed, we would have seven times the electricity the world currently consumes.

Even factoring in the resources needed to build and run a wind farm, wind power creates only 1% of the carbon emissions of an equivalent coal plant or 2% of a plant powered by natural gas, according to the AWEA. At the current level of generation, wind power displaces around 15 million tons of carbon annually.

At the moment, only about 1% of US electricity comes from wind power, but, due to two main factors, that is quickly changing. First is the Production Tax Credit, recently extended by Congress. This type of credit has existed in the past, but had always expired before being renewed, which made companies wary of big investments without a guaranteed credit. This latest three year tax break, extended seamlessly with the last, is widely credited within the industry for the present pace of development.

The second factor is the demand created by government regulations and consumers, both at the large and individual scale. Through Renewable Portfolio Standards, a market-based system of government regulation, and voluntary Renewable Energy Certificates, such as a TerraPass, the demand for cost-efficient energy generated from clean sources has been steadily rising.

While wind projects in Massachusetts and California have been gathering media attention, it’s actually projects in the heartland that hold the most potential. The wide open spaces, slow economies, and reliable winds of the central plains states combine to make the area ideal for wind farms, with North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota, all in the top ten for wind energy potential.

This last year represented a 37% increase in our total capacity to generate electricity from the wind; let’s hope that the pace of wind power development only continues to grow. Though wind power does have problems, it’s one of the best options available to us at the moment, and it’s encouraging to see investment and development flourishing despite the challenges (and politics) alternative energy still faces.

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  1. Leemer Cernohlavek - March 8, 2006

    I have been told that the windmills are a killer of a lot of birds. What does the research show there?

  2. Peter Kennon - March 8, 2006

    Lemmer –
    Avian (Bird) impacts can be mitigated by proper research prior to construction. This is required by almost all states and most developers do it for good PR even if not required. There were problems with early wind farms in CA, but modern wind turbines generally have less than 1 impact per year per turbine. Compared to impacts with smokestack, steam discharge, heat discharge, habitat modifications, and the air/water impacts, wind energy is perhaps one of least dangerous power generation technologies used today. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has a reference sheet for bird and other wildlife issues at

  3. Rob Moore - March 9, 2006

    Kennon’s correct on this. As long as a wind farm is properly sited out of major migration corridors, bird impacts are minimal. Collisions with buildings and cell phone towers and predation by cats are FAR larger threats to birds.
    There have been some studies that indicate bats are impacted, during migration to their winter shelters when they apparently are not actively echo-locating. This is being studied more.