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A Texas Wind Boom:

Wind power is on the rise in the United States, even if offshore projects continue to have a difficult time (see, e.g. Cape Wind). The New York Times reports:

Wind turbines were once a marginal form of electrical generation. But amid rising concern about greenhouse gases from coal-burning power plants, wind power is booming. Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45 percent last year, albeit from a small base, and a comparable increase is expected this year.

At growth rates like that, experts said, wind power could eventually make an important contribution to the nation's electrical supply. It already supplies about 1 percent of American electricity, powering the equivalent of 4.5 million homes. Environmental advocates contend it could eventually hit 20 percent, as has already happened in Denmark. Energy consultants say that 5 to 7 percent is a more realistic goal in this country.

The United States recently overtook Spain as the world's second-largest wind power market, after Germany, with $9 billion invested last year. A recent study by Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., projected $65 billion in investment from 2007 to 2015.

Despite the attraction of wind as a nearly pollution-free power source, it does have limitations. Though the gap is closing, electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels. Moreover, wind power is intermittent and unpredictable, and the hottest days, when electricity is needed most, are usually not windy.

The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands.

But the opposition has been limited, and has done little to slow the rapid growth of wind power in Texas. Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape.

Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
They are also gaining ground in the NE corner of North Carolina-

Articles in The Virginian-Pilot, re:wind turbines

I've been considering placing one on my mother's farm to suppliment the house current. The state has mandated mandatory buy-backs of surplus homeowner power by the power companies.
2.24.2008 10:22pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
let's see if this link works better:

Maybe Correcter
2.24.2008 10:25pm
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
Am I alone in finding the pure white, enormous, and slow moving turbines strangely beautiful?
2.24.2008 11:17pm
JB:
Chris Bell: Nope. I do too.

My mother lives right near where the Cape Wind project would be. She's quite annoyed about that too.

Also, I will make a brief rant about the blades killing birds: What's more important, a few birds or global warming/energy security? The birds will probably evolve to know how to deal with this. The perfect is the enemy of the good, so let's go with the good.
2.24.2008 11:35pm
Albatross (mail):
I am a Texan who likes the idea of wind turbines. I realize they may not be as efficient as other methods of power generation, but, hey, wind is free. And I agree with JB -- if the main concern today is global warming, isn't it worth a few birds to keep the planet from overheating?
2.24.2008 11:51pm
Curt Fischer:
I love the article when it says


Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod.


In coastal areas like Cape Cod? Not senatorial areas like Cape Cod?

In all seriousness, though, here in Massachusetts I haven't heard about too many other offshore wind projects besides Cape Wind. Are the ones that are out there also facing a lot of pushback? Is it because of delicate coastal ecosystems being imperiled or is it because coastal areas tend to be relatively enriched with the politically well-connected?
2.25.2008 12:13am
Elliot123 (mail):
I doubt the birds are the real consideration. Abundant energy increases the freedom of individuals, and allows them to live and work where they choose. This is contrary to the communitarian ideals that many in the environmental movement espouse. They prefer a more concentrated population with more government services and control. In their view, less energy is more desirable.

So, they will advocate for wind energy until it becomes technologically and financially feasible. At that point it threatens to actually add energy and increase personal freedom of movement. That's where the birds are mobilized. Can't have wind energy because it's bad for birds.

Solar will be more interesting. There have been some significant advances in solar cells, and an Australian company will actually be building a large reflector plant in Arizona(?). I'm sure they will figure out something that is wrong with solar when it begins really kicking out the megawatts.

Electric cars, producing no pollution, powered by solar or wind, and capable of running 300 miles without refueling are the environmentalists worst nightmare.
2.25.2008 12:21am
Fub:
JB wrote at 2.24.2008 11:35pm:
Also, I will make a brief rant about the blades killing birds: What's more important, a few birds or global warming/energy security? The birds will probably evolve to know how to deal with this. The perfect is the enemy of the good, so let's go with the good.
I'd like to see a decent study of the annual avian mortality caused by picture windows and cotoneaster berries, per window and bush. I think it might exceed the worst estimated potential mortality from windmills, per windmill.
2.25.2008 12:25am
Randy R. (mail):
"Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands."

As if! I believe that the laws in Texas are very clear: Anything that might benefit the enviroment must go! Can't give those pinko enviros any satisfaction....
2.25.2008 12:37am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Am I alone in finding the pure white, enormous, and slow moving turbines strangely beautiful?


on the home owner level, by that I mean a person who is using his own turbine, the noise factor needs to be looked into, especially how his neighbors might be affected.

It seems the initial cost to the individual amounts to paying his power bill in an advance of about 10 years or so in current (npi) money.
2.25.2008 12:43am
Morat20:
Regarding birds: Bird strikes are minimal -- it's a myth. There was a big study done on a California wind farm that was smack-dab in the middle of a major migratory route, using older model turbines that were more dangerous to birds. Basically -- worst possible bird situation.

Their conclusion? One dead bird per turbine per year. Far more -- by orders of magnitude -- birds die to plate glass than wind turbines.

As for Texas, wind power is MADE for ranching country. Ranchers have no problems with it -- modern turbines have a small footprint (even including access roads) and can be placed straight into grazing land, earning the rancher rents from whomever owns the turbines in addition to his actual cattle business.

In a strange way, growing wind power in Texas might actually drive beef prices down.
2.25.2008 1:21am
Brian K (mail):
I doubt the birds are the real consideration. Abundant energy increases the freedom of individuals, and allows them to live and work where they choose. This is contrary to the communitarian ideals that many in the environmental movement espouse. They prefer a more concentrated population with more government services and control. In their view, less energy is more desirable.

So, they will advocate for wind energy until it becomes technologically and financially feasible. At that point it threatens to actually add energy and increase personal freedom of movement. That's where the birds are mobilized. Can't have wind energy because it's bad for birds.


I must have missed that meeting of all environmentalists where we chose that belief and silently killed every environmentalist who disagreed with us. I also missed the meeting where you were elected THE ONE. it must be a big burden to be the sole person on this planet who can speak what all environmentalists believe without fear of assassination.
2.25.2008 4:05am
Brian K (mail):
Electric cars, producing no pollution, powered by solar or wind, and capable of running 300 miles without refueling are the environmentalists worst nightmare.

so that explains why environmentalists are buying electric cars and high efficiency hybrid cars. It must have been the gas company executives who leased all those EV1s.
2.25.2008 4:10am
Brian K (mail):
are = aren't
2.25.2008 4:11am
dew:
In all seriousness, though, here in Massachusetts I haven't heard about too many other offshore wind projects besides Cape Wind.

There is a proposal for Buzzard's Bay in MA. It has several features that Cape Wind detractors would love to complain about -- endangered bird species, fairly close to shore, major shipping lane, inside a state designated ocean sanctuary. But some Cape Wind opponents like Kennedy and Frank seem to think it sounds like a pretty good location. One can only wonder if it might have something to do with "blue-blood" Cape Wind geography (Nantucket, Yarmouth, Barnstable, etc) vs. "blue-collar" Buzzard's Bay geography (Bourne, New Bedford, Mattapoisett, etc).
2.25.2008 6:34am
Aultimer:
Brian K wrote:

I must have missed that meeting of all environmentalists where we chose that belief and silently killed every environmentalist who disagreed with us.

I'm pretty sure it was the council where nuclear power was moved from the enemies list to the don't admit we were wrong but change position hopefully before its too late list.
2.25.2008 8:16am
Waldensian (mail):

Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape.

No doubt. In some parts of Texas, a thousand enormous 300-foot-tall fiberglass Bob's Big Boys would be a "welcome change in the landscape."
2.25.2008 9:12am
bittern (mail):
re dew: "opponents like Kennedy and Frank" --
Barney Frank flipped from anti- to pro- Cape Wind in June 2006.
2.25.2008 10:29am
SeaDrive:

Their conclusion? One dead bird per turbine per year. Far more -- by orders of magnitude -- birds die to plate glass than wind turbines.


According to a guy who sat next to me on a plane, and who self-identified as a gov't employee (DEP, perhaps), there is more concern about bats than birds.
2.25.2008 10:31am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
The rest of the article is worth reading. Good numbers on land prices doubling in one county in Texas because of the wind boom.
2.25.2008 11:05am
The Unbeliever (mail):
What's more important, a few birds or global warming/energy security?


Does anyone seriously think that going from 1% to 5-7% of energy used in the US will either solve global warming, or significantly reduce our dependance on foreign energy sources? I thought most electricity on the national grid was produced by coal or nuclear, the fuel for which is readily available in the US. I don't know enough about the relative emissions data to comment on the impact to global warming, but I suspect it would be negligble.

Also, do those projected future figures measure a percentage of today's energy use, or of the US projected future energy use--which is likely to increase, thus depressing the resulting % of any wind power increases?
2.25.2008 12:40pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Probably aren't many places to work this in Texas since you need terrain relief. But there are coal-fired power plants which have, for peak hours, a water reservoir. It's filled by power from the plant. The water is then released through turbines during peak hours. This way, the plant runs at the most economical speed.
Wind power could fill the reservoir, or supplement it.
2.25.2008 1:14pm
dew:
bittern re dew: "opponents like Kennedy and Frank" --
Barney Frank flipped from anti- to pro- Cape Wind in June 2006.


Thanks. I had a house in Bourne not too many years ago and obviously have not been keeping up with current event details...

The Unbeliever: Does anyone seriously think that going from 1% to 5-7% of energy used in the US will either solve global warming, or significantly reduce our dependance on foreign energy sources?

Unless there is a magic bullet somewhere that can solve 100% of those problems (reduce foreign fuel dependence, global warming), won't it be useful to have several 5-7% solutions? Wind power has a number of problems, but I am not sure how "it doesn't solve everything by itself" is one of them.
2.25.2008 3:27pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I must have missed that meeting of all environmentalists where we chose that belief and silently killed every environmentalist who disagreed with us. I also missed the meeting where you were elected THE ONE. it must be a big burden to be the sole person on this planet who can speak what all environmentalists believe without fear of assassination."

You are missing so many meetings we are seriously considering revoking your Berkenstock privleges.
2.25.2008 3:58pm
Brian K (mail):
You are missing so many meetings we are seriously considering revoking your Berkenstock privleges.

i guess it's a good thing i don't wear them.
2.25.2008 11:09pm
shawn-non-anonymous:
The bird issue is just an emotional argument. If people were really worried about birds, the first thing they'd do is stop letting their domestic, predatory house cats out of the house. A plate glass window or a wind turbine doesn't chase its prey.
2.26.2008 9:56am