Project Development, Utility Scale, Wind Power

Study Advocates Large-Scale Wind Program in U.S.

The United States should make a large investment in wind energy to address electricity needs and global warming, conclude two energy experts from Stanford University.

STANFORD, California, US, 2001-09-07 [SolarAccess.com] “Much of the recent U.S. energy debate has focused on increasing coal use,” say professors Mark Jacobson and Gilbert Masters in the journal Science. “Since the 1980s, though, the direct cost of energy from large wind turbines has dropped to 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with that from new pulverized-coal power plants.” “Given that health and environmental costs of coal are another 2 to 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, wind energy is unequivocally less expensive than is coal energy,” they conclude. Wind turbines generate less than 0.1 percent of electricity in the U.S., compared with 52 percent from coal. One barrier for wind energy is the perception is that windfarms are more expensive to build and operate than coal-fired power plants, but Jacobson and Masters say this perception is not true. Coal-generated power plants have indirect costs, including the production of smog that causes asthma and other respiratory illnesses; carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming; and acid rain that destroys lakes and forests. They cite the Centers for Disease Control estimate that coal dust kills 2,000 U.S. mineworkers each year and has cost $35 billion in monetary and medical benefits to former miners since 1973. “Shifting from coal to wind would address health, environmental and energy problems,” they write. Wind is a clean source of energy, and should be promoted and funded by federal and state governments. A 1.5 MW turbine costs $1.5 million to install and $18,000 to $30,000 a year to maintain, which they say is “a bargain in the long haul.” “The U.S. could displace 10 percent of coal energy at no net federal cost by spending 3 to 4 percent of one year’s budget on 36,000 to 40,000 large wind turbines and selling the electricity over 20 years, recouping all costs,” they explain. By building 250,000 new turbines, the U.S. could eliminate almost two-thirds of its coal-generated electricity and reduce its 1999 greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels. That is the goal originally proposed by the Clinton administration under the 1997 U.N. Kyoto Protocol on climate change. “If you want to solve this country’s energy problem, the U.S. needs to consider some type of large-scale program,” says Jacobson. “The federal government could either go into the energy business for itself, or it could foster wind energy through tax incentives that would catalyze private-sector investment.” California could obtain 10 percent more electricity from wind by spending less than 10 percent of its state budget for one year on the construction of 5,000 new turbines, then selling the electricity over 20 years to recover all costs, they calculate. Turbines are most efficient in fast winds, and could provide needed revenue to farmers and ranchers in areas where mean annual wind speeds are highest, including the Dakotas, Texas, coastal regions and large portions of the West and Northeast. Turbines have been linked to deaths of migratory birds that are caught by fast-moving propeller blades, and selecting sites out of migration paths can help solve this problem, say Jacobson and Masters. The loss of birds from new windfarms would be small compared to the current loss of forests, birds, fish and other wildlife from acid discharge caused by coal combustion. Last year, Germany produced nearly three times more wind-generated electricity than the United States, while Denmark (roughly half the size of Maine) produced almost as much turbine power as the U.S. Denmark and Sweden have also developed windfarms offshore, where winds are faster than over land. “Clearly, the U.S. has not maximized its wind potential,” say Jacobson and Masters. “Doing so would address health, environmental and energy problems.”