Wind Can Relieve Natural Gas Shortage

Wind energy is already helping to reduce the current natural gas supply shortage in the US, and could be deployed rapidly over the next few years to bring it under control, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Washington, D.C. – June 19, 2003 [] The current supply shortage amounts to 3-4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (Bcf/day), according to energy experts cited by AWEA, and the increasing use of gas for electricity generation is one of the major causes of the shortfall. But in many areas of the country where wind farms are generating electricity, they are directly helping to conserve vital natural gas supplies. “We estimate that the wind farms already in place, and those that will be installed by the end of this year, will be saving about 0.5 Bcf/day in 2004,” said AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. “That means the natural gas shortage would be 10-15 percent worse if it were not for the relatively small amount of wind generation we have today.” Swisher added that rapid expansion of the nation’s wind turbine fleet could sharply boost wind generation over the next four years, increasing its output to the equivalent of 3 Bcf/day (about as much natural gas as the states of Colorado and Alaska produce today). “Wind plants can be permitted and built relatively quickly — typically, within one to two years,” Swisher said. “AWEA has proposed specific transmission plans for 30,000 MW of wind in the Midwest and West. We believe that at least that much new wind development is feasible by the end of 2007 under strong policy leadership. AWEA expects a cumulative total of 6,000 MW of wind will have been installed in the U.S. by the end of this year.” The North American supply of natural gas is increasingly limited and despite rising prices, drilling rig counts are not increasing fast enough to keep pace with demand. With the depletion rate for new gas fields accelerating and continued demand for natural gas in electric generation applications, an ongoing long-term natural gas ‘crisis’ is now a reality, according to AWEA. Unlike natural gas prices, which are subject to the vagaries of the market, wind energy costs are predictable over time: once a plant is built, the cost of producing electricity is stable and the fuel source is free. “The days of US$2 gas are gone,” Swisher said, referring to the historical market price for natural gas, which hovered just above US$2 per 1,000 cubic feet (Mcf) prior to the California electricity crisis of 2001. “What we can look forward to instead is a price range of US$4 to US$5 per Mcf, with regional shortages and occasional spikes to US$6-10. The hardship this could wreak on consumers is severe. By contrast, wind energy is renewable and its cost from year to year is very stable. In addition, it works well in tandem with natural gas generation.” “Enacting the wind industry’s national policy agenda now would provide certainty that we can avoid power generation problems in the future,” said Jim Caldwell, policy director for AWEA. The agenda includes: – A five-year extension of the wind energy production tax credit (which expires Dec. 31, 2003, under current law). – Tariff reform to increase effective transmission capacity on the current grid. – Enactment of a national renewable portfolio standard to diversify the national utility generating portfolio. – Development of Trans-Prairie and Intermountain ‘wind pipelines’ (major upgrades of electricity transmission lines in those regions over the long term, at a cost of approximately US$10 billion, or about half the cost of a proposed natural gas pipeline to Alaska now being considered by Congress). “These effective, responsible solutions would create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in royalty income for hard-pressed farming and ranching states and provide stability to American businesses and consumers who expect to have power when they need it” Swisher said. AWEA estimates that as many as 100,000 MW of wind in the US — enough to power 25 million homes — is feasible by 2013. Even at this level, wind’s potential in the U.S. will not be tapped out. If gas prices remain in the US$4 range, the total economically competitive U.S. wind resource is on the order of 600,000 MW.
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