- Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 October 2009 18:07
- Published on Wednesday, 07 October 2009 18:07
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This is a statistic that will take most people by surprise. During the past five years, the number of new kilowatt hours added to our national power generation capability through the application of wind technology has dramatically exceeded that of coal.
Really, it’s not surprising.
The cost of electricity has kept going up, while the technology for generating wind power has stabilized, and costs, while not necessarily lower, aren’t likely to go up. In Montana, one of America’s windiest states, the Montana Electric Cooperative has an open invitation to farmers and ranchers to provide space for wind turbines.
Overseas, in Europe and in Britain, wind power has been the most actively exploited of the new green technologies. Until recently, most of Germany’s new electrical generating capacity was wind based. Britain has extensively pursued wind power and is now constructing off-shore windmills in the North Sea.
One surprising entrant into the large-scale application of wind energy is China. As China’s gross domestic product continues to grow, even in the face of a worldwide recession, so does the nation’s power needs. In an effort to keep up with demand for electricity, the Chinese have been building new coal plants for years. However, the idea of wind power, with its ability to be used in remote locations and its stable costs is appealing. By 2020 the Chinese government plans to generate 30 gigawatts a year using wind power. This is roughly the equivalent of the annual power consumption of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
This is all very appealing, but wind power, and its potential for green energy produced at a stable cost, isn’t limited to trendy Europeans or the Great Plains. The Atlantic Seaboard, and in particular the nine mid-Atlantic states, sometimes called the Atlantic Bight, running from Massachusetts to North Carolina, have a tremendous potential for wind generation.
These states are also some of our nation’s largest consumers of electricity. The Atlantic Ocean, and in particular areas, out of sight, but just off shore, produce an amazing amount of wind. What’s more, it’s sustained. According to one estimate a reasonable development of off-shore wind generating capability along this Atlantic Bight could yield 330 Gigawatts. That, if like me, you don’t know a gigawatt from a kilowatt, is a lot of electricity and actually exceeds, three times over, the current requirements of the region.
However, unlike coal, the principal source of power for the mid-Atlantic, wind power produces no pollution and no carbon dioxide. The technology, while continuing to evolve, is stable enough for large scale application, and new, off-shore application has been well tested.
Unfortunately, in spite of the potential, there has been a surprising reticence to pursue the technology. Even the Sierra Club has expressed its support for developing off-shore wind generating capability on the Atlantic Seaboard. But concerns over the scenic impact, possible interference with migratory birds, and even shipping traffic, seem to have blocked initiatives everywhere the idea has been proposed.
Everybody seems to like wind power, except that is, in their backyard. However, Federal rule-setting, President Obama’s firm support and concern over global warming have started to wear away at that resistance. Virginia Beach and the City of Hampton Roads seem ready to support a wind farm off their coast. It would be located roughly 10 miles off shore. If so, it would be one of the first such offshore sites in the nation.
According to a study conducted by Stanford University and the University of Delaware, a large-scale application of wind power aimed at meeting the needs of the Mid-Atlantic States could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 68 percent. The study also suggests that based on oceanographic data, and making allowances for exclusions zones (for everything from birds to military requirements) that there is plenty of room to economically accommodate the windmills.
Virginia, surprisingly to some, fairs rather well when it comes to the potential application of wind power. Regions in the western part of the state, mostly mountainous, get a high score on a measure of wind strength and sustainability. The potential is considerable. Our Northern Neck also does rather well. While King George ranks in the middle, counties further out on the Neck are at the top of the scale and so is just about all of the Chesapeake Bay. While our region might not prompt large-scale windmill investment, smaller scale production, and the expanded use of net-metering (sort of, but not quite, selling power back to the grid), could make it attractive to personal and small scale power generation. It could be a new industry for our region.
Wind power, by itself, won’t meet all of our power needs, or by itself solve global warming, but its place in our greener future is a lot larger than people originally thought.