Perhaps truer words might have never been sung. However, it is fairly easy to ascertain that Mr. Dylan was not singing about a certain renewable source of energy. A new administration in the White House believes that many answers to many problems regarding America’s energy issues will be found in the wind. President Barack Obama’s New Energy Plan for America hopes to diversify America’s sources and require 10 percent of electricity usage to originate from sustainable sources of energy by 2012. A short time to make such strides but many states in the nation have been on the forefront of tapping into their potential already providing some billions of kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean and cheap electricity. But how much about wind energy do people really understand beyond a windmill on a grassy patch of land in Holland? Most people may just know that somehow wind power converts into electrical power and that’s the basics of it. A little more understanding though is required as America is heading into this new frontier of renewable energy.
For most questions about basic understanding, the best on line resource may be the American Wind Energy Association (awea.com). The organization is committed to “promote wind power growth through advocacy, communication, and education” as their Web site states. While the basic idea mentioned earlier is correct, AWEA breaks it down to a better understanding, “A wind energy system transforms the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical or electrical energy that can be harnessed for practical use.” Easy enough, right? They add that “mechanical energy is most commonly used for pumping water in rural or remote locations but it can also be used for many other purposes (grinding grain, sawing, pushing a sailboat, etc.). Wind electric turbines generate electricity for homes and businesses and for sale to utilities.” So there it is in a nutshell – Wind Power 101.
But one more thing is important to realize. Most people may not be able to actualize what billions of kilowatt hours (kWh) means much less what one kilowatt hour means. But look at it this way. According to the site, the average U.S. household uses approximately 10,655 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. To sufficiently provide enough power, megawatts are needed and one megawatt (MW) of wind power will “generate from 2.4 to more than 3 million kWh annually” accounting for a total of up to 300 homes. That is if the wind is blowing – and it doesn’t blow all the time. That is why conventional base load power systems fueled by natural gas, coal, nuclear or other fuel must be in place to assure reliability.
Now that the basics are there, what does this mean for the nation and its place in the world in this new energy global market? Good things actually. According to recent increases in the industry’s growth, the US increased its generating capacity by 45 percent in 2007 and the AWEA expects similar numbers for 2008 as they are being researched. In their report for 2007, the AWEA says, “The U.S. wind energy industry installed 5,244 megawatts in 2007, investing over $9 billion into the economy. The new installations account for a third of the total power capacity added and could power approximately 1.5 million American households annually.”
A study by the Pacific Northwest Laboratory back in 1991 listed the top twenty states having wind energy potential. Factoring in annual energy potential in kWhs (think billions), environmental issues and land use exclusions for class three wind classes or higher, the list was topped by North Dakota and Texas. With a potential of over 1100 billion of kWhs each, their potential was more than what Germany already has installed. It should also be noted that Germany was the world leader of installed wind power plants at that time. In AWEA’s 2008 report, five states made significant gains with their installation capacity. Wind power-producing capacity in 34 states now stands at 16,818 MW.
The top 10 states with the most cumulative wind power capacity installed are Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Illinois, New York and Oklahoma.
Additionally, AWEA estimated “that American wind farms will generate about 48 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind energy in 2008. That translates to providing just over 1% of U.S. electricity supply, which could power over 4.5 million homes.” What’s more – not only does this increase the nation’s need to use wind energy as a reliable resource but also stimulates the collapsed economy by increasing job opportunities and local revenues.
With those numbers, Texas is now America’s biggest market. 2007 saw over 1600 MW added with some 1200 MW in production during 2008. This might make it safe to say the state is enjoying some of the benefits of such progress. Firstly, Texas can boast the home to Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Sweetwater. At some 47,000 acres, Horse Hollow is the world’s largest wind farm. According to the State Energy Conservation Office, Horse Hollow operates at a capacity of 735 MW and “consists of 291 1.5-MW wind turbines from General Electric and 130 2.3-MW wind turbines from Siemens. One MW of electricity can serve 230 Texas homes on average each day.”
Texas is also on the forefront for experimental avenues in wind power technology. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) announced in 2007 that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) chose “the Lone Star Wind Alliance in Texas to receive up to $2 million in test equipment to develop large-scale wind blade test facilities, accelerating the commercial availability of wind energy. The Texas facility, to be located in Ingleside, is outside Corpus Christi. The Ingleside facility is expected to be operational in October of 2009.” The facility will test large wind blades up to 330 ft. (100m) in length. Should these tests succeed, there is the national potential that wind energy could provide up to 20% of the electricity consumption across the country by 2030.
While Texas is leading the nation in wind energy, its neighbor Oklahoma has tapped into an altogether different market – academia. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company is building a proprietary 101 MW wind farm for the University of Oklahoma, named OU Spirit, near Woodward, Okla. This unique relationship will propel OU toward its goal to have a carbon-free footprint by 2013 for its Norman campus.
Interestingly enough, OU houses the National Weather Center and Oklahoma Wind Initiative. So it would seem this is a marriage made in heaven. OG&E’s been in the wind game for a while. Since 2003 they have provided the energy source to communities with their Sooner Wind Farm and, in 2007, commissioned its Centennial Wind Farm. Together, they comprise 170 MW which can energize some 51,000 households. This February, they began construction at “OU Spirit.”
But OG&E has added a more philosophical approach to the endeavor. At least it would seem that way according to Susan Harkness of OG&E’s Public Affairs division, “We have made a commitment to ‘grow up’ new generations of energy consumers through our program Positive Energy Together®. College students are at the forefront of this initiative, as they will soon be entering home ownership as young families and creating different expectations of the companies who employ them.” She says by phone, “OG&E’s expanded wind power partnership with OU includes renewable energy scholarships, curriculum support, and educational events to teach students how easy it is to make smarter, wiser choices about energy use.” These efforts complement the university’s commitment to be engaged with energy conservation. In fact, OG&E plans to be part of future generations of conservationists. “We liken it to people fastening their seat belts now without thought. It’s automatic today,” Harkness said. With some optimism she sees OG&E reaching out with education materials to begin educating kids as young as fifth grade. “Academic institutions at all levels are helping. We have moved beyond ‘let’s do wind’ to really understanding the power of it. Changed customer behavior coupled with wind energy development will have long term benefits to learning to live within our generation means and keeping costs reasonable for customers in the future.”
In the words of comic book vernacular, with great power comes great responsibility and wind energy is clearly a great power. Households, college campuses, agricultural industries already are benefiting from the renewable source and with seemingly unlimited options in the future, wind power offers a source of clean and fast energy with amazing potential while being environmentally sound. Initially, by going wind, clients reduce their negative impact on the environment but the question remains, what are the social responsibilities of the players in this growing industry?
Southern California Edison practically defines the right approach to social responsibility by detailing their environmental protection policies on line. Their environmental commitment to maintaining a green-friendly operation while providing a green-friendly energy source includes six crucial points to positively impacting their surrounding natural landscape.
Recycling is the most easy to relate to environmental issue for everyone. Thus, this first point in their commitment is can speak volumes. With their Hazardous Waste Management, Recycling and Waste Prevention efforts, SCE “recovers more than 38 million pounds of copper and steel annually by recycling out-of-service transformers, scrap wire and cable.” This is perhaps the wisest of efforts with such a resurgence in value for metals. And it only gets better. SCE “reclaims more than 12 million pounds of oil from transformers, circuit breakers and bushings.” With their own recycling and waste reduction program, they recycle some “35,000 tons of waste materials annually, preventing more than 28,500 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.” Need a perspective for that? Well, according to the Web site, SCE “saves enough energy to provide power to more than 43,000 homes.”
When one thinks of California, the natural and diverse landscapes are most likely not lost. Beaches, grasslands, vineyards, mountains – California seems to have it all ecologically and SCE has considered that in severe detail with their remaining ecological commitments. From water to land, they have a Marine Mitigation plan that restores “150 acres of coastal wetlands near San Diego to provide breeding grounds for fish and protected bird species” which SCE’s also boasts as “one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the U.S.” The company is also constructing a 150-acre artificial kelp reef near San Clemente to create a marine habitat. SCE is also co-funding the Hubbs/Sea World Research Institute fish hatchery, which releases 100,000 young sea bass into the ocean annually.
As renewable energy demands continue and thrive, natural offsets must also be made and on land, SCE takes care of its own as well. They have taken up protection for both avian and endangered species by designing or retrofitting structures as havens for birds as well as “ensuring that project activities avoid or minimize impacts to more than 175 endangered species and their habitats.” If that is not enough for SCE’s environmental commitment already, they even go further by protecting what they call Heritage Protection which protect and preserve historic and archaeological resources “through thoughtful management, annual training of field personnel, and commitment to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.” Their Forest Management program “has restored forests to their pre-1850 status, helping wildlife populations to thrive—including bald eagles and spotted owls.” And did we mention they are also “planting 50,000 trees over the next 10 years in Irvine’s Great Park.”
To think, this is all a reciprocal karmic commitment to maintain the nature around them as they use nature to provide energy to the residents of California. Clearly, Southern Edison California’s commitment is a remarkable and responsible offset to the man-made wind farms needed to keep up with the state’s demands. Other companies have stated their promise and social responsibilities on line as well but SCE’s is a shining example of covering all bases.
From the home to the classroom to nature, how can wind energy not be the power source for the future? The future is literally now and with an increasing global need for more energy, where else to turn but into the wind? With the companies above and other innovative corporations moving in this direction, we can see the effects the clean energy source is having now on the lives of Americans - which should mirror other countries forays into wind power – and the potential of what it could offer future generations. The legacy to be created with wind energy now is a cleaner more efficient planet as companies seem to want to pay back Mother Nature by protecting her other natural resources. Additionally, it creates new markets for work and hopefully contributes to a more stable economy. Some people might say all the aspects and potential are too good to be true. But those people might have said that twenty years ago. Officially, the renewable energy is here and now. And while all the answers might not be there, we have clearly found a few already - blowing in the wind.