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Cover of the May 10th issue of The New Yorker magazine. Cover by Bob Staake.

Last week’s issue of The New Yorker magazine featured one of my favorite recent covers. As displayed on the left, the cover depicts the morass of Cape Wind, the oft-covered wind farm proposed off the coast of Massachusetts: a pilgrim sails out from the colony of Cape Cod, joust in hand, prepared for a duel with the turbines in front of him. I’ll try and contain the English major side of my personality that really wants to textually analyze the illustration, except to say that I think the allusions to Don Quixote are apt and ferociously clever, as Cape Wind’s journey over the past decade has been nothing if not quixotic.

The last few weeks have provided a veritable flood of news about Cape Wind, and since we haven’t talked about the project in a little while, we wanted to fill you in and ensure that you’re up to date on all the latest developments:

  • First, and perhaps most importantly, on April 27th the US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that Cape Wind had been given regulatory approval to proceed. Hurdles still remain, however. Groups opposed to the project, including the Wampanoag tribe–who believe the wind farm would violate their tribal rights to unobstructed views of the sunrise for sacred ceremonies–are likely to file lawsuits that could delay the project for years. Having said that, Mr. Salazar stated that he does not believe the lawsuits will ultimately derail the project. Another hurdled faced by the project is that when its approval was announced, no agreement had been reached with a utility company to offtake the electricity produced by the turbines. However…
  • …on May 7th, utility company National Grid announced that they would buy half of the project’s output, or a nameplate capacity of 150 MW. That electricity would make up about 3% of the load that National Grid generates or buys. While the electricity produced by Cape Wind will cost more per kilowatt hour than electricity generated by other sources, Jim Gordon, the President of Cape Wind Associates, says National Grid’s customers will see their rates rise by only five cents a day as a result of the purchase. While Cape Wind will need to find an off taker for the second half of their output before securing financing and beginning construction can begin, Gordon said their deal with National Grid will provide a helpful framework when working with other utilities.

So there’s your Cape Wind update in a nutshell. We’ll continue to keep you posted on updates to the project and other cool New Yorker covers.

Here at National Wind, we’re really very fond of the the 2008 report from the Department of Energy, 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030. Well, last month the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report which found that the United States is well on its way to achieving that goal, a whole six years early. (As proof of the industry’s progress so far, the Energy Information Administration projects wind to provide 5% of all electricity consumed in the US by 2012.)

The biggest hurdle to reaching that level of wind energy penetration continues to be transmission. Dave Corbus, who oversaw the study for NREL, summed up the problem: “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.” However, even that obstacle isn’t insurmountable. The report estimates that the costs associated with integrating even such a large amount of wind energy into the grid amount to roughly two cents per household per day — a mere $7.30 per year.

This study was released just before another report from NREL that found the United State’s wind potential to be three times higher than previously thought. The new study reports that wind energy could provide 37 million gigawatt hours of electricity a year, nine times more energy than the country currently consumes. Expressed in watts, the United State is capable of producing 10,000 GW of electricity, an enormous number considering covering 20% of the nation’s electric needs would require only 300 GW of wind energy.

The new estimates of the US’s wind resources take into account the enormous strides in turbine technology made since 1993, the last time the country’s wind potential was measured. These numbers only include onshore wind energy potential, not taking into account the nation’s potential offshore wind resources.

For Denise Bode, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, these new numbers provide all the more reason to pass a comprehensive renewable energy standard:

The wind resource is there, vast and inexhaustible, waiting for us. Meanwhile, the economy can’t wait, job creation can’t wait, and America can’t wait. We need Congress to act now and pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill that includes a strong national Renewable Electricity Standard.

The National Academy of Sciences recently released a study claiming that wind energy could provide more than 16 times the total electricity consumption in the United States.

The study, titled “Global potential for wind-generated electricity” and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a linked, world-wide network of 2.5 MW land-based wind turbines could produce 40 times the total global consumption of electricity and five times the total energy consumed in all forms. For the purposes of the study, it was assumed that the turbines operate at only 20% capacity, although wind farms built in the United States in 2004 and 2005 averaged a capacity factor just shy of 36%. (National Wind’s projects typically average well above that.) The study also excluded turbine placement in densely populated areas, heavily forested areas and areas often covered in snow or ice. It also does not account for off-shore wind farms.

The study also looked at CO₂ emissions worldwide and found that the top four emitters of the pollutant–China, the United States, Russia and Japan–could replace the entirety of their electricity consumption with wind energy, therefor eliminating the emission of CO₂ in generating electricity.

Of course, the study presents more of a theoretical “What if?” rather than a feasible plan for renewable energy expansion. The idea of filling any available space worldwide with wind turbines is impractical, but it does serve to highlight the amount of wind energy available across the globe. Any pragmatic and environmentally conscious energy policy will include a variety of renewable energy options, but this study illustrates how vital a role wind energy can play.


Listen to a Scientific American podcast about the study here.

National Wind Signs T. Boone Pickens' Energy Plan

National Wind, LLC is proud to announce that it has signed T. Boone Pickens’ Energy Independence pledge, joining others in support of his solution to our energy crisis. Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management, has proposed a solution that includes an extensive expansion of wind farm installations across the United States. The goal of the pledge is to encourage the next president and Congress to deliver a comprehensive energy plan during the first 100 days of the next administration.

Pickens’ plan calls for an end to America’s dependence on foreign oil. Each year the United States spends $700 billion on this non-renewable fossil fuel – four times the annual cost of the Iraq war! America is projected to spend $10 trillion on foreign oil over the next 10 years. The plan outlined by Mr. Pickens could help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil by 30% within these ten years.

The Pickens Plan calls on private industry to fund the construction of thousands of wind turbines across the Great Plains, which is considered to have the greatest wind resources in the United States. Relishing in America’s technological capabilities, the plan calls for the expansion and modernization of the national electrical grid in order to transport renewable energy to homes and businesses across the country.

The plan also stipulates the implementation of more U.S.-based wind energy manufacturing facilities. The Department of Energy, after a thorough analysis of the continued advances and improvements to the wind industry, concludes that 20% of our nation’s energy can be generated by wind by 2030.

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