The Wind Raises Interest—and Debate

Advances in wind-power technology are bringing generating costs for this emissions-free power source closer than ever to those of traditional fossil-based methods. As a result, developers continue to scout out new project sites, both onshore and offshore. However, environmental and aesthetic concerns actually have some green-power enthusiasts seeing red over the possibility of towering turbine...

09/01/2003


Advances in wind-power technology are bringing generating costs for this emissions-free power source closer than ever to those of traditional fossil-based methods. As a result, developers continue to scout out new project sites, both onshore and offshore. However, environmental and aesthetic concerns actually have some green-power enthusiasts seeing red over the possibility of towering turbines in their backyards.

The American Wind Energy Association has predicted U.S. wind-generated capacity will rise by 1,100 to 1,400 megawatts (MW) in 2003, to a total of 6,000 MW. A recent Stanford University study has found that 24% of U.S. wind-monitoring sites experience gusts fast enough to generate power at a cost comparable to that of coal and natural-gas fired power plants. New technology gives researchers even more optimism. For example, turbine efficiency is increasing wind-farm capacity, with some offshore turbines now rated at up to 3.5 MW and inland units up to 1.65 MW.

As a result, developers continue to announce plans for new wind farms, such as the 165-MW installation planned by Zilkha Renewable Energy on a 5,000-acre property in Kittitas County, Wash. Zilkha anticipates the $175 million project will include 100 wind turbines and provide power to meet the annual needs of more than 40,000 homes by the time of its projected late-2005 completion.

An even larger project, with an estimated capacity of 310 MW and costing $323 million, has been announced for either northwest or north-central Iowa. The state's governor has approved legislation allowing the project. Project developers at MidAmerican Energy claim that it will be the nation's largest wind farm. The project is expected to include 180 to 200 turbines, each capable of generating 1.5 MW to 1.65 MW.

On the East Coast, however, a projected installation is drawing fire from otherwise strong proponents of renewable-energy development. The proposal from developer Cape Wind would place 130 turbines over a 24-sq.-mi. area in the Nantucket Sound, between Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Developers say that at peak production the turbines could supply the entire energy needs of all three of these areas, known for their beaches and ocean-filled vistas.

Among those opposing the project were Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite, both of whom have homes overlooking the proposed site. More than 17 government agencies are reviewing the proposed project, according to a recent CBS News report. However, the final decision rests solely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.





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