From a power source that’s expendable to one renewable
Move Over, Oil, There’s Money in Texas Wind
We trim and append the below from The New York Times of February 23, 2008.
By Clifford KraussThe quaint windmills of old have been replaced by turbines that stand as high as 20-story buildings, each capable of generating electricity for small communities. Powerful turbines are able to capture power even when the wind is relatively weak, and they help to lower the cost per kilowatt hour.
No less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy. “I have the same feelings about wind as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth in north Texas that could power a small city by itself.
“I like wind because it’s clean and renewable; you know you are not going to be dealing with a production decline curve,” Mr. Pickens said. “Decline curves finally wore me out in the oil business.”
After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3% of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines.
Texas surpassed California as the top wind farm state in 2006. In January alone, new wind farms representing $700 million of investment went into operation in Texas, supplying power sufficient for 100,000 homes.
Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45% last year, albeit from a small base. Wind supplies about 1% of American electricity, powering the equivalent of 4.5 million homes. Environmental advocates contend it could eventually hit 20%, as has already happened in Denmark.
America recently overtook Spain as the world’s second-largest wind power market, after Germany, with $9 billion invested last year.
The part of the United States with the highest wind potential is a corridor stretching north from Texas through the middle of the country, including sparsely populated states like Montana and the Dakotas. Power is needed most in the dense cities of the coasts. But building new transmission lines over such long distances is certain to be expensive and controversial.
Wind power is intermittent and unpredictable, and the hottest days, when electricity is needed most, are usually not windy. [Ed. Note: On the windiest days, when it makes more than enough power, it needs to store the surplus in batteries or other devices.]
Marginal ranches and cotton farms are worth more with wind turbines on them. The 78 wind turbines that recently went up on Louis Brooks’s ranch are twice as high as the Statue of Liberty, with blades that span as wide as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. Their owners pay him $500 a month for each with 76 more on the way.
“That’s just money you’re hearing,” he said as they hummed in a brisk breeze recently.
Reader Wyn Achenbaum notes: “154 turbines times $500 per month times 12 months works out to $924,000 per year. Sure beats the agricultural subsidy of $10,504 he got in 2005 click here. From 1995 to 2005, he got $122,828 in conservation subsidies and $100,085 in disaster subsidies; none in commodity subsidies. click here. He got $45,67 in Livestock subsidies from 1995-2005.”
Since the wind boom began a few years ago, the total value of property in Nolan County has doubled. Home values are going up while county property taxes are going down, yet the county has extra funds to remodel the courthouse and improve road maintenance. [Ed. Note: As the incomes of others go up, so does that of landowners, since they can charge their tenants more; that’s how land absorbs the value of progress. Since the value of is not created by individual owners, but by society in general, it should not be left as a windfall profit to individual owners but be recovered -- via taxes or dues -- and shared among all members of society.]
The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Wind farms, some think, are eyesores. Opposition is emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod.
Though the gap is closing, electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels. [Ed. Note: That’s partly because fossil fuels do not now have to pay for the damages they do downwind and downstream; their costs -- smog, acid rain, asthma, crop loss, global warming, etc are greater than the costs of damage by windmills.]
A short-term threat to wind power is the looming expiration of federal clean-energy tax credits, which Congress has allowed to lapse several times over the years. [Ed. Note: Wind wouldn’t need tax credits if government were to make polluters pay.]
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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