Wind Power — A Shift Away from Dependence on Foreign Oil
|January 15, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Shift Away from Dependence on Foreign Oil
How Many Windmills Would $87 Billion Buy?
Thanks to our friends at evworld.com for announcing this article, which appeared originally in the Corvallis Gazette-Times of Oregon.
by Paul F. deLespinasse
Nobody knows exactly how much the United States has spent so far on the war. [But try http://costofwar.com for the best, most careful research on this.] Meanwhile, it is a fact that Congress recently appropriated an extra $87 billion to support military operations for another year and rebuild Iraqi infrastructure.
Much of this money is now “sunk costs,” and we can’t “unspend” it. But the question naturally arises whether there might have been alternate projects on which this money could be spent, and whether these projects might have contributed more to U.S. national security than overturning Saddam Hussein will do. Our answers to these questions might provide guidance in deciding on future U.S. foreign policy.
News reports about a projected wind farm in northeastern Oregon illustrate one interesting possibility here. Officials at Alpine Power Co. of Roseburg want to spend $23 million to install 51 windmills near La Grande. Altogether, these windmills would generate some 92 megawatts of electricity. Assuming that they could be run about one third of the time (full windpower is not always available), each windmill would produce about 5265 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.
How many windmills could we have built and how much pollution-free electricity could be generated by those windmills if we could have used just the extra $87 billion that was recently appropriated for Iraq?
At the costs projected by Alpine Power Co, $87 billion would buy 192,904 windmills. The total resulting electricity production, again assuming each windmill can run one third of the time, would come to more than 1,015 billion kilowatt-hours per year. This amounts to more than a quarter of all U.S. electricity consumption in 2000.
In 2000, burning coal generated 52 percent of our electricity. More than18 percent came from oil and natural gas, and about 20 percent came from atomic power stations. Burning coal, oil and gas puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which may contribute to potentially catastrophic global warming.
Atomic power stations pose their own problems (including the need for long-term storage of atomic waste) and may be attractive targets for terrorists.
Imported oil swells the U.S. balance of payments problems, puts large sums into the hands of dubious foreign regimes and some of the money even gets diverted to supporting terrorist organizations.
Energy produced by one method often can substitute for energy from other sources. A great increase in electricity produced by windmills could reduce our dependency on hydrocarbon fuels and imports and increase our economic, military and environmental security.
Taking the world as a whole, windmill-generated electricity has been going up about 30 percent each year since 1995. It is beginning to become a serious business in many countries including the United States. But investing an extra $87 billion now and then could accelerate this desirable process considerably.
The fictional hero Don Quixote went around Europe “tilting at windmills,” a phrase that has become synonymous with engaging in noble but unrealistic efforts. However, building real windmills just might be worth thinking about. As we consider the opportunity, compare it to the cost of attacking and occupying Iraq, and the uses to which we could otherwise have put that money.
Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan.
Some politicians still have not learned the most important lesson of 9/11 — that the U.S. must shift away from dependence on foreign oil. Share your views with The Progress Report!