Wind energy holds great potential, some challenges
Harnessing the power of the wind to provide electricity to our homes and businesses could hold tremendous potential for the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Currently, there are about 31,000 megawatts of wind energy used in the United States, which is enough to power 8 million homes or about 2 percent of the total U.S. energy supply.
"Wind is an enormous resource in this country, theoretically able to supply five to eight times the total energy needs of the United States," says Larry Flowers, project manager of NREL's National Wind Energy Technology Center.
In addition to the capacity for generating energy, wind provides other advantages over some other sources of energy. Wind energy is pollution-free, with no sulfur, nitrous oxide, mercury or carbon, says Flowers. There is also no water used to cool wind equipment, as is required for thermal power. In addition, wind energy provides a significant opportunity for rural America.
"Wind energy generates $1 billion in property tax, employment, construction and economic development over a 20 year period for states that generate 1,000 MW per year," says Flowers.
Currently, Kansas ranks fourth in all states in wind energy, with 1,014 MW per year. Missouri is developing a wind energy industry, but now ranks 16th in the country with 309 MW.
However, wind energy must overcome some significant challenges. First and foremost, transmission of the wind energy from rural America, where most of the wind energy is collected, to the cities where most of the people live, presents significant challenges.
Other challenges include variability in wind energy, which adds uncertainty to the system. The industry needs to expand control areas, says Flowers. Siting and permitting presents challenges, with various species of birds and other animals and require environmental permitting and analysis. Another challenge lies in perception of wind energy.
"As we move from 30,000 MW to 300,000 MW, we need to earn the hearts and minds of consumers," says Flowers.
Earning the hearts and minds of farmers and rural landowners may prove easier, since they may see the benefits of hosting a wind turbine. Hosting a wind turbine generally makes $2,500 to $4,000 per MW and can generate $100,000 per year, which is then spent locally. Usually, hosting a wind turbine is a 20- to 30-year contract and requires 1 1/2 to 2 total acres out of production for a 2 MW turbine.
Farmers and ranchers wanting to learn more about wind energy can come to the Food and Fuel Forum at the 2010 Western Farm Show. For more information on the Food and Fuel Forum, visit www.westernfarmshow.com. To learn more about wind energy opportunities, visit www.windindustry.org or www.windpoweringamerica.gov.