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Blow hard: Wind to supply 20% of U.S. power?

The U.S. can follow Denmark’s lead and get 20% of its electricity from wind by 2030, the Department of Energy said today. The only obstacles, according to the DOE report, are building the wind turbines, improving them, getting them in place, and getting their electricity to where it’s used. Piece of cake.

Oh—and to meet that goal, every year between 2018 and 2030 the U.S needs to install as much wind power as it has cumulatively installed so far in its history. At least subsidies for wind power aren’t a prerequisite, the report says.

The DOE report, fruit of a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, lays out the breezy future for wind power in the U.S., which admittedly has loads more “wind resources” (i.e., windy spots) than other places like Europe or Asia. The report comes just after news that the U.S. had another record-breaking quarter for wind power at the beginning of the year, despite lingering uncertainty over federal tax credits for clean energy like wind and solar power.

The best-case scenario would be using wind turbines to produce 20% of electricity output by 2030. Since wind power punches below its weight, due to wind’s intermittent nature, that means the installed generation mix of the U.S. electricity sector would have to be at least 40% wind power by then, according to the report. Today, it’s just about 1%, even though the U.S. has led the world for two years running in new wind-power installations.

According to DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner and industry types like Tony Kavanaugh, American Electric Power’s VP for Governmental Affairs, the big hurdle is electricity transmission–more than technology or any other stumbling block. Wind and other clean energy sources are usually located in remote spots, but building new transmission lines is a huge headache.

“We cannot expect business as usual [on transmission] to be sufficient,” Mr. Kavanaugh said at the press conference, ticking off all the acronyms that make renewable energy a no-go, from NIMBY to NOPE [Not On Planet Earth].

Asst. Secretary Karsner was more optimistic, citing “Bugsy Malone’s” experience with powering remote locations like Las Vegas through American can-do. “This is how we built the West,” he said.

Interestingly, at a time when the battle to extend renewable-energy tax credits has become a Capitol Hill saga, it seems subsidies aren’t the key. The report’s “20% by 2030” conclusion was predicated with the expiration of tax credits this year, Mr. Karsner said.

Posted by Keith Johnson

Environmental Capital – WSJ.com

12 May 2008