Wind Energy: How Con-veeen-ient!

T. Boone Pickens’ wind energy plan calls for blanketing the Great Plains, from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas.

That’s because that’s where the wind resource is best, right?

Wrong! That’s because “nobody lives there”, at least from the perspective of the good folks on the coasts and in the big cities.

Putting all those wind turbines in the Plains creates at least two knotty problems:

  • If “nobody lives there” is an excuse to industrialize the environment, what about ANWR, where the impact would be much less than the impact of thousands of wind turbines in the Plains states; and
  • How do you get that power to where the people live?
  • Wouldn’t it be cool if 75% of the population lived close to the source of their energy?

    Well, guess what! They do! (By my eyeball estimate, anyway.)

    Here’s a map, courtesy our friends at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
    Wind Power Potential
    As you can see, the wind power potential of the Plains is mostly rated “Fair” to “Good”. On this color bar, red is “Outstanding” and blue is “Superb”.

    Just offshore from the Northeastern corridor, from Boston to NYC to Philly to Washington, lies a giant swath of “Outstanding” wind energy potential. Just about all of the Great Lakes are “Outstanding”: are you listening, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago? Offshore Los Angeles and San Francisco? “Outstanding” as well!

    The zone of highest potential, “Superb”, lies offshore Northern California and Oregon. Just imagine: we could power all of that region’s prodigious “grow light” electricity consumption with the greenest energy imaginable!

    Actually, the Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior is trying to permit a wind energy project in the near-offshore zone. Problem is, residents of these areas seem to like their energy better when it comes from somewhere else. From the Wall Street Journal:

    First Offshore Wind Farm is Meeting Stiff Resistance

    The project, called Cape Wind, is a Boston firm’s plan to build 130 windmills across 25 square miles of federal waters off Cape Cod. [Your humble correspondent blogged about the Cape Wind Project a year ago; for more information and snark, click here. – Ed.]

    Supporters say it will deliver annual reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road. Opponents warn it will industrialize Nantucket Sound, a popular summer playground, and interfere with fishing and recreation. Some time before Mr. Obama is inaugurated Jan. 20, the Bush administration is expected to publish a review of the expected environmental impact of the project, resolving the last major regulatory hurdle blocking the project in Washington.

    The conflict over Cape Wind illustrates a persistent problem for renewable power. Policy makers and environmentalists love the idea of generating clean power from the sun, wind, water and geothermal sources to displace imported oil. But at the local level, there is often opposition to the hardware needed to make renewable power work: big windmills, acres of solar panels and large-scale transmission lines.

    MA Wind Power

    The Energy Department concluded last year that wind energy could generate 20% of the nation’s electricity by 2030. But that would happen only if a “superhighway” transmission system is created to carry wind power from sparsely populated areas to states and cities that need the energy.

    “You can build wind farms all day, but unless you have eminent domain to allow you to build a 1,000-mile transmission line, it won’t work,” says James Rogers, chief executive of North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp. …

    Transmission-line projects and wind farms also encounter resistance at the local level from groups that object to the impact on property values, endangered species or scenery. Such opposition can be critical to determining whether projects get built, because they typically require approval from state or local authorities.

    Offshore oil and gas drilling is environmentally acceptable offshore Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama (and parts of Alaska), totally unacceptable virtually everywhere else. Wind farms are OK where the deer and the antelope play, but not the caribou.

    I just don’t get it.