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News Analysis

A Twenty-Fold Increase?

Fortnightly Magazine - May 1 2000

Former coal lobbyist Glenn Schleede plays Don Quixote, crusading against the DOE's 20-year initiative to boost investment in windmills.

 

Five percent of total U.S. power generation from the wind by 2020?

Wind energy supporters find themselves on the defensive, wondering whether their industry can meet the ambitious expectations for new investment and emissions reductions mapped out by their own allies in government.

This time, however, the crusade is coming from the right - and it aims to bring the government dreamers back to earth.

On March 27, the private consulting firm Energy Market & Policy Analysis Inc., led by president Glenn R. Schleede, sent a 20-page report to the governor of Wisconsin, leaders in the state legislature, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, and various officials of local governments, attacking a plan by FPL Energy to construct an array of windmills for power generation on what Schleede described as a "scenic ridge" in or near the town of Addison, Wis., about 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee. The report accused FPL of backing down on prior claims of the extent of emissions of greenhouse gases that the wind farm would avoid. On a broader note, the report argued that any project benefits would be "truly insignificant" when considered in the context of Wisconsin's total electricity demand and emissions output, and questioned state policies that encourage wind power and mandate a minimum portfolio standard for renewable energy.

And Schleede's March report wasn't his first-ever tilt at windmills. Earlier, EMPA had set its sights on the U.S. Department of Energy. In January, EMPA issued a similar report describing the DOE's 1999 wind energy initiative as "a truly unrealistic proposal." EMPA offered compelling arguments why the nation could never hope to achieve the goals set down last June by DOE Secretary Bill Richardson in his "Wind Powering America" program. Those goals would require installation of more than 5,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2005, and 10,000 MW by 2010. Finally, by 2020, the U.S. supposedly would generate 5 percent of total electricity needs by wind power. But those figures struck Schleede as incredible. He calculated how the DOE's initiative would imply the operation of 132,000 windmills, with each one standing about 300 feet - nearly twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. (Schleede's numbers assumed a unit capacity for turbines of 750 kilowatts and a 27.5 percent annual capacity factor, said to be the industry average for wind energy).

Yet some say that government is not doing enough to promote wind energy. As an example, consider the battle in Iowa over new legislation for electric utility restructuring.

As of April 10, legislation was pending that would create a state-supported fund to encourage investments in Iowa in renewable energy and for reduction of emissions, supported by a state-wide nonbypassable surcharge designed to raise $29 million a year (residential electric customers would pay 87 cents per month). But an amendment introduced on March 22 would allow utilities to meet a state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by "displacing" local generation with renewable

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