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News Analysis

A Twenty-Fold Increase?

Fortnightly Magazine - May 1 2000

energy generated anywhere within the continental United States.

Energy efficiency advocates decried this latest legislative tactic. Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said that Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsak had promised a deregulation bill that would "make Iowa a leader" in renewable energy, but complained that "Vilsak's original proposal has been gutted by the utilities."

Joanna Higgins-Freese, from the Iowa non-profit group I-Renew, was more direct.

"This proposal simply makes a mockery of the goals of the legislature and the governor.... Why should California get the tax revenue and jobs that new renewable energy plants will provide?"

Tom Gray, another spokesman for the AWEA, asked whether Iowa would prove a litmus test for wind energy, replied, "Iowa's situation is very fluid. It's third in the country on wind power installed. Our hope is that it would become a model for RPS laws."

A Twenty-Fold Increase?

The U.S. Census states that there are 3,142 counties or "county-equivalents" in the United States. By combining that data with Glenn Schleede's January report, it would appear that the DOE's wind initiative would have each U.S. county hosting more than 40 windmills, on average.

Schleede came up with his windmill figures by comparing the average generating output of today's state-of-the-art windmills with estimates of power needs for the year 2020. According to Schleede, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its Annual Energy Outlook 2000 puts U.S. power generation at 4,782 billion kilowatt-hours for 2020. To supply 5 percent of that figure (about a quarter of a billion kWh), according to Schleede, would require 132,000 windmills with a capacity of 750 kilowatts (e.g., the Zond Z-750), based on an assumed industry-wide capacity availability of about 27.5 percent. He acknowledged that such figures could change. For instance, Schleede noted that four demonstration windmills (Vesta V-66 models) began operating near Big Springs, Texas, in August 1999, each with a rate capacity of 1,650 kW - more than double the size of the 750-kW standard. Capacity availability could vary as well, depending on factors such as wind speed and proportion of wind farms located in areas of high wind potential.

(According to the handbook, Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities, published by the Wind Energy Coordinating Committee and cited by Schleede, wind turbines ordinarily will not start to generate electricity until wind velocity reaches "cut in" speed of 9-10 miles per hour, and don't reach rate output until wind velocity reaches 27 to 35 mph.)

Schleede's point was difficult to miss. He notes that EIA currently forecasts only 12.09 billion kWh of wind generation for 2020, representing one-quarter of 1 percent of total predicted U.S. electric output for that year. To meet Richardson's goal of a 5 percent market share, the wind energy industry would have to achieve power production nearly 20 times greater than the EIA's current forecast for 20 years out.

Yet the AWEA remained nonplused. "It's unfortunate that trade media are giving attention to the EMPA report," said Swisher. AWEA added that "capacity factors in the mid-30s and above are routinely being recorded by