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Wind Power, Poised for Take Off?

A survey of projects and economics.
Fortnightly Magazine - August 2001


TXU is leading the wind power boom in the state, and will be one of the largest purchasers of wind energy in the nation. By the end of this year, TXU will be buying electricity from 427 wind turbines totaling about 355 MW of generating capacity and producing enough power to meet the average annual energy requirements of more than 72,000 homes. Texas will have installed, by the beginning of 2002, between 600 and 800 MW of wind power generating capacity, and have largely exceeded the RPS' initial requirement of 400 MW of new renewable energy by 2003. Other factors at play in the state include fair transmission policy, a superb wind energy potential, and the technology' s competitive cost.

California. To the west, in California, a batch of long-delayed projects, totaling about 700 MW, has been approved and should be moving forward, after a period of uncertainty caused by the meltdown of the state' s electricity markets. In Wyoming, the 50-MW Rock River I wind project, in Arlington, will boost the total installed capacity in the state from 85 MW to more than 130 MW. In Montana, Montana Power Co. has recently issued a request for proposals for 150 MW of wind power (and received proposals totaling 1,650 MW in response).

Midwest. In the Midwest and Great Plains, Northern Iowa Windpower, a joint venture between Zilkha Renewable Energy and Midwest Renewable Energy Corp. has announced plans to construct an 80-MW wind project in Worth County, to be called the "Top of Iowa" wind farm. Two large wind farms, of 130 MW and 79.5 MW each, have just received the go-ahead in Minnesota. FPL Energy soon was to begin construction on a 110-MW, 170-turbine wind farm in Gray County, in southwestern Kansas. The project is expected to produce enough power to serve approximately 33,000 homes in Kansas and Missouri, when it is completed by year' s end. In Wisconsin, FPL Energy is installing a 25.5-MW wind farm in Iowa County.

2020 Vision?
Wind energy forecasts don' t all agree.

Can wind energy boost its slice of the pie over the next twenty-odd years to over 40 times its current market share, as once proposed by the previous administration, and still envisioned by the American Wind Energy Association?

Clinton Administration. In 1999, during the Clinton Administration, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson unveiled Wind Powering America, a government initiative promising that wind energy would supply at least 5 percent of the nation' s electricity needs by year 2020. And the AWEA sees a 6 percent share as possible, as noted in the accompanying text.

But compare those hopeful goals with figures for actual U.S. electricity generation for calendar year 1999, as compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA put wind energy production for 1999 at 4.46 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or about 0.12 percent of the 3,693 billion kWh produced in the U.S. from all energy sources for the same year.

In other words, the Clinton Administration' s goal of a 5 percent share for wind energy by 2020 would require the