Exploring the Future of Wind Power in the U.S.

Image Credit: GE Energy

Image Credit: GE Energy

Wind power is currently the fastest growing source of energy worldwide. In the United States, the industry expanded by as much as 50% a year between 2000 and 2010, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). During that decade, federal tax breaks and state initiatives facilitated the construction of hundreds of turbine farms around the country. Several regions of the United States in particular have aggressively developed wind harvesting industries. Rockport, Missouri, for example, was the first American community to receive the majority of its energy from wind in 2008. Several other states currently lead the implementation of wind harvesting – California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Texas, however, leads all of the states in wind power initiatives, generating one-fourth of the nation’s wind energy with 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity. 

Currently, wind power supplies 2% of U.S. energy supply, and there is clearly momentum for that number to grow even larger. Evidence of this can be seen in the DEO’s 2008 plan calling for 20% of the nation’s energy to be wind-based by 2030. Developments within the wind farming industry, such as offshore facilities, may make this growth possible. Proponents of wind power, those who consider it a mainstream source of energy, are hopeful. They cite wind’s value as a renewable source of energy, which can be scaled to provide a significant portion of the United States’ needs.

Whether wind will provide 20% of the nation’s energy by the 2030 target date, however, will depend on a number of political, social, and environmental “crosswinds.” There are those who cite problems with this industry and challenge its continued development. For example, some opponents the wind farming industry do not want to see government subsidies continue. They argue that government support gives an unfair advantage to a product that is inefficient and unreliable. One energy analyst writing for the trade journal Power Engineering observed that until gas prices significantly increase, wind energy will not be able to financially compete without government support.

There are private citizens as well who fight the expansion of turbine farms, claiming that they are a nuisance, a health hazard, and that they decrease property values. Within the last few years, citizens in Wisconsin successfully battled for additional regulations so that they would not be subject to the noise and flickering shadows produced by the blades’ rotation. Wind turbines there must now be built further away from residences and property lines. Similar battles have played out in Massachusetts, California, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Source: Hydro Tasmania

Source: Hydro Tasmania

Environmentalists contest the growth of the industry by pointing to the number of birds that are killed each year from colliding with turbine blades. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates that almost 500,000 birds are killed each year in the U.S. by wind turbines – a number that still remains less than the 130 million+ birds that die due to power lines each year (Source: American Wind Energy Association).

Wind power has been used by humans for many centuries and usage will continue to accelerate in the decades ahead. It will most definitely continue to grow in some locations, targeted for specific projects by interested parties.  To find out how the future of wind power will play out in the United States on a larger scale, we will have to wait and see how the various stakeholders settle some of these economic, environmental, and legal issues in the years ahead.

Reference:

“Climate Change.” CQ Researcher. June 14, 2013. 23(22) pp. 521-544.
“Rethinking Wind Power.” Power Engineering. January 2014, 118(1) pp. 4-4.

  • Richard A. Fletcher

    Wind power is LAST century’s power source, not suitable for this century. Here is my blog on this ridiculous alternative energy source, http://bit.ly/1Cww19w

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