Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Wind power is sucking wind, so to speak

After years of growth, the U.S. wind industry has hit a series of major roadblocks. The industry is "reeling from lackluster electricity demand in many mature economies, rock-bottom prices for competing natural gas in the U.S. and uncertainty throughout much of the world about government subsidies," Jeffrey Ball of The Wall Street Journal reports. But analysts say wind power is the biggest and cheapest of the renewable-energy sources now attracting major investment, and it should be boosted by the uncertain outlook for nuclear energy, Ball writes. (WSJ chart)

Wind power generated about 2 percent of electricity in 2009, the most recent year for which U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics are available. "Some day, government studies say, wind could produce 20 percent of electricity in the U.S.," Ball writes. To reach that goal the industry would need massive transmission lines to move the power from windy areas, but those lines remain in limbo. "Short of building huge new high-voltage lines, one way to increase wind power would be to devise an economic way to store wind power so it is usable even after the breezes die down," Ball writes, noting "entrepreneurs are working on a host of options, including batteries, but prices remain high." (Read more)

In North Dakota, which has been labeled the "Saudi Arabia of wind," plans for a 345-kilowatt, 270-mile-long transmission line have met resistance from some landowners. Among their issues is the loss of wind rights. Landowners fear the transmission line would take up too much space to allow them to lease their property to wind developers in the future, Joey Peters of Environment & Energy Daily reports. "Generally, one wind turbine to another turbine is a 2,000-foot distance," said Chad Weckerly, who sits on the board of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. "So if you're the lucky landowner that gets the transmission line on your property, it's not possible to get wind turbines on your land."

The Minnesota-based Minnkota Power Cooperative, which is behind the project, has offered some landowners a one-time $37,000 payment for every mile of line, but landowners say they should receive annual payments. While voicing their concerns, Weckerly and the North Dakota Farm Bureau caution they are not against the project. "We're not going to stand in the way of projects like this," Jeff Missling, the organization's state executive director, told Peters. "The biggest thing is making sure our landowners receive just compensations." (Read more, subscription required)  Map of proposed line:

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