During the recent AWEA WINDPOWER 2014 conference, GreenTech Films showcased its documentary, Scaling Wind – Can the U.S. reach 20% wind energy by 2030? It addresses key concerns challenging renewable-energy development, including transmission lines and policies. Even President Bush, man with roots in the oil industry, recognized that reaching the 20% goal in 2006 as a way to shift toward clean-energy sources. A 20% agenda has become increasingly important because one U.S. government-energy forecast says that between now and 2030, electricity demand will increase by 40 to 50%.
The documentary highlights the need for smart, stable policies, such as long-term production tax credits (PTC) and state-level renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Experience shows that the wind industry suffered each time the PTC expired in the past. The uncertainty results in wind development boom and bust cycles which discourages private investment in the wind energy-manufacturing infrastructure. This is in stark contrast to fossil fuels, an industry that enjoys tax credits that never expire and receive billions in annual subsidies. According to Investopedia (www.investopedia.com), a few oil industry tax beaks include intangible and tangible drilling costs, active and passive income, alternative minimum tax, and small producer tax exemptions.
In addition to the PTC, many states have an established RPS to push renewable-energy growth. Some states are further along than others in their RPS development. For example, Iowa enacted the first RPS in 1983, and achieved 20% of its electrical power from wind energy in 2011. This success may be the result of the state approaching wind energy as a non-partisan issue. States looking to create a solid RPS can use Iowa as a model.
The documentary also talks about Utah, a predominately republican state that has long associated renewable energy with a green agenda, and still faces opposition in its wind-energy initiative. Currently, this wind-rich state only has four wind farms. In recent years, however, the state has missed out on business opportunities, due to pollution from traditional-energy sources, such as coal.
A few wind states face another challenge and a different kind of policy uncertainty in their transmission. Some estimates say the U.S. needs around 15,000 to 18,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines. Much of the national grid is 1950’s technologies. One contruction hurdle is that most transmission lines cross multiple communities and take years to complete. Wind-farm developers in Montana experienced issues with landowner relations at the beginning of one transmission project when landowners there felt their concerns were being ignored.
Getting back to the documentary, what does 20% wind energy look like? According to the filmmakers, CO2 is reduced by about 825 million metric tons a year – the equivalent to taking 140 million vehicles off the road. Wind energy does not need water for power production so the U.S. would save about four trillion gallons of fresh water, and create around 500,000 jobs across 30 different career paths. In 2012, there were roughly 80,000 wind-energy jobs in America. Producing energy closer to home and energy independence are keys to continuous and growing prosperity. WPE
Managing Editor | Windpower Engineering & Development
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