Wind Power Called Cheaper Than Coal
STANFORD, California, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. should make a large investment in wind farming to help meet the nation's electricity needs and address global warming, two energy experts from Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have concluded.
Writing in today's issue of the journal "Science," associate professor Mark Jacobson and teaching professor Gilbert Masters conclude that wind power is an abundant, clean and affordable alternative to coal and other fossil fuels.
"Much of the recent U.S. energy debate has focused on increasing coal use," they note. "Since the 1980s, though, the direct cost of energy from large wind turbines has dropped to three to four cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with that from new pulverized coal power plants. Given that health and environmental costs of coal are another two to 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour, wind energy is unequivocally less expensive than is coal energy."
ENVIRONMENTAL PROS AND CONS
A downside of wind turbines is that they have been linked to the accidental deaths of migratory birds that get caught inside fast moving propeller blades. Selecting sites out of migration paths can help solve this problem, observe Jacobson and Masters.
They also point out that the loss of birds from new wind farms would be small compared to the current loss of forests, birds, fish and other wildlife from acid discharge caused by coal combustion.
Jacobson and Masters also cite statistics from the Centers for Disease Control showing that coal dust kills some 2,000 U.S. mineworkers each year and has cost taxpayers about $35 billion in monetary and medical benefits to former miners since 1973.
"Shifting from coal to wind would address health, environmental and energy problems," note the authors. Wind is a clean source of energy, they add, and should be promoted and funded by federal and state governments.
A typical 1,500 kilowatt turbine costs about $1.5 million to install and about $18,000 to $30,000 a year to maintain - a bargain in the long haul, according to Jacobson and Masters.
"The U.S. could displace 10 percent of coal energy at no net federal cost by spending three to four percent of one year's budget on 36,000 to 40,000 large wind turbines and selling the electricity over 20 years, recouping all costs," they argue.
President George W. Bush has called the Kyoto Protocol "fatally flawed," and says the United States will never ratify the international accord in its current form. Bush, a strong proponent of fossil fuels, included millions of dollars of incentives for new coal, oil and natural gas development in his long range national energy plan, proposed in May.
WIND POWER HELP COULD SOLVE ENERGY, ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS
"If you want to solve this country's energy problem, the U.S. needs to consider some type of large scale program," said Jacobson. "The federal government could either go into the energy business for itself, or it could foster wind energy through tax incentives that would catalyze private sector investment."
Some states are already taking taking steps to harness the inexpensive power of the wind. On Thursday, a more than 100 foot long wind power blade arrived by truck in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to mark the near completion of Mill Run, the largest wind farm in the East, which will help power Philadelphia area homes and businesses by this fall.
"Today, Philadelphia can see its future - and it is green," said John Hanger, spokesperson for the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition. "Blades just like these will be soon be turning with the wind, making clean and affordable energy for Philly customers. The Mill Run wind farm is the largest yet in the East, and is helping make Pennsylvania the wind power capital of the East."
The wind farm, composed of ten 1.5 megawatt turbines atop 210 foot high towers, will take advantage of high winds at the top of Laurel Mountain.
The authors note that, last year, Germany produced nearly three times more wind generated electricity than the U.S., and Denmark - a country roughly half the size of Maine - produced almost as much turbine power as the entire United States. Denmark and Sweden also have developed wind parks offshore, where winds are faster than over land.
"Clearly, the U.S. has not maximized its wind potential," conclude Jacobson and Masters. "Doing so would address health, environmental and energy problems."