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Monday June 18, 2001

Texas energy companies keeping wind power under wraps 


By Peter Asmus 

Pacific News Service 


Texas energy companies have a well-kept secret, including the producers demonized in California as the cause of rolling blackouts and sky-high prices. That secret is wind power. 

Houston-based Enron Corp. and Reliant Energy Inc., have tacitly admitted that wind power is one of the cheapest ways to generate electricity. The evidence? Both are voluntarily exceeding their state’s mandates for integrating this renewable fuel into the mix they will offer under new rules calling for a competitive retail market. 

Environmentalists are not alone in favoring wind power in Texas: rural farmers and ranchers are among its biggest fans. State law called for bringing 400 megawatts of new wind power on-line by the end of the year. Instead, Texas will add more than twice that – 900 megawatts in one year – according to the American Wind Energy Association. The state’s deregulation law calls for adding 2,000 megawatts (enough electricity for more than 400,000 homes) of new renewables to the state’s grid by 2009. Thus far, wind power has captured 90 percent of this new market. 

Installing just one wind turbine can bring rural farmers and ranchers from $2,000 and $3,000 annually. Since wind farms install turbines in clusters, some of these folks can continue their traditional use of the land and bring in an extra $20,000 to $50,000 per year, as royalties for rights to their wind. Already, wind generating machines in the garden represent a way to preserve rural communities with clean economic development. 

Texas is hardly alone. It’s the same story in Minnesota, Colorado, and across the ocean in Denmark and Germany. Regulators in Minnesota and Colorado have computed that wind power should be the first power supply choice in both of these states, since it is so much cheaper than the natural gas that now comprise 90 percent of all new electricity generators. 

In Colorado, an Enron subsidiary posted a bid to build 162 megawatts of new wind power under a category of "conventional" power supply, as the state had limited new wind power additions to just 25 megawatts. Though the utility Excel balked, arguing that gas prices were expected to decline by more than seven percent – when in fact that jumped by 400 percent – the state utility commission ordered the utility to build wind farms instead of fossil fuel power plants. 

Even more impressive statistics come from Europe. Denmark now gets 17 percent of its total electricity from wind power – in contrast, the U.S. gets less than one percent from the wind. Germany, which has modest winds and had virtually no wind power development five years ago, now produces more wind-generated electricity than any country in the world. 

Soon, wind farms will allow the 12 members of the European Union to reduce emissions linked to global climate change dramatically. A full third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions required to comply with the Kyoto protocols by 2020 will come from replacing electricity generated from fossil fuels with wind power. 

In this light, America’s conduct on the global climate change front is disturbing. Instead of meeting the Kyoto treaty’s call for a seven percent reduction in CO2 from 1990 levels by 2012, the Department of Energy projects a 34 percent increase in U.S. CO2 emissions by that same date. To continue our fossil fuel addictions in light of current advances with wind power not only pollute the environment; they but could deal a large blow to an economy subject to faltering from escalating fossil fuel prices and highly dependent on its technology sector. 

Whereas natural gas is a finite fossil fuel, the world’s wind resource is still largely untapped. The winds blowing on just six percent of the windiest land sites in the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) could supply one-and-a-half times the entire U.S.’s electricity needs. 

The United States once had bragging rights to generating 90 percent of the world’s wind power. That figure has dropped to less than 20 percent. 

Reclaiming its position as a wind power leader would require the United States to make a real commitment to cool global warming. Considering President Bush’s posture on global warming, it appears as if only Europe is making that commitment. 



PG&E representative gives Bush-like energy tips 


At the recent 6/13/01, meeting of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, a P.G.&E representative was invited to speak about energy conservation.  

He explained the current crisis as being generated by a 30% growth in demand, while supply has only grown 6 percent. He then presented a series of tips which consisted of replacing light bulbs with more efficient bulbs, cleaning furnace filters regularly, keeping the lint filter and the exhaust vent clean on your clothes dryer, he did note that gas dryers were more efficient, and that homes should be insulated and that newer double pane windows saved heat.  

No mention was made of the threatened rolling blackouts, or changing your energy habits to reduce usage, not even of hanging out clothes to dry in the summer sunshine and heat.  

What was presented was the George W. Bush energy plan. That is, you don't have to give up anything, just tinker here and there and you can continue consuming. Implied in the opening remarks is the idea that we must increase supply.  

Bush in Berkeley, what a concept. 


John Cecil