USA and Texas
As 37-mile-per-hour gusts blasted downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, hundreds of wind-energy executives were inside the Minneapolis Hilton, discussing the challenges their industry still faces.
Chief among those challenges: weather-related down times and - perhaps more surprisingly - utilities unwilling to accept energy from wind farms because their high-voltage transmission lines can't accept any more power.
Universities and businesses across Texas are expecting to spend millions in the next few years honing the blades, gearboxes and generators that make up turbines designed to harness power from the wind.
The work, including studies slated for a new University of Houston research park as well as at a massive, 22-acre testing operation planned near Corpus Christi, all has a common goal: developing a new generation of efficient and reliable wind turbines.
Iberdrola SA and E.ON AG's turbine dreams for the windswept Texas Panhandle may be stymied by the mating rituals of the lesser prairie chicken.
Wind-power developers such as E.ON are scouring sagebrush and grasslands for the presence of ground-dwelling chickens that could impede turbine construction plans. Once plentiful in the southern high plains, the bird has a high priority for listing under the Endangered Species Act, which would put at risk where as much as $11 billion in turbines that are part of the U.S.'s renewable-energy push can be built.
Should the lesser prairie chicken become listed as threatened or endangered - and it's close now - there would be significant restrictions on companies hoping to plant towering turbines across a five-state region believed to have some of the nation's best wind energy potential.
"We've never seen the likes of this," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist Heather Whitlaw, who is part of conservation efforts with the other states and believes the bird could be listed within two years. "Anybody who puts anything on our landscape would be evaluated in one form or another."
Millions of birds funnel through the Texas coast before they head north along the Central Flyway, one of the great bird migration routes between South America and the Arctic. This was the first year that wind farms were operating there during the spring migration.
One study near the coastal wind farms in Kenedy County, near the Laguna Madre, found that at the peak of fall migration in 2007, 4,000 birds an hour passed in a 1-kilometer-wide band.
Wind on the Texas coast is tempting for energy companies. Unlike other parts of Texas -- the nation's No. 1 wind energy state -- the coast has breezes that blow consistently on summer days, when energy demand peaks. But there's risk, too.
Millions of birds funnel through the Texas coast before they head north along the Central Flyway.
The conflict between President Barack Obama's vision and Texas' reality boils down to a mix of politics and industry. While Obama has staked his economic recovery agenda on creating millions of green jobs, Texas depends on carbon dioxide jobs.
Texas Republicans, out of power in Washington but still ruling Austin, oppose much of the Democratic energy agenda. Gov. Rick Perry says the policies would "have a devastating impact on the use of fossil fuels" and put "downward pressure on jobs, on our ability to create wealth."
His company purchased 687 wind turbines from General Electric for $2 billion that can produce 1,000 MW and will be delivered in 2011. But there aren't yet any transmission lines from his wind park to the Texas grid to deliver the electricity to the Texans.
Initially he was going to build the transmission lines himself, but now that's "questionable," he said during a stop in San Francisco Wednesday, part of a tour to promote his alternative-energy plan. A transmission line to the west or east from the Texas Panhandle, he told members of the press, is "a little bit big for us."
The major problem with wind as a power source is that it doesn't blow all the time. To remedy that, Texas is spending $30 million a year to bolster its back-up power, in a change to the electricity grid that began on Nov. 1. ...
Although T. Boone Pickens has become somewhat of a celebrity as of late - giving speeches and appearing on national television in interviews and commercials - the Oklahoma native is finding falling energy prices are making it difficult for his eponymous Pickens Plan to gain traction.
Furthermore, a host of other outside factors have cropped up to make the Texas oilman's push for renewable energy increasingly difficult ...Depressed fuel prices, while easier on consumers' wallets, hinder efforts to persuade companies and individuals to invest in renewable energy resources, especially when combined with a shortage of discretionary cash.
T. Boone Pickens' $10 billion wind farm - the cornerstone of his plan to build thousands of wind turbines from Texas to Canada - is about to be downsized because the oil tycoon can't raise money in the current credit crunch, the billionaire confirmed to the Observer. ...Asked about his plans to build a giant wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, Pickens said: "I've started it, but let's don't go into that, my project is getting ready to get downsized pretty quick.
"You can't get financing," he said. "But that will all come back."
According to wind developer FPL, wind conditions over the 3rd financial quarter were the least productive in the last 3 decades in the Great Plains -- go figure. Over the quarter, wind power generation came in 38% below expected totals, down 47% in September alone.
A deflating economy has taken the wind out of a massive Panhandle alternative energy project.
Tight lending stalled a $2 billion wind farm project headed by billionaire oilman and alternative power proponent T. Boone Pickens. Pickens' BP Capital delayed work on a state permit to build 170 miles of transmission lines carrying enough wind energy to power 300,000 homes.
Texas consumers and taxpayers could pay more than $2.2 billion a year in subsidies and higher transmission costs to take advantage of the state's abundant wind-generation resources, a free-market research group said on Tuesday.
The state's current push to accelerate use of wind-generated electricity is "costing, not saving, Texans billions of dollars," said Bill Peacock, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Economic Freedom. ...By 2025, the study said the price tag could total $60 billion as Texas reaches 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity.
A tax credit driving the wind industry seemed to be on its way when the Senate approved it overwhelmingly this week, but a measure to extend it hit a speed bump Thursday in the House.
The fate of the wind energy production tax credit expiring Dec. 31 is uncertain as lawmakers wrangle over two versions of the latest bill including an extension.
An industry advocate found lawmakers' arguments over paying for the legislation absurd in light of billions spent to shore up crumbling Wall Street titans and a $700 billion proposal to stave off economic collapse.
Blue H's 328-foot-tall wind turbine is different from the offshore generators that have sparked opposition from U.S. coastal residents. Because it sits atop pontoons, this turbine can operate in water farther from shore, where winds are stronger and more reliable - and where it's not visible from land. ...Linowes said that those opposing onshore wind projects - which often are gigantic schemes spanning tens of thousands of acres - welcome proposals to place turbines out in the water.
She calls current onshore turbines "dinosaurs" and says she finds Blue H's idea appealing because it shows "that we should look to new technology rather than bigger land-based turbines," she said.
Wind farms are becoming an increasingly popular way to generate green energy, but little is known about the ecological and socioeconomic effects of the towering windmills that have begun to dot parts of the landscape.
What impact do the tall structures have on the birds and bats in the area? How do the wind farms affect local economies and governmental policy? And what do residents living in communities that are home to the farms think?
Two Texas A&M University researchers have been tapped to join a study that is trying to determine those answers.
"Everything he is outlining in this plan will pad his already ample bank account," said Jerry Taylor, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who likened the plan to corporate welfare, since it calls for $1 trillion in government investment and an extension of tax credits for wind companies that are set to expire at the end of 2008. ...Ed Legge, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based trade association for electric-utility companies, including Duke and Exelon, said he expects consumers to eventually get a reality check on wind's shortcomings.
"You can't depend on wind," Mr. Legge said. "Our customers are trained to expect the power is available and on. An intermittent source is automatically problematic, and that's what wind is right now. Wind stops blowing."