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Wind power no magic solution for U.S. or Maine's energy needs

The Maine Legislature has voted that there should be 3,000 megawatts (a megawatt equals a million watts) of wind power in Maine by 2020. That is something like voting for free ice cream. ...What the country and the state need is a long-range, comprehensive energy policy for the gradual but steady transition away from imported fossil fuels. If there is a magic word, it is "plan."

In the movie "The Graduate," there is a famous scene (probably not the one that first comes to mind) in which the Dustin Hoffman character is advised by his father's friend about the secret to success.

"Plastics," whispers the man excitedly.

Like this man, we seem always to be looking for the simple solution to our problems -- preferably one that can be expressed in a magic word.

In the case of energy, that magic word these days is "wind." A resource with no fuel cost and a perpetual source of supply and no harmful emissions, it seems to be the perfect answer.

The Maine Legislature has voted that there should be 3,000 megawatts (a megawatt equals a million watts) of wind power in Maine by 2020. That is something like voting for free ice cream.

Wind power makes inefficient use of the generator. Because the wind does not blow hard all the time, we would probably get 600 to 900 megawatts out of the 3,000. The fuel may be cheap, but the generator isn't.

No matter what the Legislature sets as policy, there are likely to be many people who don't like the looks of the big wind turbines or the transmission lines from them to the grid. So the path to wind power may be a bumpy road.

Of even... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

In the movie "The Graduate," there is a famous scene (probably not the one that first comes to mind) in which the Dustin Hoffman character is advised by his father's friend about the secret to success.

"Plastics," whispers the man excitedly.

Like this man, we seem always to be looking for the simple solution to our problems -- preferably one that can be expressed in a magic word.

In the case of energy, that magic word these days is "wind." A resource with no fuel cost and a perpetual source of supply and no harmful emissions, it seems to be the perfect answer.

The Maine Legislature has voted that there should be 3,000 megawatts (a megawatt equals a million watts) of wind power in Maine by 2020. That is something like voting for free ice cream.

Wind power makes inefficient use of the generator. Because the wind does not blow hard all the time, we would probably get 600 to 900 megawatts out of the 3,000. The fuel may be cheap, but the generator isn't.

No matter what the Legislature sets as policy, there are likely to be many people who don't like the looks of the big wind turbines or the transmission lines from them to the grid. So the path to wind power may be a bumpy road.

Of even greater concern is the cost of the transmission lines. While private developers will construct the turbines at their own risk, customers will pay a high price for many of the high-voltage lines necessary to get the power to the electric system.

Elsewhere in the law, the Legislature has said that customers should be protected from higher electric costs. That's good, because Maine customers already have among the highest rates in the country.

But there is a conflict between promoting vast new wind power resources and protecting consumers. The magic solution loses much of its appeal when electric bills rise.

Of course, we do need to develop energy resources that are not dependent on imported fossil fuels that seem to get tangled in world politics. New resources are essential to reduce global warming.

We need a mix of resources, and they should be introduced progressively to allow customers to adjust to increased costs. Ideally, tax dollars ought to take some of the burden off of electric customers. And, yes, there is a difference between taxpayers and ratepayers.

We have to face the fact that wind and solar can never meet more than a fraction of our energy needs. So what else?

Conservation and efficiency are essential. Buildings could be better built or retrofitted to drastically reduce energy loss. Cars have to get 50 miles a gallon. Mass transportation has to be more available and more attractive. Technology for lower energy-use motors and lighting needs to be pushed.

We have heard all that before. Now, we have to pour public funds into making it happen on a scale equal, say, to the federal subsidies of the oil companies.

The funds that will be devoted to economic recovery should include incentive payments, not merely tax breaks, for the use of renewable resources and increased conservation. These funds should help pay for the new transmission lines for wind generators, which are part of the solution.

Maine used to rely heavily on hydropower, but fish passage has been given a higher priority. This is a democracy, and if that's what the people want, so be it. But we should not believe that by ruling out the best renewable resource, we do it without relying on fossil fuels and paying higher costs.

We may get hydropower from outside the state. The further development of the huge Churchill Falls project in Labrador could yield a renewable resource supply for Maine.

Elsewhere in the United States, though not in Maine, it is virtually inevitable that nuclear power will increase. It has worked well in Western Europe, where it meets a large part of the peoples' needs with virtually no environmental impact.

The major issue with nuclear power is waste storage. Once again, we seek a magic solution -- a single disposal site, so long as it is somewhere else. Yet the on-site storage of nuclear waste after plants are closed is taking place with little fuss or concern. We may have stumbled onto a reasonable solution.

What the country and the state need is a long-range, comprehensive energy policy for the gradual but steady transition away from imported fossil fuels. If there is a magic word, it is "plan."

Gordon L. Weil has written books and articles on economic, governmental and historical subjects. He served in international, U.S., and Maine government positions and is a long-time energy consultant and publisher.


Source: http://morningsentinel.main...

JAN 8 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/18530-wind-power-no-magic-solution-for-u-s-or-maine-s-energy-needs
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