last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2005 0:41 AM
Something Old, Something New: Wind Power and Economic Development
Attempts to harness the power of the wind date back for centuries.
Though the exploitation of wind for energy purposes declined through the 1960s, in latter decades the shift to developing alternative energy sources has produced a revitalization of wind energy production. Particularly since the energy crisis of the 1970s, energy production from wind has seen a great deal of investment, though its profile has only recently reached any mainstream currency. Despite this modest renaissance following long-term decline of wind resources, the potential of wind to provide energy to the electricity grid cleanly and competitively is becoming known through serious economic, engineering, and environmental research.
What economic benefit does wind energy hold for communities, consumers, and production companies? In addition to the simple market value of the electricity produced, one must consider monetarizing the intangible benefits of wind energy. These include the avoided costs of environmental pollution from fossil fuel energy sources and the avoided costs of developing new fossil fuel plants to meet increasing energy demand.[ii] Thus, there are significant additional economic benefits realized through savings – not having to clean up or treat the harmful pollutants produced by fossil fuel plants. Illustrating this, a recent study by the Izaak Walton League of America and corroborated by the Minnesota Department of Public Service, found that wind energy was actually a cheaper fuel source than natural gas-fueled power plants, the standard source for power generation today.[iii] This means that companies can produce electricity more cheaply through wind, without the external costs of damage to the environment and health problems for nearby residents and communities. In addition, the federal government has shown a commitment to developing and researching alternative energy sources. Since 1992, the federal government has offered a Production Tax Credit to encourage the development and operation of alternative energy sources. The PTC currently stands at 1.9 cents per kWh and applies to production within the first 10 years of a turbine or wind farm’s operation, increasing the cost competitiveness for wind energy.
Another promising opportunity for the creation of wind energy is in coordination with farmers at the fringe of urban areas. Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs have proved successful in helping preserve active agricultural land by separating development rights from ownership rights and compensating farmers for those development rights. The additional revenue, which may be significant for a plot of land that could be subdivided for residential development, often enables farmers to keep farming and may help maintain ecological diversity in an area. In a similar fashion, agricultural land is often a good match for potential wind sources for a number of reasons. Farmers may lease small plots of agricultural land for the development of turbines, creating a revenue source while providing a site for turbines that minimizes environmental impact upon wildlife or humans.[vi]
There are, however, obstacles to the creation and implementation of wind energy resources, frequently related to the siting of turbines. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that bird deaths because of wind turbines is lower than had been popularly believed, while bat deaths are a more serious environmental concern. Perhaps most importantly, the study emphasized differing regional concerns in siting and environmental impact.[vii] Turbine blades may reflect sunlight throughout the surrounding area, disorienting wildlife and humans alike. In response to such concerns, turbine producers have developed less reflective coatings for turbine blades.
Matthias Heymann. “Signs of Hubris: The Shaping of Wind Technology Styles
Robert Y. Redlinger, et al. Wind Energy in
the 21st Century: Economics, Policy, Technology and the Changing
Electricity Industry. (
[iii] Ibid, 90. The large-scale production can yield production costs as low as $.05/kWh.
[v] George Sterzinger and “Wind Turbine Development: Location of Manufacturing Activity.” Technical Report. http://www.crest.org/articles/static/1/binaries/WindLocator.pdf. (Accessed December 4, 2005)
<hr size=3 width=800 style='width:600.0pt' noshade color=gray align=left>