This week’s post features a strong shot of irony. South Dakota ranks 49th of 51 jurisdictions (50 states plus the District of Columbia) in ACEEE’s 2014 Energy Efficiency Scorecard report, yet its citizens overwhelmingly support wind power. And when I say they support wind power, they act on it – not “yes, I love it [just put it somewhere else]”. This isn’t a “do you support renewable energy” question – which, as discussed in last week’s post about freeridership, is a question loaded with social pressure. No. South Dakotan’s aren’t slaves to political correctness; nor are they complainers. I know because I went to school there, and I grew up in a neighboring region that might as well be annexed together to be a sort of Texas of the Northern Great Plains. Come to think of it, Texas is the leader in wind generation.
Complaining that wind turbines ruin the landscape and natural scenery is a pastime for people who have too much and need fodder for complaining like they need coffee in the morning. Wind turbines compare with many symbols of modern human inhabitance: roads, cars, houses, water towers, and power lines.
Instead of complaints, people in the Dakotas, Western Minnesota, and most of Iowa see wind energy and the necessary turbines as opportunity – a throwback to the old days of the 40s, 50s and 60s America when major infrastructure projects, like the Interstate Highway System, major power-generating dams, railroads, bridges and big buildings, were seen as progress. They also see it as a good idea.
Quite possibly, it was luck that I ended up in engineering, but when I was a kid, knowing not even the existence of engineers, I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to capture the power of the wind?” “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could store the cold of winter for cooling in summer and vice versa?” Back in the day, they did just that by sawing thick hunks of ice out of lakes and storing it in pits insulated with sawdust.
Readers of this blog may think I am anti-renewable energy. No. I am for equitable, above the table transparency of costs and benefits, and economically integrating it into the supply of energy we need. For instance, I was pleased and impressed to see the Illinois Commerce Commission unanimously approve a clean power transmission line to transport wind energy from my childhood playground in Northwest Iowa to the PJM interconnection in the Chicago area.
This is progress!
According to the article, the fate of the line is in the hands of the Iowa Utilities Board. I would be surprised if they do not approve this. For the first time ever, Iowa could be a major exporter of energy, of the renewable sort I might add.
Furthermore, this is the sort of infrastructure that is going to be required if the country wants to develop substantial shares (20% or more) of renewable energy. There has to be sufficient diversity of loads to dissipate (use) all the energy produced.
Of course, there exists squabbling over easements and eminent domain for the transmission line. I have a splendid idea: just build it along one of the Interstate corridors – I-80 or I-88. A high voltage transmission line can’t possibly deter the beauty of dodging cars, trucks, SUVs, and the like at 75 mph on four lanes of concrete.
About that 2.3 cent/kWh subsidy for wind energy – we are well past the need for that. It has been in place for 20 years. There are 60,000 MW of capacity installed with utility-scale wind farms in 39 states. In recent years, wind and natural gas generating capacity have grown neck and neck. But Jeff, this is about jobs and clean energy. Consider the beneficiaries of the subsidy include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, SAP, Whole Foods Markets, EMC, Adobe, Cisco, 3M, and Warren Buffet – a roster of struggling, impoverished, capitalist wannabes if there ever was one. The headlines read jobs. The untold story is corporate welfare – Look! We are powered by 100% renewable energy [with the US taxpayer kicking in $3.6 billion per year so I can say that]. I think it is time for these orgs to fund their own dogooderism.
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