Loosening the Wind Belt

 

By Ruth Jacobs
 

windmillIf all goes as planned, the United States will witness 20-fold growth in wind power consumption by 2030, and that’s not just because Obama won the presidency and Democrats have a majority in the House. According to Robert Gramlich ’91, policy director at the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., technological, social, economic, and policy factors are converging to create a welcoming climate for wind.

Supply? Check. “We’ve got a lot more wind capacity than we have electricity consumption in the country—more than we could ever use,” Gramlich told a room packed with economics and environmental studies majors, among others, on Feb. 6.

Demand? But of course. The challenge is getting the power to the demanders. The area of the country best suited for wind power—from the Texas panhandle up to the Dakotas, which energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens calls the wind belt—is sparsely populated. The power needs to go to the coasts. One subject of debate is who will pay for transmission lines, Gramlich said.

Despite the many issues to be worked through, Gramlich believes that the United States is on its way to 20 percent wind power (from one percent currently) by 2030. A primary factor is that, since it has the potential to create jobs, politicians who may have dismissed wind at another time could give it a chance. “There’s a lot of windy red states,” said Gramlich, “and that could really change a lot of the political dynamics.”

And, unlike in Cape Cod and Maine’s mountain regions, issues about disrupting views are less pervasive in the wind belt. “The only NIMBY problems we have in the middle of the country are the neighboring landowners who don’t get that lease payment,” Gramlich said. “They want it on their land.”

 
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