Conflicts Emerging Over Wind Power

June 20, 2007

US wind-power capacity rose substantially again in 2006, boosting the cumulative total by 27%. That increase follows on the heels of a similar increase in 2005, according to the Dept. of Energy's first "Annual Report on US Wind Power Installation, Cost, and PerformanceTrends: 2006" (May 31, 2007, press release; full report).

The vast majority of wind-generated capacity has been developed during the Bush administration, though wind power still accounts for only about 1% of all US electricity.

The DoE report will likely prove useful if you're covering wind energy, particularly with its information on capacity, costs, technology, and past trends. However, the report has limitations, such as the lack of coverage of small wind power projects, and the agency doesn't attempt to predict the future of the industry.

Nor does it focus on environmental issues. For an overview of many of those topics, see the April 2007 National Academies report,"Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects." Along with extensive assessment of many angles - and frequent mention of the lack of good information to adequately assess most issues - the report provides a calculation that helps put the issue in perspective. If the country is to reach the topset DoE prediction of 7% of US electricity via wind power in 15 years, about 36,000 wind turbines would need to be built. That's a sizable number of towers that would balloon even higher if the country ever reaches an announced goal of 20%. The report also concludes that the primary benefits of wind power, such as reduced pollutant emissions, are regional and national, but the adverse impacts, such as dead birds and aesthetic degradation, are local.

Dead birds and bats are one of the issues addressed by language in a bill introduced May 16, 2007, by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee (search here for HR 2337, Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act of 2007, and look at Subtitle D).

The bill is under active consideration in the House, and Subtitle D has already come under withering criticism from the American Wind Energy Association (press release of May 23, 2007). The industry group says Rahall's proposals, designed to provide better information, regulation, and management approaches to address issues such as wildlife impacts, would kill the industry. Rahall has indicated he may be willing to alter the language.

  • To identify your current local wind power projects, and an estimate of wind generation potential, see the running tally kept by the AWEA.

For additional DoE wind information, see EERE: Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program.