Did you know that wind power is actually considered a type of solar power by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)?
In an explanation of how wind turbines work, the DOE points out that winds are caused by the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the rotation of the Earth, and the Earth’s surface irregularities. Maybe we can add “earth spin power” to our list of renewable energy sources.
At SVP we have the potential use of almost 200 megawatts (MW) of peak wind power for our customers. The actual amount utilized at any one time usually depends on when and where the wind is blowing. As of Dec. 31, 2015, California had 6,108 megawatts (MW) of wind power potential, according to the DOE. The DOE states there are 74,472 megawatts of wind power capable of being generated overall in the U.S.
Wind power is here to stay, and for good reason.
So how does wind add up? The advantages as well as the challenges associated with wind power include:
- It’s a green renewable energy source. Turbines don’t emit atmospheric pollutants.
- It’s sustainable. As long as the sun shines and the wind blows, power can be harnessed and distributed to the grid.
- Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches. Some of the best wind farm sites are in rural areas. Since wind turbines use very little land, farmers and ranchers can continue working their land while at the same time earning extra income from renting their land to power companies.
- Wind helps the economy and creates jobs. U.S. wind power projects in 2014 employed more than 73,000 workers and resulted in more than $8 billion of private capital entering the economy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The DOE’s Wind Vision Report says by 2050, wind power might support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and support services.
There are also challenges for wind power.
Other sources of electricity can be cheaper than wind power. Some fossil-fueled generation sources can sometimes provide electricity more cheaply than wind farms. Also, the initial investment for wind power technology is higher than the investment needed for conventional resources.
- Rural sites are good for wind but they can be far from populations needing the electricity. This requires transmission lines to deliver the power from a remote location.
- A wind farm development might not be the most profitable use of the land. Other types of development not related to power generation may be more profitable for owners of land suitable for a wind project.
- Turbines might cause noise and aesthetic pollution. Concern exists over the noise produced by the turbine blades and visual impacts to the landscape.
- Turbine blades could damage local wildlife. There is concern about turbine blades killing and injuring birds. The Audubon Society has long supported wind power while encouraging new wind farm location parameters and continued improvement in pole design. Slower turbines, improved monitoring of bird behavior and flight paths, and sensitivity to bird migration routes have all played a role in reducing impacts of wind turbines on birds. In fact, a good portion of turbines are shut down for two months during the bird migration season at Altamont Pass, where we are also working toward replacing the smaller, faster-spinning small turbines with new large units.