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What Does $2M Buy? How About 1800 GW Of Wind Power

A new $2 million funding program from the Department of Energy is expected to add – yes, add – yet another 1,800 gigawatts of wind power to the already formidable wind resources of the US. That’s something to keep in mind as the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline review process heats up.

The idea behind the new taller wind turbine program is to give the US wind industry an assist in developing taller wind turbines, with hub heights ranging from 120 meters up to 140 meters.

That’s a big step up from existing technology, which currently goes to the 80-100 meter range, with the average at about 90 meters.  As for why a taller wind tower, upper level winds tend to be stronger and steadier.

DOE taller wind turbines map

Taller wind turbine area courtesy of US DOE.

$2 Million For Taller Wind Turbines And More Green Jobs

With taller wind turbines, the new program is also expected to open up an additional 237,000 square miles of wind-friendly areas for wind power potential, which is about the size of Texas (the image above compares the area change in square kilometers between the hub height of 96 and that of 140).

The areas of the US most likely to benefit from the improved wind technology are mainly located in the Southeast, where alternative energy is starting to find a friendly reception despite pushback by certain legislators from those states.

Aside from increasing US wind generating potential, the new initiative dovetails with DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which launched last March. That program aims to grow more cost-effective US sourcing for clean energy components.

To get a grasp of the potential for US green jobs growth just in the wind turbine manufacturing sector, take a look at this recent rundown from the American Wind Energy Association:

In 2012 alone, the U.S. wind industry installed over 6,700 turbines. To install that number of turbines, the U.S. industry required 20,100 blades and the same number of tower sections, approximately 3.2 million bolts, 36,000 miles of rebar, and 1.7 million cubic yards of concrete (enough for more than 7,630 miles of 4 foot-wide sidewalk). There are over 8,000 components in each turbine assembly.

Wind Power Vs. Keystone XL Pipeline

Now, about that Keystone XL Pipeline review process. The long-awaited State Department environmental report was finally released last Friday afternoon, just before Super Bowl weekend, but that still left pipeline advocates enough time to cheer at least one conclusion, which was that the project would not add significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The cheering must have gotten pretty loud over the weekend, because by Sunday afternoon our friends over at The Hill were reporting an email from the White House, clarifying that the review process was far from over:

The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) includes a range of estimates of the project’s climate impacts, and that information will now need to be closely evaluated by Secretary Kerry and other relevant agency heads in the weeks ahead…A decision on whether the project is in the national interest will be made only after careful consideration of the SEIS and other pertinent information, comments from the public, and views of other agency heads.

For one thing, the report also indicated spill risk issues that will need to be addressed.

As for some of those other relevant agencies, that includes not only EPA and DOE but also the Commerce Department, which is why we’re bringing this up in the first place.

Look at all the potential for long term job creation in the US wind industry, which involves manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and eventually decommissioning and recycling. Now stack that up against the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is expected to add a few dozen permanent jobs along its route.

To open a whole ‘nother can of worms, look at the benefit in terms of added US electricity generating capacity. Hardly a fair fight, but in terms of basic energy infrastructure on the one hand you have a vast reserve of clean energy generating potential to be tapped, and on the other you have a pipeline that will draw energy from the US grid in order to function, rather than adding to it.

The Nebraska Public Power District already has plans in the works for new transmissions lines to serve pumping stations required by the new pipeline. While the utility is bringing more clean energy on board, including wind power, it is still heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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