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Get Ready For A Rural America Wind Power Renaissance

US President* Donald Trump will leave office, one way or another, with a strong wind power legacy for rural America, whether he likes it or not.

True to form, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is closing out his tenure at the Department of Energy with  kind words for President* Trump — and with yet another tug on the rug under the Commander-in-Chief’s feet. Sneaky! A new rural wind power initiative is just the latest example of Secretary Perry pacifying Trump while undercutting the President’s oft-repeated promise to bring back the US coal industry, so let’s take a look and see what’s going on.

wind power rural America

Rural America is the focus of new wind power initiative (via USDA).

Wind Power & The Squirrel Trick

Perry took the reins at DOE in the spring of 2017, and ever since then it’s been energy policy whack-a-mole between the President’s coal pledge and the agency’s promotion of wind energy and, for that matter, any other form of energy aside from coal.

Perry has been a vigorous supporter of  the nation’s oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy sectors, but coal not so much — and renewables quite a bit.

Despite the President’s well known distaste for wind turbines (just ask Scotland), the Energy Department has shepherded the mighty US offshore wind power sector onto the launch pad. The agency has also continued to provide significant financial and technical support for initiatives aimed at boosting the US onshore wind, marine energy, and solar power industries.

Perry has gone out of his way to voice support for the President at every opportunity, but his cheerleading often seems to coincide with a new renewable energy initiative or another enthusiastic pronouncement on renewables.

It’s almost like Perry has been intentionally distracting Trump’s attention away from his agency’s actual work.

Intentionally or not, it’s a classic squirrel trick.

This latest episode is cut from the same cloth. As the impeachment investigation in Congress heats up, Perry has publicly backed up the President and refused to testify. Meanwhile, though, his agency is moving ahead with two key initiatives that will bring more wind power to more rural communities.

More Wind Power For Real America

One of those initiatives is buried in a larger $28 million funding package for new wind research projects.

Announced on October 22 — right about when Perry was in the thick of his latest Trump-defending tour — the new wind power funding is aimed at “significant opportunities” for reducing costs in particular sectors, including offshore wind, distributed wind, and tall wind.

That ought to send shivers down whatever remains of the spine of coal stakeholders. Large onshore wind farms have gone mainstream, but offshore still has a way to go, and tall towers would help make wind more economical in the Southeast and other regions where optimal wind speeds are at higher altitudes.

The new funding package includes several projects that will help rural utilities integrate more wind into their grids, but it’s that thing about distributed wind that really sticks out.

For the Energy Department’s purposes, distributed wind refers to turbines of any size that are used for on-site energy generation, or that contribute to a local distribution network.

Low cost, distributed wind aims squarely at the heart of the nation’s agricultural sector and other rural industries (more on that in a second).

So, for example, part of the new funds will go to Oklahoma-based Bergey WindPower, for the development of a “standardized distributed wind/battery/generator micro-grid system that rural utilities can provide to rural homes and businesses to deliver resilience, energy savings, and reliable power.”

Rural Electric Cooperatives Heart Renewable Energy

What really, really sticks out is the funding package’s emphasis on wind energy for rural communities.

One of the funded projects is this one:

“The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association of Arlington, Virginia will provide technical assistance and develop standardized wind engineering solutions, metrics, case studies, best practices, and finance models to help rural cooperatives cost effectively adopt distributed wind.”

If that rings a bell or two, it should. The NRECA organization has a significant chunk of the nation’s electricity network under its belt. It has already launched a solar toolkit, supported by the Energy Department, which aims at weaning rural coops off fossil fuels (also, socialism!).

The new project is basically the same thing, but for distributed wind power.

That brings us to the second major initiative, announced just yesterday. The new announcement teams the Energy Department with the Department of Agriculture in a new rural economic development initiative.

Parts of it look suspiciously like the old REAP rural energy initiative, but without the explicit focus on renewable energy (I know, right? Shocker!).

Still, the initiative overall is aimed at making energy more affordable for rural communities. That circles directly back around to the Bergery WindPower and NRECA projects, along with several others included in the $28 million package.

The new DOE-USDA mashup does leave plenty of wiggle room for fossil fuels. However,  considering the market forces favoring wind and solar, including new wind/solar hybrid power plants and the emerging agrivoltaics field, there is not much wiggle room left to wiggle.

For that matter, take a look at the new infographic that USDA is using to pitch the new rural energy initiative. If you can spot the pile of coal, or anything whatsoever having to do with coal, drop us a note in the comment thread.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to NRECA for some insights, so stay tuned for more on that.

*Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Image (screenshot, cropped): US Department of Agriculture.

 
 
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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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