EUROPEAN countries are stepping up their efforts to extract electricity from the winds that blow across their continent.
Using California's experience as a model, a new breed of "wind farmers" in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, and other countries are on course to harvest increasing quantities of pollution-free energy from huge turbines located on towers on exposed tracts of land.
In Britain, where some of Europe's strongest winds blow, commercial exploitation of wind power, after a slow start, is about to take a major step forward with the erection of a farm of 103 turbines. The total generating capacity will be 31 megawatts.
Tim Kirby, chairman of EcoGen, a British company working with Japanese industrialists, reckons that the 86-million British pound ($150-million) wind farm on a site near Powys, Wales, will be Europe's largest.
"By the end of 1993, power from the farm will account for one quarter of Britain's wind-generated electricity," Mr. Kirby says. Elsewhere in Europe enthusiasm for clean energy is becoming commonplace.
Denmark, with 320 megawatts installed capacity of wind power already, is aiming to derive 10 percent of its energy requirements from that source by the year 2000, according to government officials in Copenhagen.
The Netherlands, where picturesque windmills have twirled for centuries, pumping water and grinding corn, will rely on wind-driven turbines for 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity by the end of the century.
By that time, Italy will be pumping 600 megawatts of wind-generated electricity into its national power grid, and Greece 400 megawatts. Germany hopes to have 200 megawatts of wind power on stream by 1995.
These figures may appear small, compared with the 1,350 megawatts of power wind farms in California now produce.
The turbines in California first began turning in 1981, after the oil price shocks of the 1970s. The aim is to generate 10 percent of the state's power needs by 2005. But Europe's commitment to wind power is escalating rapidly, with governments providing tax boosts to individuals and companies willing to invest in generating equipment.
Stewart Boyle, energy policy director for the environmental organization Greenpeace, says it would be feasible to supply 10 percent of Britain's power needs by the end of the decade using a combination of wind turbines, wave power, and other "green" energy sources.
British energy officials are enthusiastic about developing a range of renewable energy resources. But in some cases the battle to erect modern-day windmills involves conflict with landowners and conservationists. This is one reason why the official target for wind-generated energy is still fairly low - 2 percent of national electricity by the year 2000.
Michael Heseltine, secretary of state for the environment in the last British government, got more than a taste of the contradictions and conflicting pressures that come into play in the pursuit of "green electricity." The trouble, he says, is that often the best places to locate wind turbines are areas of great natural beauty. …