What's the Holdup? How Bureaucratic Obstacles Are Undercutting the True Potential of American Wind Power

Article excerpt

"'A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.'" (1)


Wind power is now the fastest growing source of alternative energy in the United States, due in part to desires to increase utilization of cleaner energy and to withdraw from dependence on foreign energy. (2) Studies have shown that if properly harnessed, the United States has enough wind-energy potential to provide well over the amount of electricity currently consumed nationally. (3) capitalizing on this potential, thirty-eight states currently maintain utility-scale wind projects, with fourteen states amassing over one thousand megawatts (mW) of energy from these projects. (4) Although all current wind power generated in the United States is produced through land-based operations, the country is pursuing offshore projects--specifically the perpetually delayed Cape Wind project located off the coast of Massachusetts. (5) If the United States wants to continue expansion of wind power both efficiently and lucratively, it must develop a regulatory scheme designed, updated, and maintained specifically for this growing market. (6)

The United States does not have any centralized regulatory, statutory, or administrative authority designed specifically to address wind energy. (7) Potential wind projects--often-called wind farms--must traipse through a mire of local, state, and federal regulations, few of which provide regularity or guidance from project to project. (8) on the federal level, an amalgamation of statutes governs various facets of a wind project's evolution: permitting, development, decommission, taxation, and rights to opposition are all governed by many different laws. (9) In addition, states generally have their own radically different approaches to handling wind power. (10) Many states even allow cities and towns to pass their own ordinances for handling wind power, which often result in moratoriums or competition between neighbors for lucrative turbine leases. (11) Without any national voice or approach to the development of wind technology, the United States is at a dramatic disadvantage to countries that have taken a proactive approach to wind technology's introduction. (12)

The United States is not without solutions, some of which have already been proposed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (13) These proposals encompass the notion that by developing a cohesive federal framework that can keep up with quickly developing wind technology, the country can create electricity from wind exponentially faster and in greater quantities. (14) Federal and state governments can begin this process by analyzing, consolidating, and stream-lining the current regulatory framework. (15) In addition, the federal government should analyze the approaches taken by various states with successful systems. (16) Finally, the United States would be wise to learn a lesson from other nations developing large-scale wind power worldwide. (17)

This Note analyzes the dynamic changes taking place in the United States wind-power industry. (18) Part II.A begins with an overview and description of wind technology in the United States, including its expanding utilization and technological progressions. (19) Next, Part II.B-D will analyze the current regulatory foundation that controls wind power, including project development, environmental impact, and tax structure. (20) Part II.E-F will discuss various successful regulatory frameworks from around the United States as well as around the world. (21) Lastly, Part III will discuss potential solutions the United States could pursue based on ideas not yet enacted into law, reformulation of current laws, and a general refocusing on alternative-energy goals and policies. (22)

II. History

A. The Emergence of Wind Power in the United States

Wind power has emerged as the leader in the alternative-energy market both for its efficiency and for its feasibility. …