Whether imagined or real, fears over the declining reserves of traditional hydrocarbon fuels and worsening emission-induced global warming have increased both the economic and social costs associated with the world's traditional fuel supplies to the point where alternative energy, including wind energy, is becoming increasingly attractive. The apparent benefits of wind energy, including the fact that it is clean, renewable, and socially acceptable, have spurred political endorsement and subsidy, just as advancing technology has increased cost competitiveness. These combined trends are freeing up capital and opening up markets for significant increases in wind power generation.
The relatively explosive growth of wind energy is, however, increasingly facing opposition in the courts, legislatures, and controlling state and federal agencies, thereby tempering political and investor enthusiasm. As wind developments continue to consume real estate, much of which lies in close proximity to communities or pristine lands, opposition is certain to increase. Thus far, however, favorable factors are propelling wind energy developments forward despite the opposition.3
Public pressure to lessen dependence on foreign oil has long motivated business and political leaders to promote diversity in sources of supply for traditional fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas,4 and has also spurred research into alternative energy technologies, such as the increased use of coal in Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) generation plants. In recent years, these existing policy pressures have been intensified by the public's awareness of how man-made carbon emissions are contributing to global warming and how global warming has the potential to fundamentally alter life on the planet. Largely as a result of this increasingly accepted view of global warming's cause and effect5 and the resulting public outcry, politicians in Washington and various state capitals are moving to facilitate the expansion of renewable fuels, including wind energy. Similarly, business investors are directing greater amounts of capital into wind energy as turbine efficiency, regulatory permitting, cost of capital, and resulting rate of return improve. Additionally, energy producers have discovered an extra benefit in the improved public relations and publicity which come from providing green energy.
For these and other reasons, wind energy is me fastest growing source of electricity worldwide. According to me American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind generating capacity increased by 27% in 2006, with similar increases expected in 2007.6 In the United States, more than 11,600 megawatts of wind generating capacity are already installed, which is roughly enough to power 2.9 million homes. Put another way, it would take approximately forty million barrels of oil per year to generate the same volume of electricity. This impressive growth has been made possible by consumers' willingness to pay slightly higher energy rates for green energy, state and federal subsidies in the form of tax credits and otherwise, and technological advances that have enhanced the design of wind turbines, tiiereby making wind-generated electricity increasingly cost competitive with electricity generated from fossil fuels.
There is also a sense of excitement over claims of the immense potential of wind energy. For example, the University of Houston has estimated that Texas alone has the capacity to generate more than ten gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy,7 and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) projects that by the year 2020 wind-generated electricity will be sold at a rate of 20 per kilowatt hour (kWh), making it potentially cheaper than all other sources of electricity by that date.8
What's not to love? Abundant energy from a renewable source which does not contribute to global warming, does not smell or pollute our air and water, does not consume food products (as does corn based ethanol), and has the potential to become even more cost competitive as technology improves! …