What Will it Take to Harness the Wind?

For the United States to reach any major goals for renewable energy, it's going to need major infrastructure development—not only does it have to build the wind farms where it's windy, it also has to update the grid so it can move that power to the nation's population centers.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal assured that this could cost a fortune—as much as the stimulus package Congress is currently bickering over. But don't give up hope yet. The Journal cites a study by several regional power authorities, who were commissioned by the Department of Energy to study what it would take for the U.S. to draw 20 percent of its energy from wind by 2024.

The transmission system, with 15,000 miles of new lines, would take up to $100 billion, plus the $720 billion to build the actual wind farms. What the Journal fails to mention is that the agencies' report also presents a sister scenario in which the U.S. moves to only 5 percent wind power by the same year. It's still expensive, just a little less so than the 20 percent scenario, and the energy production costs are higher.

The Journal also fails to mention the report's explicitly stated caveats that it didn't take any offshore wind development into account, nor did it consider other ways of moving wind power or making it more regional. The New York Times hits it closer to the mark: updating the grid so that we can move to more wind power will be difficult, no doubt, but that's no reason to imply that it can't be done.

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