"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology."
These timely words of Pres. George W. Bush from the 2006 State of the Union address have elicited various reactions from people across the country. To achieve both executive focus and a new national spotlight on renewable energy resources in the US thrilled many individuals, and many also breathed a sigh of relief, thinking, "It's about time."
In the past few decades, the development of sustainable energy resources became a growing concern for all leading nations in the world. Now, more than ever, it is an indispensable national project to ensure that this development not only continues, but also accelerates to new levels to secure the future of America's energy needs.
"I think we're in an important moment in history, and that we have a chance to transform the way we power our economy and how we lead our lives," said Bush in a February visit to a Milwaukee energy research facility. The moment is now, and the transformation is already underway.
One of the most promising solutions to the energy dilemma currently in action is the installment of wind and solar power plants throughout many regions of the U.S. With past successes and ongoing development in dozens of states such as Colorado, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, this kind of "green" energy now stands at the forefront of our nation's plan for a sustainable future.
The American people believed in alternative energy long before the President's recognition of its importance. In 2004, the citizens of Colorado voted in favor of the Renewable Energy Standard, an amendment which mandates that 10 percent of all electricity sales in the state originate from renewable energy sources by 2015. Xcel Energy, the leading electricity company in Colorado, recently announced a plan to install wind farms to produce 775 megawatts (MW) of energy, in addition to the 285 MW currently running. One megawatt of energy powers about 1000 homes.
Xcel Energy expects the new wind power sources to reach completion in 2007, a plan that puts Colorado's energy needs about seven years ahead of the schedule of the Renewable Energy Standard, according to Mark Stutz, a spokesman for Xcel.
"We are actually considering going above the mandated 10 percent, possibly even to 15 percent now that we are comfortable with using wind power as part of our generation," said Stutz.
Xcel Energy operates in 10 states in the Midwest. They also plan to install a total of about 1100 MW of wind power in Minnesota by the end of 2007. This plan puts Xcel Energy at the head of the pack of companies investing in renewable energy. They also have solar power plans in effect; however, these developments are more costly and cause more difficulty in attracting customers than wind, Stutz explained.
"The wind is a great economic option; a clean option with obviously no emissions. The drawback with wind is that it is intermittent, so when the wind isn't blowing you still need to have back up fossil fuels for generation," Stutz added.
One new wind farm currently receiving a lot of attention makes its home at the largest tourist destination in the most densely populated state in the country – Atlantic City, New Jersey. In December of 2005, the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, which is the first in the state, opened to much local enthusiasm. At the site of the wastewater management plant of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA), five wind turbines combine with five sets of solar arrays to provide power for much of the plant's demanding energy needs.
The first coastal location ever for a wind farm, Atlantic City welcomes steady seaboard breezes and is one of the windiest places in New Jersey. The plan to build this wind power site began about five years ago and faced a long, difficult path to reach the end result.
"We were looking to save money in a way that was green, because that is our mission," said Richard Dovey, President of the ACUA, "We are the environmental leaders of this area and have been for quite some time."
The first step towards building wind power begins with environmental and soil research, wind tests, and bird studies to assess feasibility. After initial start up hesitations, the project began the permitting process in 2003 and eventually got underway in the hands of Community Energy, a wind and green energy company based out of Wayne, PA, 80 miles from Atlantic City.
The plan entailed constructing of five wind turbines, each about 380 feet high, that's taller than the Statue of Liberty! Each turbine produces 1.5 megawatts of electricity for a total of 7.5 MW. According to Dovey, this provides power for about 50 percent of the energy needs for the wastewater plant.
The organization was sure to win approval of the local town council before breaking ground. Often, wind farm construction plans face opposition from citizen groups claiming that the large turbines are an eyesore, disrupting the natural skyline and local scenery. In fact, plans to build a wind farm near Cape Cod, Massachusetts currently face delays due to public complaints from local property owners. Luckily, the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm received limited resistance from local residents and the project got the green light to move ahead.
However, opposition came from another direction. The New Jersey Audubon Society protested that wind turbines were hazardous to bird migration paths. They filed suit against the building permit which delayed construction for almost a year. The Audubon Society eventually settled for a government grant to conduct research about the danger of wind power structures to birds. So far, it is estimated that about two birds per year will die in the turbines. Research on the effect of wind power on bird migration patterns and the disruption of local wildlife is still ongoing.
The total cost of the wind power project rang up to roughly $13 million. This plan received funds from a variety of investors as well as a grant for $1.7 million from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and a customer supply grant of about $2 million from Atlantic City Electric.
The ACUA is simultaneously developing solar energy resources at the wastewater treatment plant. This includes two rooftop solar arrays, one canopy, and one ground mount currently in operation, built by the New Jersey firm Conti Alternity. Two more ground mounts are under construction. The solar power provides three percent of the plants total power, which is owned by the ACUA, Dovey explained. The solar project cost a total of $3.2 million. In total, the solar power provides 500 kilowatts of energy, making it the second largest solar installation in New Jersey. Solar power saves the facility about $35,000 per year in energy costs
"The economics of it for us are just a no-brainer," Dovey said, "It's too bad we can't build more, but we don't have any more space!"
The successful combination of solar and wind power at this facility is a great step forward in the path to sustainability. So when the wind turbines were finally up and running last December, Dovey and others rejoiced in the realization of their long awaited goal. They were now in charge of the largest hybrid wind-solar energy resource in the nation. They save valuable natural resources, save the environment from extra emissions, and save money. They also created a model of renewable energy that many now look to for inspiration and precedent.
Now, after about three months of clean wind and solar energy, Dovey is still extremely pleased with the project. Energy from the wind turbines costs 7.9 cents per kilowatt, compared to the cost of regular, nonrenewable energy at an estimated average of 13 cents per kilowatt. By using wind power, the company estimates a savings of $1000 per day!
The cost efficiency of wind power speaks for itself, and the more popular alternative energy projects become, the more production costs will drop. Following the President's Advanced Energy Initiative with the 22 percent increase in funding for clean energy research, the technology is sure to improve greatly, causing resources to become more accessible than ever.
Drawbacks of alternative energy are limited. The only unforeseen problem that Richard Dovey and the folks at the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm need to cope with now is to accommodate of a steady stream of visitors. The wind turbines draw interest from all over the region, with constant requests for tours of the facility. Visitors who arrive are mostly industry professionals, from as far away as India and Sri Lanka, interested in developing their own wind power plants.
The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm is unique because it is not in the middle of a field, miles away from any spectators. It's located in a populated area, on the side of a busy highway trafficked by thousands of tourists each year. "All the issues related to alternative energy and energy costs are in everybody's minds, and these wind towers are symbols of the way we need to go," Dovey said.
From coast to coast innovative ideas and new developments are springing up in both rural and populated areas. With positive focus and constructive legislation in favor of sustainability, there is great potential in the dream to provide future generations with clean, affordable, and lasting energy.