One of my favorite movies of all time is “Inherit the Wind” about the Scopes Monkey Trials. Yet, I am only borrowing this title to emphasize that we are using the wind more so than ever to power our country at 5% of the nation’s production capacity per Trevor Graff of McClatchey’s Washington Bureau. Nationwide, we have 60 gigawatts of wind energy deployed, yet, we have a 135 more gigawatts of potential wind production awaiting development and connection to the electric grid.
Per Graff’s piece, the problem is the grid was designed for getting and distributing power based on older modes – coal, nuclear and hydropower plants – so the wind power production has to “idle” on occasion due to electric transmission congestion. “There hasn’t been a lot of investment in the grid for the last two decades,” said Michael Goggin, a senior analyst at the American Wind Energy Association. This is not unnoticed by the Department of Energy which notes that decision-makers must decide on funding these infrastructure improvements and deal with getting electricity from these more rural, windy areas such as Texas, Minnesota and Kansas where wind energy is in abundance.
As of last fall, wind energy was in 39 states and with the industry employing 75,000 workers. With the ability to triple our wind energy with infrastructure development in the electric grids, those activities would also create jobs. But, they would also increase our renewable energy use in a major way. Combined with the significant uptick in solar energy deployment, these infrastructure investments are key to our future. Given what is happening in Japan with nuclear reactor leakage into to ocean, Duke Energy shuttering a nuclear plant repair due to unrepairable cracks, and Germany’s decision to cease reliance on nuclear energy, the nuclear path forward seems to have challenges.
Fossil fuel retrieval is not as safe as portrayed by the industry and even if it were, it is only as good as the worst operator as being witnessed more and more often with leaks, explosions on water and on land. The cement casings around fracking piping fail 5% of the time immediately. With 10,000 fracking sites, that is 500 failures. And, per a fracking engineer, they are seeing more failures over time since the process has become more inventive adding even more stress to the man-made piping. Duke University’s Environmental Science group just completed its third study which shows clear evidence of groundwater contamination due to fracking.
So, it is clear to this independent voter who sees the Return on Investment (ROI) of treating our environment and its inhabitants well, our country needs to invest more in the electric transmission infrastructure to glean even more wind (and solar) energy. To his credit, the President is laying down the gauntlet admonishing global warming deniers and emphasizing the need to act. Yet, to his discredit, he has instructed his EPA to be less transparent on fracking taking a page from Dick Cheney’s playbook. The real data over the dangers of fracking is getting out – we just hope it is heard.
Let’s inherit the wind. Let’s harness it better, along with the sun’s energy, and distribute it more cleanly to our users. That is the cleaner path forward to our future. And, the ROI for clean energy in the long run dwarfs the ROI of going further down the rabbit hole of fossil fuel energy and repairing problems due to global warming which we are witnessing today with increased sea levels, more wildfires and greating flooding, not to mention cleaning up fossil fuel messes which impact humans and the environment.