Monday, February 21, 2011

Wind Energy Costs Decline Despite Transmission Obstacles

Wind energy may be catching its second wind lately.  How's that for a pun?  The cost of generating electricity from wind is now close to the cost of coal-fired generation.  That's good to know for utilities planning capital outlays.  That study only pertains to onshore developments, which can sometimes be sidelined by NIMBY objections (noise, ruined views, and other baloney excuses) and relevant reasons (like the fact that tall wind towers can interfere with FAA and DOD radars).  Offshore wind developments are becoming increasingly attractive and may not fall prey to the same obstacles as onshore developments.  They may of course pose a whole new set of problems, like locations that fall in the middle of shipping channels or prime fishing areas

Cost competitiveness isn't the only feasibility factor relevant to planning wind farms.  Energy providers need to consider the capacity of the transmission grid that serves a proposed wind project.  Lack of convenient transmission lines was the Achilles heel in T. Boone Pickens' plan for a giant wind farm in Texas.  Wind power enthusiasts in China have yet to figure this out.  China's vaunted leadership in building wind installations may prove meaningless if grid upgrades lag behind new generation.  Wind power is a waste without the grid lines to bring it to market. 

Utilities planning wind projects should tread carefully.  All of the relevant ducks need to be in a row - including enablers like transmission infrastructure and environmental considerations - before a green energy project gets a green light.