Wind In The Portfolio: Ducks In The Future

Wind farms sited over the last decade have faced a barrage of criticism based on concerns about increased bat and bird mortality. At TreeHugger, we have ruminated upon this risk as well, and so have our commentors many times over. Seldom discussed is the simple fact that choices over where to locate wind farms have been strongly constrained by the lack of grid connections to remote, windy areas of the Great Plains, for example. More on this below the fold.An EnergyBiz editorial frames the economic significance of wind power to utilities in a far more circumspect and insightful way than anything we've previously seen. Our conclusion is that grid proximity-limited wind-farm siting is a transitional practice and, echoing historic booms on the Western Plains (railroads, farmsteads, irrigation systems and dams), explosive wind farm growth farm there is predetermined, contingent upon Federal support of major new transmission line installations.

"My goin' out on the buffalo range

Depends upon the pay

But if you pay good wages,

Transportation to and fro

I think I might go with you

On the range of the Buffalo".

Other critical factors wind power development factors pointed out by EnergyBiz:

• Wind cost is already competitive with other forms of generation; and there is no long-term depletion risk as there is with gas or oil.
• Wind power costs are already more stable than natural gas, making wind a suitable cost hedge in the generation portfolio.
• "Coal may become subject to carbon caps that would increase its overall price".
• A study "released by Interwest Energy Alliance in Denver, says that by adding wind generation to its option, carbon dioxide emissions tied to global warming would be cut by 14.7 million tons".
• Europe, which has inferior wind resources compared to the US, "is a pacesetter".
• "The highest potential is in those states with the greatest wind speeds and in those places that are dependent on gas but where it is in short supply".
• "Current demand for wind exceeds the supply of wind turbines (Analogous to the shortage of silicon for solar cell manufacture, this could change soon)".
• "By today's standards, 10,000 megawatts of wind power saves about 0.6 billion cubic feet per day, or about 3.5 percent of the natural gas used nationwide to generate electricity"

Back now to the birds. The Great Plains region of south-central Canada and the north central US is known as "the duck factory" for good reason. It's a region of potholes and marshes that provide key breeding and feeding habitat for much of North America's waterfowl. We're supposing that Ducks Unlimited will weigh in once the transmission lines start crossing the pothole country. Should be interesting. People are starting to get that Climate Change and fossil fuel extraction itself pose the countervailing risks to our pictured Blue Winged Teal. Significance of the latter form of risk is no longer to be called into question, given the recent shut down of leaking Prudhoe Bay Alaska oil lines.

Lyric credit for Buffalo Skinners: traditional, arranged by Arlo Guthrie .

Graphic credit: Ducks Unlimited . Follow this link for a sound sample of the breeding Teal.