The Good times are coming

The state of the art for renewables energy is positive and steadily moving in the right direction all over the world. Keeping up the good technical standard for wind and investing in more research is essential, though. Problems such as bird kills and noise must be studied in depth and solved satisfactorily. Co-operation with environmentalists should also be extended.

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Slowly but surely the wind power market is growing. It is also becoming increasingly robust. Gone are the fragile foundations on which the early market was based; short term promises are being replaced by long term energy strategies, within which wind has earned its rightful place.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the United States where growth in the nineties is a far cry from the shifting winds of California's boom and bust tax credit years of the early eighties. Renewable energy in California is now an integral part of its long term electricity supply strategy and the state is currently agreeing contracts for some 1000 MW of new wind plants (page 13). California is not treading this route alone. Over past months, other states have already seen the benefits of including wind in their integrated resource planning, especially in the Northwest and Midwest, with Texas not far behind. Contracts for wind farms in the US will be flooding in thick and fast in the coming months -- no doubt one of the reasons why giant Westinghouse has joined forces with a wind company and announced its return to active involvement in the business (page 12). A portentous sign of the times indeed.

The good news is not restricted to the US. The German market proceeds at full steam ahead with some 400 MW now up and running. Britain will soon be offering contracts for what is expected to be at least 100 MW of wind power and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Spain will be the next big market to open up in Europe. China, as we reported last month, is now very serious about wind power and has a carefully prepared strategy for its development, including plans for its financing. And while India is less certain about where the cash is coming from, big business has caught on fast to the advantages of owning generating plant in a country where industry is bedevilled by power failures. With the government loosening the ties which for so long have bound Indian trade, several wind companies are now setting up production plants there.

Underpinning this tangible evidence of wind power's increasing success is a gradual evolution in public attitude. More and more people are demanding the right to choose between green energy and fossil fuels -- even if they have to pay more. Consumers in the US state of Michigan are volunteering to pay a green levy to pay for a wind turbine being installed by the utility (page 16). Across the Atlantic in Germany, the state of North Rhine Westfalia has ruled that utilities may raise the price of electricity if the extra income is used to develop renewables (Windpower Monthly, July 1994). These, again, are significant signs of the times.

With so much going right for it, the wind business could be lulled into thinking the battle is won and the market is here to stay. Nothing could be more dangerous. Great care must still be taken to ensure that wind energy has broad public backing. It must never be foisted on the people -- the backlash is always fast and furious, as events in northern Germany have recently revealed. Even in this green-minded part of the world just the fear of wind turbines being allowed to run riot in the countryside has whipped up a tirade of opposition almost overnight (page 18-19). The wind industry must also be careful never to ride roughshod over other interests -- bird deaths in a few specific wind farms in sensitive areas are causing problems for the entire wind power movement. So, too, is noise nuisance from an isolated minority of projects. More effort directed towards avoiding such dilemmas needs to be made. Last, but far from least, the core of the wind industry must not forget the valiant work being done by its fringes to produce viable water pumping windmills, small turbines for off-grid use, and efficient wind-diesel systems. The potential for all three is enormous -- and wind-diesel in particular needs money to demonstrate recent technology breakthroughs (pages 24-28).

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