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United States

Powering America with new grants and goals

A year after the federal Wind Powering America initiative was unveiled, the United States is inching its way towards the program's two key goals -- that the federal government gets 5% of its electricity from wind by 2010 and that the entire US gets 5% from wind within 20 years. Another $2.7 million has also been granted for community-based organisations and projects to help promote wind development across America.

A string of initiatives for raising general awareness of wind's potential and aiding the swtich from fossil fuels to renewables across a broad front are now flying under the Wind Powering America flag

A year after the federal Wind Powering America (WPA) initiative was unveiled, the United States is inching its way towards the program's two key goals -- that the federal government gets 5% of its electricity from wind by 2010 and that the entire US gets 5% from wind within 20 years. As part of the first wide-ranging public update of WPA, the energy department's top wind man, Dan Reicher, has also issued an interim federal goal. The government will buy 100 MW of wind by the end of next year. "I think this will put us well on the way to meet or beat our goal of 5% by 2010," he said.

That means the US government will buy power from about 1000 MW of wind capacity within a decade -- if the plans remain in place. With a presidential election in full swing, it is unclear what, if any, broad plans there will be for wind power in the future. The federal government, the largest power consumer in the US, uses 2% of the country's electricity. Reicher, Assistant Secretary of Energy at the US Department of Energy (DOE), unveiled the new 100 MW goal at the American Wind Energy Association's year 2000 conference in Palm Springs in May.

He noted that in 1999 almost 4000 MW of wind was installed globally, compared with less than 3000 MW of nuclear. "Wind power has entered the major league of power generation worldwide," he said. Investing in wind and other non-hydro renewables is good value, continued Reicher. In the US, less than $13 billion in federal funding has gone to non-hydro renewables in the last 25 years. In contrast, nuclear has received from $25-$50 billion since the late 1940s. And over the last century, more than $50 billion has been invested in hydro.

A few days before the conference, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that all federal agencies in the Denver area -- about 30 -- will be powered in part by wind power. The agencies, from the US Mint to the National Parks Service, have committed to buying 10 MW, amounting to an 800,000 MWh annual load, or a $31 million electricity bill, Reicher said. The green electricity will be bought at a premium of about 2% from local electric utilities such as Public Service Co. Two federal facilities, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs and the Rocky Flats Environmental Test Site, will make up 30% of the purchase.

Other WPA sponsored initiatives include wind workshops in the emerging markets of North Dakota, Minnesota and in Arkansas, added Reicher. A transmission study and wind resource mapping are under way for North and South Dakota, while the federal government is also aiding wind resource mapping in Vermont. For Earth Day, brochures on wind power were produced, and there has been outreach to rural communities through the American Farm Bureau and the National Rural Electric Co-operative Association, he said.

In addition, working groups on transmission, economic development and emissions credit trading are getting under way. Richardson has also directed the DOE to buy 3% of its electricity from non-hydro renewables by 2005 and 7.5% of its total electricity from green power by 2010. Another goal of WPA is that the number of states with at least 20 MW of installed wind capacity should be doubled to 16 by 2005 and then upped to 24 by 2010.

More grants

Reicher announced $2.7 million in grants for community-based organisations and projects to help promote wind development across America. The 11 awards, given to recipients in nine different states, were selected after two competitive solicitations that focused on wind energy information, outreach, and economic impact studies.

Projects supported range from training packages for state legislators and information for local governments on switching from fossils to renewables, to encouraging participation in the National Wind Co-ordinating Committee, to a regional centre for wind development in the Northern Great Plains, to founding a Wind Turbine/Landowners Association in Minnesota. Among the grant recipients are the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners, the University of North Dakota, the Western Interstates Energy Board, and the National Conference of State Legislators.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to buy more wind power in the Pacific Northwest. It is negotiating a ten-year agreement with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to buy about 2.1 million kWh yearly at a premium of $0.022/kWh. The electricity, supply of which requires the installation of at least one 700 kW wind turbine, would be enough to supply EPA's Manchester Laboratory in Port Orchard, Washington state.

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